Sunday, March 13, 2016
Dog Watch: Lassie Come Home (1943)
I had no burning desire to watch Lassie Come Home (1943) to see the gripping tale of a dog coming home. But I was aware of the ascendency of Lassie in Hollywood via this movie, a career that would span into the 1990's before kind of fading, so far as I know. I was also curious about the movie as it stars a young and precocious Elizabeth Taylor (that's Liz there on the right) and Roddy McDowell as a kid (our man there on the left).
The movie also features Edmund Gwenn of both Miracle on 34th Street and Them! fame and, Signal Watch favorite Elsa Lanchester of Bride of Frankenstein as Roddy McDowell's mother.
I don't know that I grew up with Lassie, but I watched reruns of an American show from the 1950's on Nickelodeon, and everyone knew Collies were "Lassie Dogs" back in the 80's. In the 1990's I made my pre-Jamie girlfriend go see an American movie called Lassie that starred Helen Slater.
In my ever-expanding fascination with how much more frank kids' movies used to be back in the day versus now, this sweet movie about a dog and boy who love each other very much and are separated thanks to the economic forces of Depression-era Britain would probably, mostly, make it for kids today if you didn't have some coarse behavior and hobos beating up Edmund Gwenn and killing his own little dog (spoilers).
The movie was shot in color, and it's a beautiful look at the countryside of California doubling as England and Scotland.
It occurs to me that during this same window where Lassie was making a name for her/himself at the movies, Rin Tin Tin was literally being used as a training dog for GI's as part of the war effort. Meanwhile, Lassie was providing a bit of escapism for the kids back home and in England, I suppose. And, of course, the movie released during war time mentions that the author served with Britain in World War I and was just killed in WWII. That's a hell of a thing, but I guess it was no secret America was at war.
I don't think kids of today could tolerate the measured pace of the movie, but you never know. The story is largely episodic as Lassie meets folks along the way returning home, so it moves at a decent clip. You could have worse introductions to the character.
In the 1990's I was working at a mall record store and whichever dog was the official Lassie at the time came through for a photo-op sort of thing, and I've always regretted not paying the $20 and getting my picture with that dog. But, you know, it was a Lassie photo or eating, so I guess I made the right decision.