In 1965 when The Truth About Spring was released, Haley Mills was turning 18 and was already a well established star after being in a string of hit Disney films like Pollyanna, The Parent Trap, and then That Darn Cat. Back when this film was made, it was simply a family adventure. It is simply so charming and wholesome; it really is the kind of film that is just about impossible to find at your local cinema anymore. When watching this, I couldn’t help but realize how if this very same film was put on the big screen today it would cause certain groups out there to lose their minds, all because it is a story about a tomboy who “changes” for a young man she falls in love with. Now, I’m not about to stir anything up and bring up politics or social ideologies with this review, but it was something that I wanted to mention, because sadly something’s in this movie just wouldn’t be done in a film today, despite how innocently this film was made many decades ago. I’m reviewing this through the lens of how this movie was meant to be seen upon its release, and without social commentary, because frankly to do so otherwise is exhausting and simply tarnishes the joy of the experience of this film.
The film opens up on a sailboat, and we meet Tommy Tyler (John Mills) and his daughter, Spring (Haley Mills). We get to watch them pull off one of their more innocent schemes when they come aboard a cruise liner and “convince” the crew and the passengers to give them supplies. As part of the scheme, Spring is taking on the role of being a malnourished boy, and it’s this performance that tugs on the heartstrings of the passengers to allow this scheme to be successful, though it’s obvious the captain doesn’t seem convinced by the act; but still he gives the Tyler family the needed supplies. The instant chemistry we see between Tommy and Spring should be no surprise considering they are real life father and daughter, and this isn’t the first time they performed on screen together. It’s the relationship between the father and daughter that really propels this film, whether it is their innocent jabs at one another or even the heartfelt exchanges that come later in the film, it’s the natural connection the pair have that makes the film work.
The meat of the story begins when William Ashton (James MacArthur), a recently graduated law student, decides to vacation in the Caribbean, and he meets the Tyler family. William is expecting to just have a peaceful fishing experience, but Tommy has other plans that involve a map to a buried treasure, and he sees having a lawyer on board his ship could help with the trouble he’s having with some local pirates who are after his treasure map. While Tommy is busy scheming with the pirates a relationship starts to bloom between William and Spring. Sure this is a story trope we’ve seen time and time again where the rich guy falls for the simple tomboy but Haley Mills just has so much charm in this film. Just about everything she does is endearing, and it is no surprise that William would fall for her.
As for the pirates, well, they are certainly a dimwitted lot. There is Carkez (Lionel Jeffries), who seems to keep getting swindled by Tommy in every interaction they have. Then there is Cleary (Niall MacGinnis), who seems to be the big pirate in charge, though he isn’t as cutthroat as you may expect, but instead is bit of a softie. This is obviously a far cry from what pirates really are, but that is OK; we’re more concerned about the blossoming romance and whether Tommy will actually get to his treasure than anything else.
The world of The Truth About Spring is very much one that is seen through rose-colored glasses. Of course it’s not the real world, but that is what makes this film so refreshing compared to today’s films. Of course we wouldn’t really expect pirates to be easily thwarted by our heroes with nothing more than fists and mops, but that is the innocence this film portrays. Though this wasn’t a Disney production, it does very much share the same sensibilities of what Disney used to be.
The story was based on the book Satan: A Romance in the Bahamas which was written by Henry de Vere Stacpoole, who is most famous for writing the novel The Blue Lagoon, which has been adapted for the screen a few times. The story like the film is very much targeted towards a young adult audience but is something everyone can enjoy.
One of the biggest stars of the film isn’t one of its actors but is actually the location where the film was made. A good portion of the film was actually filmed on the open water just off the coast of Spain, and it definitely adds to the experience of the film. The beautiful scenery is captured wonderfully by famed cinematographer Edward Scaife, who has a long list of credits for shooting such classics as The Third Man, The African Queen, and The Dirty Dozen. Kino Lorber has done an excellent job with the preservation of this film and presenting it with its beautiful colors that pop with vibrancy onto the screen. Just about every scene where we see the ships just anchored offshore just look absolutely postcard-esque, and the near-pristine shores make it believable that a treasure could be buried nearby.
Sure, this is one that doesn’t take any unexpected twists, and it is pretty straightforward, but it is simply oozing so much charm from its cast and their chemistry that it was hard to not just grin from start to finish of this film. This is a pre-feminist era film and should be remembered and viewed as such. I loved this film from start to finish, and I think it would be the perfect film to put on if you are looking for a throwback family adventure everyone can enjoy.