"You might as well know it right off. Lassie won't be meeting you
at school. She's been sold," says Mrs. Carraclough (Elsa Lanchester)
to her distraught son Joe (Roddy McDowall).
In 1943 director Fred M. Wilcox took a talented cast and created a
tearjerker called LASSIE COME HOME that is still good family
entertainment today. Some shows age, but the simple values in this one
seem curiously apropos even though the language and the events are
miles from today's wealthier society.
In a poor Yorkshire cottage the parents explain to their son that
they are so poor they can not afford frills like honey, jam, or meat.
They have sold his dog for fifteen guineas to the Duke of Rudling
(played by Nigel Bruce who was Doctor Watson to Basil Rathbone's
Sherlock Holmes). Only after the Duke has possession of the dog do
they break the news to their son.
The father Sam (Donald Crisp who won the Academy Award two years
earlier for HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY) and the mother are tough and
sensible adults. They do not miss Lassie. Well, at least they put up
a good front. Lassie is not shy about her feelings and keeps escaping
to the consternation of the Duke's kennel keeper Hynes (Pat O'Malley).
Nigel Bruce is great as the gruff old aristocrat with a heart of
gold. Even better is Elizabeth Taylor as his precious granddaughter
Miss Priscilla. Taylor made this picture the year before her signature
role in NATIONAL VELVET.
What makes the story, scripted by Hugo Butler and Eric Knight, so
endearing and fresh is the pureness of its emotions. With brutal
honesty the father tells his son, "You can't feed a dog on the dole,
and you can't feed a family either." This was a time with a thin
social safety net. The father was the sole breadwinner of the family,
and since he could not find work, his family could not make ends meet.
Forget luxuries like dog food. They did not even have enough for a
full meal for the humans in the family.
One of my favorite parts of the film is the music by Daniele
Amfitheatrof. The picture is heavily orchestrated, and the music is
played with great gusto. The melancholy scenes are full of solo
violins wailing, the adventures are accompanied by the clash of
cymbals, and the hopeful escapades are announced with trumpets.
Granted it is schmaltzy, but for a period film like this I would not
want it any other way.
Leonard Smith got an Academy Award nomination for the movie's
cinematography. It is an early color picture where much of the color
has faded in the print. The print is otherwise in good shape so that
the beauty and grandeur of Smith's mastery still comes through. The
white picket fenced sets by Cedric Gibbons are handsome as well.
After the Duke takes Lassie to Scotland, he escapes with the help
of Miss Priscilla. The heart of the story is Lassie's journey home.
She has to brave sharp rocks, a vicious dog, a bounty hunter, roaring
rivers, and crooks. Through it all she is brave and loyal.
This Lassie is a great animal actor. Never hammy and always
charming, she does not overact as the animals do so often today.
The most touching sequence in the trip is her being rescued from
death and nursed back to health by a couple in their 80s, Dan'l Fadden
(Ben Webster) and his wife Dolly (Dame May Whitty). They love the dog
so much they are willing to let him go.
This tale of a simpler and much harder time should speak to people
of any generation. If you have become tired of the mixed messages and
bad language of what goes for kid's shows today, give LASSIE COME HOME
a try. View it with an open heart and mind, and it will enchant and
move your family as it did ours.
LASSIE COMES HOME runs just 1:30. It is not rated, but would get
a G. There is no sex, nudity, or bad language. There is a single
scene of violence where three men swing clubs at each other and a dog
friend of Lassie's is killed. My son Jeffrey, age 7 1/2, gives the
picture thumbs up and says, "I liked it a lot!" He thinks the picture
is for kids 4 and up, and I agree. I recommend the film to you
and your family and give it ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes