I was told that this movie, unlike Steinbeck's original story, had a happy ending. Well... yes and no. At the very end of the film, everybody's laughing. (A little manaically, in my opinion.) But the movie is still about an unhappy family, and it's full of tense, strained scenes at the breakfast table. Nor does "happy ending" mean that we escape the bad things that happen in the book.
There were some nice wildlife and scenery shots of Steinbeck country, but I could have used more.
The children in the film, except for the main character, are horrible yelling little bullies. I took positive delight in their oppression by the very recognizable Wicked Witch of the West as their schoolteacher.
Robert Mitchum's character, who at first is presented as the hero who knows everything there is to know about horses, is gradually revealed as someone who promises more than he can deliver. The uncovering of his flaws and instability is very well done. In general, the movie avoids too much cliche (except in the hokey daydream sequences), and examines its own stereotypes (the old settler, the perfect horse trainer, the incompetent city slicker) in interesting ways.
The parents and grandfather are slightly strange characters, who give the little boy so many conflicting and unspoken commands that I felt very sorry for him trying to grow up in such a crazy environment. Yet it's all under the surface of a wholesome and respectable ranch life. Myrna Loy is cold and gives orders to everyone; she'd be right at home with a riding crop in her hand. She's in the middle between her husband and her father, who have little patience for one another. Mealtime scenes are authentically tense, if not exactly fun to watch.
Aaron Copland's music is given high billing, but if you've heard the suite, you've heard all the good stuff. A lot of the score is boilerplate with just a hint of Copland's style.
This movie is not for kids. It's quite disturbing in a subtle way that gets under your skin. I'll be thinking about it long after watching it.
The DVD has no features other than "play movie" and scene selection. The movie is in Technicolor.