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  Out West with the Peppers Westward d'oh!
Year: 1940
Director: Charles Barton
Stars: Edith Fellows, Dorothy Ann Seese, Dorothy Peterson, Charles Peck, Tommy Bond, Bobby Larson, Victor Kilian, Helen Brown, Emory Parnell, Pierre Watkin, Ronald Sinclair, Walter Soderling, Roger Gray, Hal Price
Genre: Comedy, Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Third in Columbia Pictures’ film series loosely based on the children’s books created by Margaret Sidney. Out West with the Peppers opens with the five Pepper kids aboard a luxury liner, midway through their trip around the world, when mother (Dorothy Peterson - prominently billed, but in all of three scenes) is taken ill. Doctors recommend she get some fresh air amidst the great outdoors, so Polly (Edith Fellows), Ben (Charles Peck), Joey (Tommy Bond), Davie (Bobby Larson) and little scene-stealer Phronsie (Dorothy Ann Seese - now sporting a bubbly blonde hairdo, so we know where she spent her share of their newfound wealth) bid farewell to their rich benefactor Mr. King (now played by a younger actor: Pierre Watkin) and his nice grandson Jasper (Ronald Sinclair) and head west to visit their Aunt Alice (Helen Brown). Aunt Alice runs a bed and breakfast for local loggers, alongside her husband Jim (Victor Kilian), a drunken, inveterate gambler and all-round grouch who hates kids and is less than happy when the boisterous Pepper brood create all kinds of havoc in his home.

Unlike the previous entries, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (1939) and Five Little Peppers At Home (1940), the third movie completely ignores Margaret Sidney’s books and concocts a wholly spurious plot. Actually, plot might be too strong a word. With the Pepper kids no longer poor, screenwriter Harry Sauber clearly needed to place them in a new downtrodden situation that would draw out their resilience and ingenuity. Instead, he and director Charles Barton - who later helmed Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and several other vehicles for the popular comic duo - serve up a batch of sugary scenes strung together with the barest wisp of a story. As motherly big sister Polly, series star Edith Fellows has little to do besides fret, cry a little and make her a picnic basket. Eldest brother Ben, always given short shrift, becomes a delivery boy then rapidly exits the story. Once again, it is little Phronsie who dominates the action, such as it is. Sweet as it may be to watch her lecture big burly loggers on their manners and muster a cutesy wisecrack for all occasions, you can’t help but think much of the series’ potential has been squandered.

The younger Peppers seem a whole lot naughtier this time around, especially Davie and Joey who are downright obnoxious. Over the course of the movie, the brothers trash their new bedroom, wreck a general store and let a skunk loose in Uncle Jim’s room. Jim might be a cantankerous S.O.B. but you start to see he has a point about these bratty kids, which surely can’t be the right message. Charles Barton makes surprisingly little of the picturesque outdoors and in place of the original’s homespun charm serves up contrived melodrama during the finale, which finds the younger kids trapped on raft going down the raging rapids. The Pepper kids returned for the final time in Five Little Peppers In Trouble (1940).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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