RKO Radio Pictures
Produced by William LeBaron
Story by Jane Murfin
Directed by William A. Seiter
Lord . . . . . . . . . . .
Effie L. Palmer . . . . . . . . . . . Mother Parker
Frank Albertson . . . . . . . . . . David Clark
Bette Davis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mary Lucy Duffy
Frankie Darro . . . . . . . . . . . . Robbie
Dorothy Peterson . . . . . . . . . Rose Clark
Stanley Fields . . . . . . . . . . . . Rufe Turner
Oscar Apfel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Wobbling Duffy
Sophia M. Lord . . . . . . . . . . . Lizzie
Bennett Kilpack . . . . . . . . . . Cephus
Raymond Hunter . . . . . . . . . Captain Bang
Wade Boteler . . . . . . . . . . . . Income Tax Man
Frank Darien . . . . . . . . . . . . Station Master
Lon Poff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Constable
Based on the very popular radio series Sunday Evening at Seth Parker's created by Phillips H. Lord, this down-home tale packs a thrilling and unexpected punch in its pre-climax which rivaled many of the action serials Frankie starred in.
The film begins in Joneport, Maine. We see Seth Parker driving an income tax man in his horse-drawn buggy as they pull up to a farm. A young boy, Robbie, runs into the house while the income tax man tries to help Seth sort out his taxes by asking him to explain what places he bought and at what purchase and selling price. Seth proceeds to give a long-winded and complicated explanation about the purchase of the ice house, and the land to have access to the ice house, and the consequential damming of a brook by his partner to get back at the man who sold it to them. Robbie returns to the cart, but the conversation continues, getting more and more complicated until the tax man cries out in frustration, startling the horse which tears off down the lane with Robbie's dog chasing alongside.
Reaching the Parker's farm, the tax man storms off in a huff. Mother Parker comes out of the house and calls Robbie over, telling him to deliver a pail of milk to Miss Clark. She warns him not to swing it over his head, but Robbie demonstrates how he can do so without spilling any, then hurries on his way. Mother Parker then asks Seth if he brought the molasses she asked for. Hiding the fact he forgot, he says he thought she wanted maple syrup. She catches him by asking where the maple syrup is. He recovers by saying he didn't get it because he thought she might rather have some molasses.
Wobbling Duffy pulls up in his buggy and tells Seth that he received a postcard from Rufe Turner which said he might be coming back. Rufe, as it turns out, is Robbie's real father. Wobbling says he supposed that Seth and his wife have adopted Robbie legally, and Seth confesses that they haven't in the ten years they've had Robbie. Wobbling suggests that Rufe might try to blackmail the Parkers and Seth thanks him for the warning.
At the Duffy residence, Wobbling's daughter, Mary Lucy, hurries out to where the workmen are busy pitching hay and calls to David Clark, who runs to meet her. She's brought them lunch and David takes the other men their share and promises to come back and sit in the shade with her and eat his. He tells her how he's going to be a big farmer someday. They talk about having new clothes for the party the next night, but Mary Lucy says she'll have to sneak out if she wants to attend because her father won't let her go to the barn dance or speak to David. She says she'll meet him on the side road by the stone wall anyway.
Wobbling Duffy pulls up in his buggy and spots the two eating and talking together. He fires David, saying he wouldn't have hired him if Seth Parker hadn't talked him into it. He then orders Mary Lucy into the house and tells David to stay away from her, that he doesn't want any of his breed around. Mary Lucy waves goodbye to David anyway. Elsewhere, Robbie is making his delivery to Miss Clark's home and swings the pail over his head, spilling a little of the milk. He meets two of his friends who have been fishing and admires their catch. They ask Robbie where he's going and he explains he's taking milk to Miss Clark. One boy asks, "Runaway Rosie?" with disdain. Robbie tells them his Pa said they shouldn't call her that. The other boy says that the preacher said she's like Mary Magdalene in the Bible. Robbie scoffs at their assessment of Miss Clark and goes to the door anyway.
Miss Clark opens the door and Robbie gives her the milk. The two boys stand at the fence and sing out tauntingly, "Runaway Rosie! Runaway Rosie!" Robbie tells her not to mind them and then takes off after them in anger. As he chases them down the street he passes David, who is heading home looking worried. Robbie continues after the boys. Inside the house, David tells his mother he was fired for talking to Mary Lucy. His mother tries to comfort him but he complains he has to get away, anyplace where no one knows he doesn't have a father. He asks how his mother could stand it all those years and wonders why she never wrote to tell him how it was, using all her money to send him to Agricultural School. She explains that she hoped if she'd sent him to school he could make something of their farm. He points out that only a lot of money and a lot of manure would make something out of their farm. "And we ain't got either one." He leaves.
Back at the Parker's that evening, Seth is lighting the lamp in the parlor. Mother Parker is in the kitchen when there is a knock at the kitchen door. She opens the door to Lizzie, who has brought some gooseberry preserves for Mother Parker to use in her sandwiches for the barn dance, then asks if she might have some grape jelly in return to give to her romantic desire, the Captain, at the dance.
Robbie rushes into the parlor, calling for his Pa in tears, asking if it's true that he and Ma aren't his real parents. Seth asks where Robbie has heard this and Robbie explains he heard Mr. Duffy say that they had taken care of Robbie as if he were one of their own. He goes on to say that Mr. Duffy said he turned out pretty well for having a drunkard for a father. Seth explains to Robbie that his mother gave him to them before she died when he was just a few months old. Robbie asks about his father and Seth says he didn't know Robbie's father too well but says his mother was a wonderful woman. Robbie asks if they're going to keep him and Seth says they wouldn't know what they'd do without him, and that if it weren't for Robbie he wouldn't know that he'd have to have a hired man. "You would?" Robbie asks. "I don't know but I'd have to have two of 'em!" Seth confirms. After Mother Parker calls out, Seth takes Robbie up to bed.
Rufe Turner arrives at the Duffy residence, greeting Wobbling and reminding him how he'd done a favor for Wobbling once. Wobbling calls into the house and tells Mary Lucy to set another place for dinner as Rufe washes his hands. Rufe explains to Wobbling how he intends to take Robbie away from the Parkers. He then makes eyes at Mary Lucy, who is appalled.
At the barn dance the next night, the Parkers arrive and are greeted by their friends. When Lizzie arrives, the Captain makes himself scarce. Robbie, along with some other boys, direct one boy to stand on a specific spot on the barn floor. They direct the boy to look down and oink, which he does. Robbie pulls a lever which opens a trap door leading to the pig pen below. David arrives with Mary Lucy, and David expresses concern about her father finding out. Seth leads the first dance. The Captain gets up to dance, ignoring Lizzie and asking another woman to take the floor with him. Mary Lucy and David dance as well. Mother Parker comments on how nicely Mary Lucy and David dance, and Lizzie criticizes Mary Lucy's choice, although David does have charm. She goes on to say that once a woman is old enough to know what she wants in a man she's too old to get him.
Seth leads a lively square dance. Mary Lucy and David steal away to a quiet corner. Wobbling Duffy shows up, looking for Mary Lucy. David helps her to hide as Wobbling asks the slow Cephus where she is. Cephus tells Wobbling to guess and Wobbling is so incensed he grabs a whip and starts hitting Cephus with it and calls him a fool. Wobbling spots David sitting in the corner and starts for him, but Seth jumps down from the stage to stop him. Wobbling says he's going to beat his daughter. Seth taunts Wobbling to step closer, getting him to step on the trap door and then releasing the lever, sending him down into the pig pen where Cephus gets to laugh at him. Meanwhile, Mary Lucy and David steal away in a hammock behind a house with a view of the lake. David says that if her father tries to whip her again he'll kill him. Mary Lucy says if he tries it again she'll run away. They kiss.
The Parkers are heading home after the barn dance in their buggy and Mother is concerned about driving by the Duffy's house to check on Mary Lucy, but Seth says he will anyway. At the Duffy home, Wobbling tells his daughter she may as well leave if she won't obey his rules. As she leaves, Rufe Turner tries to accost her, but she runs away. She meets the Parkers on the road and tells them her father put her out of the house and they take her home with them. Rufe and Wobbling watch them ride away and Wobbling asks Rufe if he came to get money from the Parkers. Rufe says he did and he will but Wobbling says he has a better idea and asks Rufe to step inside.
Later, we see Lizzie approach the telephone and make a call to her friend, Miss Hooper. Hearing the ring, all the women pick up their phones to listen on the party line. One of the women wheezes so loudly that Lizzie tells her she knows she's listening because she can hear her breathing. Lizzie reaches Miss Cooper to ask if she plans on going to the Parkers to sing that night. Lizzie then gossips about the situation with Mary Lucy and her father and how Mr. Duffy won't speak to Seth Parker. At the Parkers, Mary Lucy is helping Mother with the cooking. Mother spies Seth outside sneaking to the buggy with their family Bible. She asks what he's doing and Seth says he had hoped to get it to the buggy without her knowing because he wanted to take it to be rebound as a surprise. He proceeds to place it in the buggy.
Robbie comes up from the cellar with some wood into the kitchen and Mary Lucy sneaks him some muffins. When Mother walks in, Robbie says he'll get more wood and goes back into the cellar. Mother assures Mary Lucy that her father will come for her soon and Mary Lucy says that he wouldn't even see her when she went to get her clothes. Rufe Turner arrives at the Parkers' home and knocks on the door. Seth opens the door and Rufe steps inside. Not having much choice, Seth invites him to sit. Rufe explains how he wants to have his son and Seth points out that he didn't have much of a hankering for him for the past ten years. Seth explains that he loves Robbie as if he were his own, and what a good boy Robbie is. Rufe says that he supposes Seth thinks he wouldn't be a good father and Seth agrees that he wouldn't.
Rufe asks to see Robbie and Seth argues he doesn't think it's a good idea. Rufe questions whether Robbie knows he has a real father and Seth assures him Robbie knows but isn't happy about it. Rufe pushes Seth aside and walks into the kitchen, asking where Robbie is. Mother is horrified to learn that the man is Robbie's father who's come to take him away. Mary Lucy motions to Seth that Robbie is in the cellar and she quietly closes the door to hide him. Rufe gets more insistent that he see Robbie. Seth insists Rufe won't have him and Rufe says he knows they never legally adopted him. Rufe starts to threaten Seth with violence when Robbie bursts out of the cellar, yelling, "Don't you dare touch my father! If you do, I'll kill ya!"
Robbie runs into the parlor and gets a rifle down off the rack and aims it at Rufe. Mother Parker is shocked but Seth stands behind Robbie, saying it's legal to shoot a trespasser when he's on your property and won't get off. Rufe explain he's Robbie's father and just came to see him, but it's clear Robbie doesn't care. Rufe leaves. Mother breathes a sigh of relief and asks what if the gun had gone off and hurt him. Seth explains that the gun wasn't loaded, but when he goes to take it from Robbie it fires. Robbie cries, upset that he broke the window pane. Seth promises they'll take the hammer off the gun so it won't go off again, then explains that he'll take Robbie into town the next day to fill out the paperwork to legally adopt him.
That night, Robbie is kneeling down next to his bed saying his prayers with Seth beside him. Amongst his prayers, Robbie asks God to heal up Dolly the horse's right hind foot so she could plow easier and to bless Ma and Pa. Downstairs, the guests are arriving for the sing-a-long and taffy pull. Seth puts Robbie to bed and Robbie asks if he could leave the register open so he could listen to the singing for a while. Seth blows out the lamp and leaves. More guests arrive and the taffy pull is in full swing. Seth suggests they start singing and Robbie gets up out of bed and goes to the register to listen. The group sings "Seeing Nellie Home." Outside in the barn, Mary Lucy and David are in the barn where Mary Lucy says she's going to run away and David says he'll go with her, that Seth asked him to go to town to buy some seed potatoes and that he'll take her with him and buy two train tickets for Boston.
The group continues to sing. Robbie closes the register after the first song and the group begins a second. Rose Clark walks by, listening to the music. After the song, someone suggests Seth read them the news from the Jonesport Star, which he does. Then they sing another song. Rose continues to listen outside, then sadly goes on her way. When the group sings another song, David meets Mary Lucy at her window and they hurry to the buggy with her suitcase. Seth hears a noise and goes outside to investigate. He finds Mary Lucy and David in the buggy and asks if they will be sure to be back early since he wants them to look after things while he's in Bangor. David explains he may be going away. Seth suggests the young couple may be fond of each other and asks if they'd run away to get married. David says they don't have enough money to get married. Seth says he has some money and suggests they go to Bangor and get married. The young couple is thrilled and drives away. Seth watches them go.
Seth walk back into the house, not realizing that Rufe Turner is sneaking about outside. Rufe climbs up on the awning and sneaks into Robbie's window as the guests are leaving. Seth suggests the guests sing as they ride away down the road. Rufe gags Robbie in his bed and proceeds to tie his hands behind his back then carry him out the window as Seth and Mother are seeing off their guests. Coming back inside, Mother sees the leftover food and goes to put in her apron to clean up. Seth pours a glass of lemonade and gets some treats to take up to Robbie, but Mother comes back before he can get up the stairs. Seth suggests taking something up for Robbie and Mother argues, but Seth insists, much to Mother's amusement.
Seth enters Robbie's room and finds him missing. He looks out the window in time to see Rufe Turner driving away with Robbie in the buggy beside him. Seth hurries downstairs and tells Mother to call the junction and tell the station master not to let anyone get on the 9:10 train. Seth hurries outside and hooks the plow horse up to the buggy. Mother finds out the line is out and she can't reach the station. As Seth is pulling away, Mother calls out to tell him and Seth tells her to call the Constable. Mother hurries inside and puts a call in to the Constable.
Rufe Turner is driving furiously, trying to get to the train station. At one point Robbie leaps off the buggy and rolls down an incline, forcing Rufe to stop and climb down after him. Rufe catches him and warns him not to try it again. Seth drives his buggy as fast as he can, trying to catch up to Rufe. Mother is on the phone to the Constable, who seems to be the slowest man on earth. At the train station, Wobbling Duffy is waiting and the station master asks him if he's taking the 9:10. Wobbling explains he's just there to see someone who is. The chase continues, with both buggies racing along the dirt roads. The 9:10 train is approaching the station and the station master says whoever Wobbling is waiting for won't make it so he'll let the train go through. Wobbling says he might take it and insists the train be stopoed.
Seth takes an alternative fork in one road and manages to catch up with Rufe. Rufe drives his buggy across the train tracks right in front of the 9:10 with only seconds to spare. Seth doesn't make it across, but follows the tracks down and crosses when he can. He finally manages to catch up with Rufe's buggy and forces him to stop. Rufe asks Seth what he's gonna do and Seth says he's gonna get his boy. Seth jumps at Rufe and they begin to fight. Robbie struggles to get loose as the two men fight in the back of the buggy. Seth manages to kick Rufe off the back and then when Rufe tries to grab him he kicks him back again. Rufe finally pulls Seth off the wagon and punches him, sending him to the ground. Robbie gets his hands loose as Rufe is climbing back onto the buggy. Seth throws something at Rufe and shouts, "Look out!" When Rufe turns around, Seth rams him in the stomach with his head. Robbie jumps into the Parkers' buggy and urges his Pa to hurry up. Seth climbs into the passenger seat but Rufe comes around and grabs him, trying to pull him off. Seth spots the Bible sitting on the seat and picks it up, clubbing Rufe over the head with it. Seth grabs the reins and drives the buggy away.
A newspaper headline reads, "Judge Places Boy With Juvenile Society." At the Parkers', all the friends are gathered. Lizzie says she's sure the court will award Robbie to the Parkers. Miss Hooper says she heard that Wobbling Duffy was going to run Rose Clark out of town. Miss Hooper starts to complain about Miss Clark's character and Seth stops her and explains how when Rose was young she fell in love and went away with a man, then came back a year later, and that they have no right to pass judgment. He urges everyone to treat Rose kindly and then begins to sing "Auld Lang Syne." Slowly everyone joins in. Seth says he's proud of everyone.
Mary Lucy and David arrive and Lizzie sees her ring and announces they're married. Lizzie says she'll throw them a party and that she wants to invite Rose as well. David says she's outside in the buggy and he'll bring her in. David runs outside and tells her the news and then Mother invites her in. Everyone greets Rose warmly. Suddenly they hear a voice and Robbie runs in, saying that the court awarded him to them and that he's their real son at last. The Captain shows Robbie a wooden boat he's made for him. Seth suggests they sing "In the Good Ol' Summertime" and "Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet." The group sings together as the Captain sits down next to Lizzie. Cephus takes the hand of his loved one. David, Mary Lucy and Rose sit together, looking happy. And finally, Robbie sits on Seth's lap as Mother plays the organ.
Phillips H. Lord based the character of Seth Parker on his real-life grandfather. The series, Sunday Evening at Seth Parker's, enjoyed great success on NBC radio and led to recordings, books, articles and this film. If the action sequence in this film seems unusual for such a typically quiet and down home set of characters, it might be of interest to note that Phillips H. Lord later created the action-packed radio series Gang Busters for CBS.
Bette Davis makes only her fourth screen appearance in this film, playing Mary Lucy Duffy, whom much of co-plot revolves around.
Stanley Fields is terrific as the menacing father and would threaten Frankie again (albeit in a more comically heavy sense) in the 1936 film Black Gold.
A book, entitled Seth Parker and his Jonesport Folks: Way Back Home was released in conjunction with the movie and included several pictures from the film as well.