Director: Burt Brinckerhoff
Writer: Pamela Douglas (teleplay), Gene Stratton-Porter (novel)
Elnora Comstock wants desperately to attend high school, but her widowed mother does everything she can to keep her on the farm. Based on the book by Gene Stratton-Porter.
This film adaptation of Gene Stratton-Porter’s classic novel abridges the story of Elnora Comstock, following her not through high school or to her first love, but instead focusing on the girl’s first few weeks at high school. The result proves not nearly so charming as the original tale, as viewers barely receive enough information about the characters to truly empathize with them. And, because very little occurs in the plot, the pacing at times borders close to unbearably slow.
The film tries to condense Elnora’s triumphs in graduating and following her heart into a somewhat simpler story of a girl trying to attend high school despite her harsh mother’s best attempts to prevent her. This means that Elnora spends barely any time in school–a few days perhaps before she has to leave. As a result, viewers do not get to see her struggles and small victories as she attempts to blend in with the town girls. They cannot feel her slight friendship with another girl (Sally?–she’s so unimportant I have trouble remembering her name) has any life. They cannot understand what playing the violin means to her. Instead, they have to rely on Elnora telling them things (which she does through forced monologues with an owl named Freckles–an allusion to another Stratton-Porter book). The story lacks heart.
And because the time frame is so condensed, the victories Elnora does achieve feel too easy. Within a matter of days she solves her textbook dilemma. Within weeks she (spoiler!) manages to capture (quite easily) a rare butterfly that she can sell to save the farm. And her mother? The harsh woman who seems to hate her? All she needed was to meet a charming orphan boy and suddenly her heart is melted. The story wants to be about overcoming hardships, but its quick solutions undermine any message it might have about struggling to overcome adversity.
The story manages to possess just a little charm–that is, it will appeal to fans of children’s classics who can’t help but enjoy a story featuring a country girl travelling to school with her lunch in a pail, or worrying about her heavy boots and old dress when the other girls have such nice, light shoes and clean white blouses. That sort of thing carries the film a long way, especially when its heavy-handed treatment of the beauties of nature falls short. Anyone who doesn’t already enjoy a story such as this, however, will find little else to recommend the film.