Sweet, if Formulaic
JLFM - wrote on 12/23/12
Driftwood is one of those films that I just wanted to hate from the start. I knew this would be another "classic uplifting film," and I was sure it was going to be disgracefully cheesy. Well, I was right; it's hammy to the core, and does little to change the basic "heartwarming" formula. But no matter how hard I tried, I was eventually pulled in by Driftwood's sweetness and pure innocence.
Recently orphaned nine year old, Jenny Hollingsworth (and her dog, Hollingsworth whom she named after herself) makes her way to a small town in Nevada that has been plagued by the Rocky Mountain Fever. A doctor named Steve Webster temporarily adopts Jenny until someone else can be found to keep her. Steve hopes to leave Jenny with his girlfriend, Susan Moore, but things get off to a bad start when Jenny says more things than she should. So while Jenny stays with Steve, everyone gets to know about Jenny and her curious antics.
If you expect Driftwood to be anything other than a corny, formulaic and helplessly sappy Hollywood picture, you would be absolutely foolish. The reason Driftwood works is because it mixes it's formula so well.
The likeable characters are a large part of why Driftwood is so enjoyable. Jenny, being a strange cross between Orphan Annie and Linus Van Pelt, is immediately endearing and is easy to like. Steve is caring and loving, and plays something of an underdog as he tries to convince the town of the need to vaccinate everybody from the understated Rocky Mountain Fever. Susan is a bit more bland as a character, having little personality. Still, she goes beyond acting merely as the love interest.
Still, the two standout characters (and actors) are Susan's aunt, Mathilda, and Murph, who helps take care of Jenny. Mathilda is cranky and hard to please, and Jenny's big mouth tends to get those around her in some sticky situations with Mathilda. Murph first seems like a grumpy old man, but we see his sweet side now and then under his crusty exterior.
All the characters are made even more likeable by excellent acting from Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger, Natalie Wood, Charlotte Greenwood and Ruth Warrick.
Dritfwood is just very steady and enjoyable cinema. The whole production is charming and pleasant, and hard to dislike. Still, anyone expecting anything other than the basic Hollywood "feel-good" formula will be sorely disappointed. Even when things get surprising grim and bleak looking, everything turns out hunky-dory in the end (and it's nicely wrapped up: no room for a sequel here, unlike modern film). Still, coming in with the right expectations, you should find Driftwood to be a sweet, brief and mild experience. It's no masterpiece, but boy is it adorable.