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Lassie Come Home

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Lassie Come Home

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Elizabeth Taylor
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Rated: G
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: October 1943
Genres: Classic, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Donald Crisp, Nigel Bruce, Elsa Lanchester, Edmund Gwenn, May Whitty, Lassie

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"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

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