In spite of how elements of this movie’s storyline deal with the troubling subjects of alcoholism and abandonment of family, Come Next Spring is a generous story with a quiet but strong heart. Like many of these older films, rather than relying on in-your-face action sequences and special effects, loud soundtracks, and romantic drama that glues a box-office-compatible couple to center stage, Come Next Spring turns on resonant dialogue and actual, honest questions about family and community relations. No glamor kings and queens in this movie. Its “just folks” actors provide it with a low-key, slow-moving charm.
The story is deceptively simple. Recovering alcoholic Matt Ballot (Steve Cochran) returns to his Arkansas farm and the wife, Beth, and daughter, Annie, whom he abandoned twelve years earlier. He’s more than a little interested to see what’s become of them since he left. As he walks down the home stretch, he meets Annie. Annie is a voiceless creature; she keeps company with animals but runs away from her father, who doesn’t recognize her. When Matt reaches the old homestead, he’s surprised to discover not only that his stoical and resourceful wife Bess (played beautifully by Ann Sheridan) has held everything together quite well without him but also that he has a delightful son, Abraham (Richard Eyer), born after Matt ran out on the family. Abraham doesn’t hold Matt’s abandonment against him; he’s just happy to learn he has a father. In spite of the shock Matt’s out-of-the-blue return gives her, Bess politely invites her wayward husband to stay for dinner, after which he spends the night in the €œspare room € with his son. Abraham has a bed-wetting problem, but with his father home and sleeping in the same room, Abraham’s incontinence resolves itself. Matt doesn’t blame his wife at all for her cool response to his sudden reappearance. A changed man now and a thoughtful one, he doesn’t want to cause his family further suffering and decides to leave again. But the magnetism of family life and Matt’s natural charm and interest in the world around him conspire to keep him at the farm. Several times he sets his cap and resolves to take to the road and spare his family the discomfort that his return rekindles, but as he heads off the property he stops to fix this or mend that. Seeing his interest in helping, Bess hires him as a farmhand. Literally, Matt begins working his way back into his family’s trust.
The town’s folks are less forgiving. In Matt’s absence, Beth has acquired a sort-of suitor, a rough, unpleasant man who finds Matt’s return a threat to his own plans. Beside all that, the small, rural, hard-bitten Arkansas town where Matt’s family has been living and doing business is accustomed to thinking of Matt as a coward and an irredeemable alcoholic. Despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Matt went AWOL from home and community, the town and its residents have remained the same. They haven’t changed in all that time; how could Matt, who did his beautiful, hard-working wife and children such a terrible wrong, be any different now from how the they remember him? Townsfolk expect that he’ll do the same thing he did before–disappear suddenly, once again leaving them to their predicaments of poverty and stopped time. Matt takes their doubt, disdain, and baiting with patience, all the while making his way back into the town’s affairs and into his wife’s affections.
In one understated act after another, Matt assumes responsibility for his family and town’s well being. He shakes up the borough and breaks the spell that has kept his old friends and enemies slumbering. Slowly, old wounds begin to heal and painful secrets are revealed. In a powerful act, Matt faces the truth about why his pretty daughter Annie (Sherry Jackson) can’t speak. Ultimately, Matt’s unexpected return opens his wife’s heart, saves his mute daughter’s life, and brings new life to the backwoods town where he grew up.
Come Next Spring is a tender and intelligent drama about failure, redemption, and new possibilities. Set in the 1920s, the movie’s rural backdrop and script paint a smart portrait of entwinements–broken and mended–between people and the land upon which they live. Come Next Spring’s magic relies on no wizards, time-traveling warriors, or supernatural beings for its power, only the equally deep mystery of how a common man’s change of heart can spread like spring to break the grip of an intractable winter. Veteran character actors Walter Brennan and Edgar Buchanan turn out respectable performances as Jeff Story and Mr. Canary, respectively–two, long-time residents of the town. Their voices lend a nice, folksy texture to the dialogue. Released in 1956, this early color film features Tony Bennett singing the title song.
If you would like a DVD of Come Next Spring, please leave a comment below. It’s a nice movie, very family-friendly. After you leave a comment, I’ll contact you to make shipping arrangements. Also, if you receive a copy of Come Next Spring, please consider participating in the promotion and preservation of historic movies by returning to this post and leaving a mini-review in the comments. WIZ’s Retro Reviews get pretty high search rankings, and that means something. I don’t know what it means, but it means … yeah, something.
Patricia founded Wilderness Interface Zone in 2009. She has published a novel, The Pictograph Murders (Signature Books 2004) as well as essays and poetry. Some of her poetry appears in the recently released Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-First Century Mormon Poets (Peculiar Pages Press 2011) as well as in its cultural predecessor, Harvest (Signature Books 1989). Currently, she lives in the Four Corners region of the Southwest with her husband, three children, two cats, and a variety of seasonal and permanent wild residents. She enjoys writing Retro Reviews.