The Grass Harp - * * 1/2*

The Grass Harp is a lightweight but well performed coming of age tale set in a small southern town. A young boy, Collin (played at various ages by Grayson Fricke and Edward Furlong), is orphaned, and left to be raised by his two aunts, Verena (Sissy Spacek) and Dolly (Piper Laurie). Verena is perhaps the richest person in town, and is strict and controlling. Dolly, on the other hand, is the eldest, but an almost childlike free spirit, shy but self content. Their only other constant companion is Catherine (Nell Carter), a black woman who stubbornly claims to be an Indian, and who has been Dolly’s closest friend since childhood. Collin learns to cope with both of his aunts, but the time eventually comes when Dolly refuses to give in to Verena’s constant attempts to control her life…and the resultant friction threatens to tear the fragile family apart. Director Charles Matthau has assembled an all-star cast, including father Walter Matthau as the kindly Judge Cool, who has his sights set on Dolly. Jack Lemmon portrays a slick Chicagoan invited to town by Verena. Roddy McDowall is the town’s barber, Charles Durning is the reverend, and Joe Don Baker is the sheriff. The performances throughout are good, particularly from Piper Laurie, but the film warbles between sappy sentimental drama and an all-out slapstick farce. As a result, the dramatic scenes don’t carry as much weight as they could, and some of the comedy is diluted. Charles Matthau is a bit unsure with his directing, but he has a fine cast to rely on. The Grass Harp ends up as a light trifle, nothing more.

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