powered by AFI
During winter in Cape Flattery, Washington, Elwin Kettle, one of Ma and Pa Kettle's fourteen children, and his girl friend, Sally Maddocks, both win a National Magazine essay contest entitled "My Life on a Typical American Farm." Unfortunately, Elwin lied in his essay in order to glorify the farm, and the judges plan to visit both farms before deciding to whom the four-year college scholarship prize should be awarded. The prize is to be given on the basis of who provides the best environment for rearing children. The Kettles, concerned that their ramshackle farm cannot compare to neighbor John Maddocks' estate, set out to improve the homestead in the few days before the judges arrive. Pa spends Elwin's initial one hundred dollars in prize money on Maddocks' cranky goats, which immediately wreck the house. He then buys supplies on credit at Billy Reed's store, and puts his Native American friends, Geoduck and Crowbar, to work whitewashing the shed. Over the next few days, everyone toils furiously while lazy Pa naps and directs their work. Afraid of wasting supplies, Pa instructs Geoduck and Crowbar to construct a makeshift machinery shed, smokehouse and silo out of cardboard, and borrows equipment, animals and a tractor from their neighbors. By the time the judges, hypochondriac magazine editor Mannering and ex-farmer photographer Pete Crosby, arrive, the farm looks impressive, from a distance. Ma and Pa are trying on a corset and slip from a traveling saleswoman when Mannering appears, and immediately horrify the persnickety editor, who is further dismayed by the rustic accommodations. At lunch, the family attempts to be proper. Although Pete loves Ma's home cooking, Mannering wants only melba toast. Later, they try to dissuade Mannering from inspecting the farm, succeeding when the Kettle bull, Nick, takes off after Maddocks' cow Bessie, and everyone chases it. The next morning, Ma drags Mannering to the measly "orchard" and then pushes him into the pig sty in order to keep him from noticing that the buildings are cardboard. When he then tries to take a bath, little Billy Kettle deposits a frog in his tub. At night, Pete, who has discerned the ruse, tells Ma that it does not take money to be a good parent, and watches as the children recite their prayers in unison. The next day, Geoduck and Crowbar, whom Mannering assumes are wild Indians, scare him away from the buildings, but that night, a heavy rain washes all the cardboard and white paint away. Mannering wakes to find the farm as derelict as ever, and storms to the Maddocks' in protest. There, Mannering and Pete witness Maddocks' rough treatment of his wife and daughter, but admire his fine farm. Soon after, Pa devises a plan to impress Mannering and hires Geoduck's friends to pose as wild Indians so Pa can appear to be a hero. While Pa brings Mannering and Pete into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree, Geoduck urges his friends to apply "Indian" costumes and makeup, though they declare that it would be easier to send Elwin to college themselves than to put up with the indignity. The Indians "attack," following the wagon even after Pa accidentally rushes it onto the main highway. There, the police stop them, and Pa is forced to confess his plot. Mannering is more furious than ever, but Ma convinces him to attend their Christmas party the following night. Before he, Pete and the Maddocks leave their farm, Mannering watches as Maddocks refuses to give his wife or daughter any presents. At the Kettles', the house is warm, cozy and full of gifts, guests and children. Ma reads a poem that gently teases everyone present, and later Pa appears as Santa Claus, the children sing carols, and Pa hands out gifts. Mannering, upon seeing that Geoduck and Crowbar have given him a headdress, shakes their hands. Ma has wrapped her treasured prize-winning quilts into gifts, pretending they are from Mr. Maddocks to his wife and Sally. When Maddocks sees their delight, he realizes he has been amiss in not buying them presents, and announces that he is withdrawing Sally from the contest. Mannering, however, states that this would be unfair, and instead decides to split the award between the two kids, giving each a two-year scholarship. When Pete then suggests that the town form a 4-H group so children can raise money for college, Maddocks agrees to fund the club. Caught up in the spirit, Pa declares he will soon fix up the farm for real--as soon as Geoduck and Crowbar find the time.