Steve Williams is a disgraced former college football coach. After a bitter divorce, he is raising his daughter alone and making a living as a glorified bookie.
Father Burke is the aging president of small parochial college, St Anthony’s. He has just been informed that his beloved school will be closed soon due to insolvency.
Burke refuses to accept the bad news. He believes that he can save the school by generating enough money to pay off the large debt. He has the brilliant idea of hiring Steve to create a football program which will bring in enough revenue to achieve his goal.
Initially, Steve refuses the offer. But then his ex-wife reports him to social services in an effort to regain custody of their daughter. Steve realizes that his current lifestyle will not look good to the court. So, he and his daughter Carol take on the challenge of creating a football team for a college which is better known for its’ academics than athletics.
I’m sitting here feeling rather proud (and smug) that I have found one of the rare John Wayne films that isn’t a western! I like John Wayne, but I have a limited taste for Westerns, even those of the Duke. But the same qualities which make him so suited to westerns work equally well for him here as a cynical football coach with a soft heart for his daughter in Trouble Along the Way.
Wayne’s scenes with his onscreen daughter are surprisingly sweet and tender if a bit awkward. In fact, they are sweet without being too sentimental. Child actress Sherry Jackson is excellent as a young girl who has been raised as the son her father never had. Carol doesn’t even realize she wants more out of life until she is introduced to it by both Father Burke and her case worker Alice Singleton (Donna Reed). Jackson’s Carol acts more an adult than her father sometimes, but still retains some of the innocence of a child.
I actually chose to watch Trouble Along the Way for Charles Coburn, who is one of my favorite character actors. I really love him as the beloved cantankerous priest who refuses to accept bad news or the fact that he is aging. His Father Burke reminds me a bit of his matchmaking role in The More the Merrier, a slightly mischievous behind the scenes puppet master. Donna Reed has the unexciting role of Alice, Carol’s social worker and champion who has her perceptions of Steve and his daughter challenged the longer she knows them.
I had never heard of Trouble Along the Way before watching it and now I wonder why. It’s a solid little film with quality actors and is directed by the famous Michael Curtiz. It nicely balances it’s dual story lines of football and family and manages to produce an uplifting message with both. I also appreciate how though the ending hints at happiness, it is not a foregone conclusion with everything wrapped up in a neat little bow. If you’ve never seen Trouble Along the Way, I encourage you to seek it out. You won’t be disappointed.