Trouble Along the Way (1953)
Divorced ex-football coach Steve Williams (Wayne) is making a less than respectable living as a bookie when he receives an offer from Father Burke (Charles Coburn) to build a football team at St. Anthony’s College. Wayne takes the post, mainly to try and stay one step ahead of Children’s Court Officer Alice Singleton (Donna Reed) who’s trying to take his daughter Carol away from him.
This is a feel good comedy that, while incredibly clichéd, still manages to be a lot of fun. It helps that the film had a first rate director in Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood) who manages to make the most of the witty script while downplaying the sentimentality inherent in the story.
In Williams, Wayne has a role unlike any other he played. There’s a touch of the con man about him and yet he’s also a loving father who puts his daughter above all else. His scenes with Sherry Jackson as his daughter are among the film's highlights, and thanks to the playing of both actors are far less saccharine than you’d expect. It’s Sherry Jackson in fact who steals the film as Carol, a girl wise beyond her years.
The romance angle is underwritten and this leaves Donna Reed with little to work with. One minute she’s trying to take Carol away from Williams, the next she’s in love with him and it’s too big a leap to be convincing.
Charles Coburn is as reliable as ever playing Father Burke. The part is hardly original - think Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way with a little extra padding round the midsection - but Coburn is charming. His plan to save the college by building a winning football team in the hopes it will bring in enough money to avert the impending closure is what brings the characters together.
The film also features small roles for a couple of actors who would go on to bigger things in TV westerns. Leif Erickson (The High Chaparral) plays one of the clergymen who plan to close the college while Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) is an old friend of Williams who he recruits to help train the team. Neither actor makes much of an impression but they don’t really get much of a chance with such minor parts.
This is the best film in this box set. It’s far from a classic but it is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and shows Wayne at the height of his stardom in a refreshingly different role.