Happy Years The (1950)
Directed by William A. Wellman (A Star is Born (1937)) and based on Owen Johnson’s “Lawrenceville School” stories this “coming of age” comedy drama stars 14 year old Dean Stockwell (Married to the Mob (1988)) as an incorrigible young lad who eventually learns to fit in at a prep school after having been thrown out of at least two others. A rivalry with a “tough” older boy a friendship with a nerdy underage one and gentle guidance provided by an Instructor who becomes his dormitory “house master” all lead to his maturation. Though not exceptional this pre-“turn of the century” period piece does provide adequate entertainment and positive messages after its slow start.
Set in 1896 somewhere near New Jersey unkempt John Humperdink Stover (Stockwell) was thrown out of his older brother’s prep school for blowing up the chemistry lab he wanted to prove that one could make dynamite without using gunpowder. While home he paints the neighbor’s horse green to help it hide from mosquitoes. His father Samuel Stover Sr. (Leon Ames) & mother Maude (Margalo Gillmore) are at their wits end wishing their youngest was more like his model older brother Samuel Jr. (Peter M. Thompson) or proper sister ‘Tootsie’ (Jeralyn Alton uncredited). They decide to give him one more chance before reform school by sending him to the Lawrenceville School where ‘Sambo’ (what John calls his older brother) now at Yale spent some time.
On the horse & buggy ride from the train station to the school Stover takes the reigns from the driver that wasn’t going fast enough to suit him upsetting an older passenger (Leo G. Carroll) also along for the ride. Upon arrival at the school he is dropped off in front of the Green house the off-campus dormitory for what looks like the roughest of the students. After introducing himself to the head boy ‘Tough’ McCarty (Darryl Hickman) Stover is made to bow & introduce himself to the other boys seated on the front steps. Each has a unique nickname: ‘Cheyenne’ Baxter (Jerry Mickelsen) Coffee Colored Angel (Alan Dinehart III) White Mountain Canary (Dave Bair) and so forth. Stover is given the nickname ‘Dink’.
Venturing into town while skipping classes his first day (a right of passage) Dink meets Tennessee Shad (Scotty Beckett) who fills him in on some of the folklore before scamming the greenhorn into purchasing a decorative toiletry set. Back at Green house Dink’s roommate Butsey White (Danny Mummert) mocks him for being taken. Later as the ninth member of the house Dink is made to play baseball a sport he clearly doesn’t play. Robert Wagner is uncredited as the opposing catcher but is unrecognizable through the face mask. After helping his team lose the game Dink is chased over a period of days by White Mountain Canary until he’s finally caught and must defend himself. When Dink comes out on top he figures he can take on Tough for the head boy. He learns otherwise though he vows revenge. He also learns that the older passenger from that first buggy ride is Mr. Hopkins (Carroll) the school’s Latin teacher.
The next thing you know the semester is over and Dink returns home having failed to make any friends. His family which summers at the beach seems to have heard about his rough time and treats him with kid gloves throughout the season. During his vacation break Dink teaches the local gang of ruffians some new tricks he’d learned while at school. While spoiling all the little girls’ enjoyment during the summer with one particular ruse Dink finally meets his match in Dolly Travers (Claudia Barrett) who also happens to be enamored with Tough McCarty.
When Dink returns to school he finds himself reassigned to Kennedy house whose house master is Mr. Hopkins dubbed ‘The Old Roman’. He also meets the ‘Great Big Man’ (Donn Gift) who’s anything but in fact he’s technically underage but smart enough to be one of the school’s best students. He’s staying at Kennedy house because his father is friends with ‘The Old Roman’ who’s also the football coach. Because of his tenacity and despite his size the coach allows Dink to play on the scrubs (second practice team) which gives him an opportunity to regularly tangle with the team’s captain Tough. Struggling with his Latin Dink makes a deal with the ‘Great Big Man’ – he’ll help the little guy live up to his name if the little genius will help Dink pass an oral Latin test to keep from flunking out of playing on the football team. The ‘Great Big Man’ uses two different unique physical talents to do both – an ability to wiggle his ears to help Dink answer some binary questions accurately and his enormous appetite to earn a replacement nickname ‘Hungry Smeed’ and free pancakes for everyone on campus. Irving Bacon appears uncredited as the pancake establishment’s owner who’d “bet” that no one could eat more than twenty-six.
Eventually of course even Tough and Dink become friends when an injured player during a football game enables Dink to play side-by-side his rival. Additionally Dink learns that ‘The Old Roman’ is not the ogre he thinks he is. There’s also a cute little wrap up when the school year ends and Stover returns “home” to the beach.