Old Yeller (1957)
“Old Yeller just saved your life — and Elizabeth’s, too!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary points out that “Disney’s first film about a dog” — the “best of its kind” — is “well acted by the four stars and the talented Spike” (as well as a fine cast of supporting actors, including Chuck Connors), “sensitively directed by Robert Stevenson, [and] nicely photographed by Charles P. Boyle”. Dorothy McGuire solidly grounds the film, adding a sense of calm assurance to a situation fraught with troubles — including a trampled fence, a bear attack, rampaging wild hogs, and the worthless pseudo-assistance of a lazy neighbor (Jeff York), who gets his sweet daughter (Beverly Washburn) to take on tasks he should be doing himself. Naturally, Old Yeller is there throughout all these misadventures, proving his mettle and earning our loyalty. Easing the burden of the film’s outcome are two additional factors: Old Yeller’s mate quickly gives birth to a son who looks much like him; and Stevenson uses restraint in not anthropomorphizing Yeller through frequent facial close-ups (as is so often done in films with a personable animal as a central character — i.e., Down and Out in Beverly Hills). Yeller is a “smart, brave (fabulous!) dog” — but when he loses his mind from “hydrophobia”, it’s plain to see that Kirk is actually putting the poor animal out of his misery.
Old Yeller is certainly worth a look by all film fanatics — though I can’t say for sure when I’ll allow my own kids to see it… And be forewarned that the catchy title song will stick in your head long after the movie is over.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
One thought on “Old Yeller (1957)”
A once-must, for its place in cinema history – and as something for film fanatics to (when deemed appropriate) watch with budding ffs.
Hadn’t seen this since I was a wee tyke. Once I did see it, I may have seen it again if it was shown on tv, but it’s hard to recall. (Naturally, it was impossible to view things again readily when I was a kid; VHS would still be years away.)
I’m pretty much in agreement with the assessment given, even if I think the film score is a bit overpowering at times. It’s certainly the last 15 minutes or so that carries the most weight – it’s a tough watch for something in a Disney film, but it’s handled with intelligence and the right amount of pathos.