Yet Another Journal

Nostalgia, DVDs, old movies, television, OTR, fandom, good news and bad, picks, pans,
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» Saturday, April 26, 2008
You Can Go Home Again...
...and find some things may be as disappointing as you remember.

[WARNING! Spoilers ahoy!]

I have often written about the Addie Mills specials in my blogs and even have a web page devoted to the stories. The first special, The House Without a Christmas Tree, is IMHO one of the finest made-for-television movies/specials ever, with an incredible cast and even more involving, sympathetic storyline. The second special, The Thanksgiving Treasure, featuring Barnard Hughes, was also memorable.

When I initially watched the final two specials, The Easter Promise and Addie and the King of Hearts, I didn't like them as well. I purchased the VHS tape of the former not long ago, review here, and discovered that it wasn't just that Addie had grown up a bit and I wasn't interested in her becoming involved with clothes and young love; the production values had changed for the worse.

Several months ago I had located a copy of Addie and the King of Hearts, but debated ordering it because of the cost versus my original opinion of the story. I finally ordered a copy. I initially watched only the first five minutes and was disappointed all over again. I had not seen the story for years (it originally aired in 1976; I believe the Disney Channel aired it back in the 1980s along with the others in the series, which is where my copy of Thanksgiving Treasure came from, but I didn't see it at that time), so most of my memories of the story are entangled with the accompanying novel. Back in 1976 I remember being unhappy about the story length of only an hour rather than 90 minutes (or rather 51 minutes v. 72).

Now that I am able to rewatch it, King of Hearts is also more disconcerting since the storyline immediately diverges from the book as well as television canon by replacing Addie's longtime crush, Billy Wild, with a boy named Danny (presumably because, since they were no longer filming in the original location, actor Brady McNamara was no longer available). The classroom set is also a very cheap knockoff of the original classroom, which was located at a real school in Canada. The first two specials were filmed in prairie areas of Canada, which gave a more authentic look to the setting of Nebraska in the late 1940s, while CBS apparently went chintzy on the final two and filmed them totally on Hollywood soundstages, and, sadly, it shows.

I was also amused by the titles, which, while incorporating the traditional Norman Sunshine collages, used the convention of having the credits being "written on the blackboard." Addie, who wouldn't make a card for Miss Thompson with a Santa Claus with a pack on his back saying "To Miss Thompson" because the concept was "too corny," would have certainly thought the blackboard business was the same!

Still, I liked the story slightly better this time, and find I really missed what they could have done with the extra twenty minutes.

The storyline, linked to Valentines Day, has Addie developing a crush on a male substitute teacher; at the same time, she discovers that her father, after having mourned his deceased wife for so many years, is seeing the rather brassy owner of the local beauty parlor. The book sets up things slightly differently—Addie finds out about her dad from overhearing a conversation, not from classmates; the latter, I think, works better—and takes its time with the story, leaving in scenes where the girls tease Addie about her crush and Grandma talks about her first love. The television show jumps directly in the story and stays with it, leaving no time for those extra scenes or for other slice-of-life scenes like the one in House Without a Christmas Tree where Addie and her friends buy Miss Thompson a Christmas gift or the delightful segment in Thanksgiving Treasure where Addie and Cora Sue are biking out into the countryside telling riddles to each other. Heck, Addie's best friend is gone and the special doesn't even take a minute to acknowledge it. (Also, in the novel Mr. Davenport arrives after Christmas vacation, giving Addie's crush time to develop. Onscreen Davenport arrives right before the dance and the crush develops the day she meets him.)

Oddly, though, now that I rewatch the special, I like the way the story is told onscreen better than in the book except for it being so abrupt. Addie learns about her dad and Irene from snooty Terry Sloan, the Tanya Smithers clone (even their initials are the same), which is very natural. She immediately "cases" Irene's "joint." In the book, Addie goes to have her permanent at Irene's beauty parlor and Irene's talk just goes over her head while Addie wracks her mind trying to figure out what James sees in this woman. In the television story, Irene tells Addie stories about her mother, who Irene envied, and also about her marriage and its unhappy ending. It's a much more compelling and sweet scene and changes the viewers' impression of Irene, which is initially "Who is this ditz and why would James Mills be interested in her?"

Incidentally, Diane Ladd is great as Irene, but she makes no effort to suppress her Mississippi accent, which is disconcerting since Irene is supposed to be a Clear River native. That's no Nebraska accent I've ever heard. The script tries to explain it by having Irene move to Florida after her marriage. I've been in Georgia over twenty years and, granted, I've lost my New England twang, but I don't have a drawl, either. They just cast Ladd because she was prominent in the media then, and while she fits the role, the accent is a letdown.

Later, the night of the dance, James gives Addie a corsage. In the book she wears it, but in the television sequence, in a very sweet scene, Addie carries the corsage when James escorts her to the dance. At the dance she gives the flowers to Irene and tells her they are from James, signifying her acceptance of the relationship.

In the end I wish they'd done the television storyline with the book additions and recast Billy Wild instead of creating Danny out of thin air (not to mention at least give a one-line explanation to where Cora Sue disappeared to—it would justify Addie's irritated mood at the opening of the story as well) and better explained Irene's accent (maybe she moved to Clear River right before she started high school) so that the whole of Addie and the King of Hearts would be as good as its various parts, bringing the series to a more satisfying end.

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