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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Courage of Lassie (1946) - Star of the month... Elizabeth Taylor

'Courage of Lassie' is a 1944 family film directed by Fred M. Wilcox, and stars Lassie, Elizabeth Taylor, Selena Royale, Frank Morgan, Harry Davenport, Tom Drake & George Cleveland. It is the third of seven Lassie films produced by MGM.

A collie pup is separated from its mother and is forced to survive in the wild. After being accidentally shot by a young hunter, the injured dog is found by Kathie Merrick (played by Taylor) who adopts him and calls him Bill. Bill is trained to be a sheep dog by shepherd Mr. MacBain (played by Morgan), where he helps locate a missing flock of sheep for Kathie's family. After being hit by a truck, Bill is adopted by the army and trained to be a war dog, where he works closely with Sergeant Smitty (played by Drake).

Watch the trailer:

The opening sequence

With the exception of a very short appearance by George Cleveland, the first 20 minutes of the film, has no dialogue or human actors. It is primarily footage of the young pup growing up and surviving in the wild, where we see him make friends with wild animals such as a bear and a raven, and even survive a torrent.  I very much like this opening sequence with it's beautiful images of nature and of Lake Chelan in Washington.

Influence of World War II

The film was produced shortly after the onset of World War II. It uses the character Lassie, to show the psychological impacts war has on soldiers.

This is explained in the courtroom speech made my Mr. MacBain: "It just occurred to me that perhaps a lot of our boys would be coming back not quite ready to take up where they left off. They've gone through more than what most of us could ever think of, and they're going to need patience and love and understanding from all of us. But most of all perhaps they'll need time. They didn't become soldiers in a day, so we can't expect them to become civilians in a day."

This speech is intended to raise awareness and educate movie goers to be patient with returning war soldiers, as the man returning may not necessarily be the same as the man who went to war.

Did you know...

  • Although the title features the name Lassie, there is no mention of the character "Lassie" anywhere in the film
  • The dog who played Lassie was actually called Pal - Lassie was his stage name
  • This was the second "Lassie" film which starred Elizabeth Taylor - however Taylor played a different character in the first film "Lassie Come Home"
  • This was the first film where Elizabeth Taylor received top billing in the credits
  • George Cleveland, who plays the old man in the opening scene would later star in the 1954 TV series of "Lassie"
  • This film was shot on location in Railroad Creek by Lake Chelan, near Holden Village, Washington

Closing remarks

An average family film, sadly not as enjoyable as the first "Lassie Come Home". Frank Morgan as always is a delight to watch and Elizabeth Taylor delivers a fine performance. I found this entry in the 'Lassie' franchise a little too dark for children, who may not understand the world war II influence noted above. That said, the message within this film for adults is still relevant today with soldiers who may be returning home from Iraq.

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