If yesterday's movie was The Civil War Waltons, today's movie might as well be called The Orphaned Waltons. Bill and Vera Cleaver's 1969 novel Where the Lilies Bloom inspired this tale of four motherless children living in the Appalachian backwoods who face an unnevering challenge when emphysemic Dad suddenly drops dead. Determined to stay together and not face separation via institutionalization, the kids decide to tell curious visitors that Dad's just sick or sleeping, or both.
The plot is basically the same as the 1967 British film Our Mother's House (based in turn on Julian Gloag's 1964 novel); it's also very similar to a 1972 Disney flick I saw a few weeks ago called Napoleon and Samantha, in which a young Johnny Whitaker keeps his own father's death a secret to the outside world. The Lilies take on the story is just more...well, Waltony. (Little surprise that the screenplay was by Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr.)
In this version of the Desperate Orphans fable, which is probably the best of the bunch, the brood consists of Devola, the very attractive older daughter; Mary Call, her plain-looking younger sister; Romey, their younger brother; and cute-as-a-button 5-year-old Ima Dean. Yet is is Mary, not Devola, who takes charge of the band of siblings and serves as their protector. The main thing threatening to blow the kids' cover is Harry Dean Stanton, the family's landlord and their father's main nemesis, who is constantly visiting their ramshackle home—partly because he's got a crush on Devola. Mary Call tries hard to follow her father's wishes and pick the family up by its bootstraps, but it may prove to be an impossible task for the long haul. It's an interesting if unoriginal premise, and it's carried off with skill. The child actors are solid if unremarkable, but Stanton is perfectly cast as the interloper whose sympathetic side is key to the film's perfect and heartbreaking finale. Special thanks to AFCA's Hank Gillette for recommending this one. Rating: 4/5.