Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1943. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Hugo Butler, based on the novel by Eric Knight. Cinematography by Leonard Smith. Produced by Samuel Marx. Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons. Film Editing by Ben Lewis. Academy Awards 1943.
It’s nice to know that decades of movies about children befriending animals began with a few great ones, since it would take a very cold heart to not be won over by The Yearling, National Velvet and this first adaptation of Eric Knight’s beloved collie. Lassie is the best friend to an adorable Roddy McDowall, whose parents (Donald Crisp, Elsa Lanchester) are broken up about having to sell her to a gentleman breeder to make ends meet. Lassie escapes the first time she is kenneled, but is begrudgingly brought back to her new owner who, kindly though he is, regains ownership and sends her to his estate across the river in Scotland. So devoted is this canine heroine, however, that she busts out again and makes her way back to Yorkshire, having an odyssey worthy of Homer along the way as she is owned and accompanied by a kindly older couple and a traveling circus performer, plus faces brigands in the woods and has to cross a mighty river. Elizabeth Taylor appears in her second film at the age of eleven as the sweet granddaughter of the gentry whose kindness is key to the film’s denouement. It’ll bring warmth to your heart and a tear to your eye, it’s played with incredible sincerity and achieves a great deal thanks to McDowall’s immense charm.