Trouble Along the Way (DVD)
Trouble Along the Way
, a John Wayne movie even John Wayne fans have tended to skip, is an intriguingly complicated entertainment that gets more interesting from reel to reel. The premise scarcely sounds like prime Duke material: Former big-time football coach with an ugly divorce behind him and a little daughter to look out for takes a job at a venerable Catholic college in danger of being shut down. The title nudgingly recalls the sentimental classic Going My Way
, with school administrator Charles Coburn replacing Barry Fitzgerald in the doddering-but-sly priest role and Wayne as a nonclerical (and non-singing) substitute for Bing Crosby. In addition to the diocesan politics dooming the College of St. Anthony's, the plot is complicated by ex-wife Marie Windsor's vicious efforts to regain custody of daughter Sherry Jackson; that sparks a spiky ambivalence between social worker Donna Reed and disreputable papa Wayne, who pretty much lives out of a bar where he runs his latterday business--as a bookie.
The script was the work of future Bob Hope writers Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose, and between them and director Michael Curtiz--nearing the end of his long tenure at Warner Bros.--they scuff up Wayne's heroic image in interesting ways. To turn St. Anthony's into a winning football team overnight, Wayne indulges in some outright larceny and extortion; there's even a sly throwaway joke likening his profit-sharing plan for his co-conspirators to a form of "socialism." Instead of the anticipated big-game climax with the St. Anthony's underdogs victorious, the movie veers toward a finale in which several "happy endings" are put on hold till some point in the future. For his part, Wayne gets to deliver more syncopated dialogue than usual, and seems both refreshed and startled by the experience. --Richard T. Jameson