DVD-R by the Fox Cinema Archives.
I'm glad I discovered the movie, as it was a very good film from director Henry King. King, who also directed wonderful slices of Americana such as MARGIE (1946) and I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951), was the perfect director for this type of story. He filmed the movie almost entirely on location in Maine, as noted on an opening title card. The rugged coastline was beautifully captured in black and white by Joseph LaShelle.
The story concerns Donny Mitchell (Dean Stockwell), a ward of the state since the deaths of his father and uncle, who were both fishermen. Social worker Ann Freeman (Jean Peters) brings Donny to live with Mary McKay (Anne Revere), a stern but kindly woman looking for help with the chores.
Ann has just broken her engagement to Hod (Andrews), a lobsterman, as she doesn't want to spend her life fearing for his safety every time he goes to sea. She likewise becomes concerned for Donny's safety when he becomes attached to Hod and Hod's partner Joe (Cesar Romero) and wants to help them on their boat. Ann's attempts to keep Donny away from the sea backfire, as he gets into deep trouble attempting to run away.
This is a quietly absorbing movie which doesn't take easy outs. Donny has some serious problems, and for a while they pile up pretty heavily. It could have become a downer of a film, given his struggles, but that's prevented by the natural, deeply felt performances, with the lead actors all playing caring people who want to help a young boy turn his life around before it's too late. By the same token, the characters' no-nonsense Maine attitudes keep the film from becoming cloying. Each of the actors is excellent, with standouts being Revere's crusty-yet-caring foster mother and Romero's Portuguese seaman who dreams of life on a farm.
The film has a rich atmosphere thanks to its location shooting, with a significant percentage of scenes filmed outdoors. At least some of the interior scenes, such as the climactic courthouse sequence, also appear to have been filmed on location. This was the second year in a row Dana Andrews appeared in a film with extensive New England location shooting; the previous year he was seen in BOOMERANG! (1947), filmed in Connecticut.
The supporting cast includes Ed Begley (Sr.) as a boat builder with political pull who helps Hod and Donny, and Mae Marsh has a brief but notable role as a woman worried about her seaman husband. Leona Powers, Will Geer, Cliff Clark, and Raymond Greenleaf are also in the cast.
Richard Murphy's script was loosely based on the novel SPOONHANDLE by Ruth Moore. The film runs 85 minutes.
It's interesting to note that the movie poster, with an odd drawing of Andrews and Peters, doesn't seem to have much relationship to the film! The Fox Cinema Archives covers have been of variable quality, but in this case the still chosen for the DVD case does a much better job conveying the film's story and tone.
Incidentally, I always enjoy checking out Leonard Maltin's CLASSIC MOVIE GUIDE, but I don't think the reviewer could have possibly been watching the same movie. "Slick" and "empty" aren't adjectives I would use to describe this rough-edged, interesting film. I hope Mr. Maltin will have the film reassessed at some point. It's a solid, memorably different movie which deserves a fresh look.