Courage of Lassie (1946)
Lassie a Dog of War
Out of all the "Lassie" movies both new and old "Courage of Lassie" is my least favourite and it's not just down to the fact that whilst using Lassie in the title doesn't actually feature the character or any of those characters which we met in the first two "Lassie" movies. There is just something wrong about the movie, as it heavy handedly works it's way through a series of stories some child orientated, some most certainly not. And it just feels like "Courage of Lassie" is trying too hard to appeal to everyone from children who will love the sweet side of the story and then to adults who may enjoy the war aspect of the drama.
Having been accidentally left behind in the woods a young pup grows up living with wild animals until young Kathie (Elizabeth Taylor - Lassie Come Home) discovers him and takes him home, given him the name Bill. They become inseparable as Kathie with her friend Mr. MacBain (Frank Morgan - The Wizard of Oz) teach Bill to become a sheepdog. But when Bill goes missing Kathie thinks she has lost him for ever. What Kathie doesn't know that following a road accident Bill is taken to become a war dog, renamed Duke and is taken abroad to help the soldiers at war. Will Duke survive the fighting and will Kathie ever see her beloved dog again?
Like its predecessors "Courage of Lassie" is basically about the adventures of a dog this time called Bill, who is played by Pal who had starred as Lassie and Laddie in the previous movies. It is a series of adventures which are split into some very clear chapters with the young pup being accidentally left in the woods where he grows up as friend to all sorts of wild life including bears, foxes and crows. If it wasn't for the fact that this call of nature opening goes on for a painful 20 minutes it would be quite enjoyable and a bit Disney in style as we watch the cute pup get up to a bit of mischief whilst keeping out of the way of more dangerous animals.
First chapter out of the way with "Courage of Lassie" moves on and introduces us to Kathie who finds the pup injured after being accidentally shot by two young hunters. And so rather expectedly Kathie nurses the pup who she names Bill back to health and they become best friends, inseparable. Again this section would be alright and it works in a nice child friendly way but is spoilt by some painful over dramatics from Elizabeth Taylor who plays Kathie. Talking of which having Elizabeth Taylor in the movie as Kathie is a bit strange seeing that in "Lassie Come Home" she played the young Priscilla.
Now these two chapters are definitely geared to a younger audience and whilst we see Bill get shot and rather shocking involved in a car accident they still have the fun which you expect. But then you get the third chapter and following the accident Bill through a chain of events which leaves Kathie distraught ends up a war dog and now called Duke. The trouble is that this side of the story is trying to be more dramatic and grown up and it just feels wrong in comparison to what went before. And it also feels incredibly cruel as we watch Duke trudging through mud, avoiding explosions and as the story unfolds being pushed by his trainer to go on despite being injured and exhausted. It all feels rather uncomfortable especially considering Pal is such a beautiful dog and to see it filthy, tired and growling viciously ends up being unsettling.
Of course being called a "Lassie" movie there is the expected happy ever after ending, and one which whilst rather cheesy with a stirring speech from Frank Morgan who plays Harry MacBain, is made a bit more interesting thanks to a dramatic twist.
The trouble is that whilst all these chapters tell the story, the adventures which Bill/ Duke go on they don't really gel in style. It's a case of going from very family friendly to something a little more serious and darker as well as unsettling. I doubt for a minute that the wonderful Pal was treated in a bad way but watching this wonderful dog growl in a vicious way, turn on people and basically look like a wild animal just doesn't feel right and I can't imagine that any child watching this will be as happy as they were in the mischievous first half.
What this all boils down to is that "Courage of Lassie" just doesn't feel like a Lassie movie and it's not just because Lassie and those other characters we had grown to like are not involved. It may still be all about the adventures of a dog but the blend of child friendly cuteness and fun with a more adult story about war just doesn't work and watching the wonderful Pal trudge through mud and turn nasty is simply wrong.
Tags: Dog Movies
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