Grade:  C+/B-

Family Adventure-Romance

Not rated (would be PG)

In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, two young Disney stars were among the most popular on the planet: Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and British actress Hayley Mills, whose debut with Disney (Pollyanna, 1960) earned her the last special Juvenile Oscar awarded. A year later she starred as separated twins trying to reunite their divorced parents in The Parent Trap, and a song she performed, “Let’s Get Together,” reached No. 1 on the charts in the U.S.

For a decade, Hayley was big—even bigger than Annette. Stanley Kubrick offered her the title role in Lolita (which her father, Sir John Mills, turned down), and her performance in the 1961 British film Whistle Down the Wind (an adaptation of a novel written by her mother) earned her a BAFTA Best British Actress nomination. She also was voted the biggest star in Britain that year.

The Truth About Spring(1965) was the third film Mills made with her famous thespian father—fourth, if you count the elder Mills cameo as a golf caddy in The Parent Trap—and this star vehicle plays very much like an affectionate last daddy-daughter hurrah before the later leaves the nest, as Hayley would. Just a year later her father would direct her Sky West and Crooked and she would marry adirector 33 years her senior from The Family Way, in which John Mills had only a minor rle. So there’s something inherently poignant in the Mills pairing in The Truth About Spring.

If you don’t look at the credits, you’d swear that this film was made by Disney, with the familiar musical cues, structure, characters, tone, and direction—except that it’s not. Universal made this one and tried the Disney formula, with disappointing effects.

In his autobiography, John Mills wrote, “If the picture had turned out to be half as good as the food, the wine, the time and the laughs we had on that location it would have been a sensation—unfortunately it wasn’t.”

Though it’s also an adventure with some romance involving a young girl initially dressed as a boy, The Truth About Spring wasn’t nearly as successful as Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson (1960), in which the elder Mills played the father of a family marooned in the early 1800s on an island paradise. That film had real pirates and a lush tropical setting full of all sorts of animals and a cast of characters that provided plenty of side stories.

This adventure allegedly took place in the Caribbean. But the scenery was actually the barren rocky coast of southern Spain, and the pirates are contemporary—pirate in spirit and function, not dress.  There may be a treasure hunt, but it somehow seems nothing more than a plot device.

Other than two groups of “pirates,” The Truth About Spring also has only the two Mills and Swiss Family Robinson veteran James MacArthur (perhaps most famous for his role as Danno on TV’s Hawaii Five-O) for plot possibilities. For much of the film they’re aboard a small sailing vessel where the free-spirited con-artist Tommy Tyler (J. Mills) lives with his daughter, Spring. Into their lives comes William Ashton (MacArthur), a newly minted young lawyer who’s on his uncle’s yacht for a vacation before starting his job in Philadelphia.

Looking to work another con, Tommy invites him to jump ship to do a little fishing on their sailboat, and the next thing you know Ashton is accepting an invitation to spend a few weeks on their boat. Contrived? Certainly. But once you get past a hokey title sequence, there’s a wholesome charm to this coming-of-age film that remains all these years later.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  102 min. Color

Studio/Distributor:  Universal / Kino Lorber

Aspect ratio:  1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen

Featured audio:  DTS 2.0

Bonus features:  C+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be PG for some peril and social drinking)

Language: 1/10—I didn’t hear a single word, but I’m listing it as a 1 just in case . . .

Sex: 1/10—A first and second kiss, and a playboy uncle surrounded by cougars

Violence:  2/10—Guns are pulled, but no one is shot; there’s an explosion, but no one is hurt; and the fight against pirates involves punching, pushing, and whacking them with a mop

Adult situations: 1/10—Cocktails are held aboard the yacht, and Tommy channels his inner Popeye by smoking a pipe (and cigars)

Takeaway:  Hayley Mills still has a loyal following, and that fan base will be happy to have this seldom-broadcast film in their Blu-ray collections