|LASSIE COME HOME
SON OF LASSIE
COURAGE OF LASSIE
(WARNER HOME VIDEO)
The generations that exclusively associate the name Lassie with the long-running TV series and its low-end production values, perfunctory direction, indifferent acting, and simplistic and kid-friendly story lines are in for a surprising and bracing treat if they are lucky enough to purchase the first three Lassie films that Warner Home Video has thankfully just released on dvd.
There certainly is nothing low-end, perfunctory, indifferent, or simplistic about LASSIE COME HOME, the first and best of the series, which compares favorably with the very finest of the MGM-produced child/animal genre of films that reached their pinnacle with NATIONAL VELVET and THE YEARLING (also available on dvd from Warner Home Video), and after viewing just the first few minutes of this utterly charming and surprisingly gripping film it becomes instantly apparent that LASSIE COME HOME easily equals those justifiably highly praised and universally loved films in every possible way.
LASSIE COME HOME, which tells the story of a poor family who is forced to sell their beloved dog who then undertakes a long and torturous journey to return to them, benefits immensely from a screenplay by Hugo Butler that is carefully crafted for both adults and children, as well as the sensitive direction of Fred M. Wilcox, which never ever resorts to the sugary "cutes" which so often mar films of this type, stunningly beautiful production values photographed in the eye-poppingly rich three-strip Technicolor process, and is populated by a cast of distinquished and venerated character actors, including Donald Crisp, Dame May Whitty, Edmund Gwenn, Nigel Bruce, Elsa Lanchester, and an 11-year old Elizabeth Taylor (her first MGM film) all of whom contribute able support to the wonderful Roddy McDowell.
While the next two sequels, SON OF LASSIE and COURAGE OF LASSIE, are somewhat more dated due to their WW2 themes (In SON Lassie gets involved with the RAF and in COURAGE the U.S. Army), neither suffer from the lazy "sequel-itis" disease that often mar series follow-ups, and in fact both are actually visually superior, as they make splendid use of actual Pacific Northwest locations, which sharply contrast with the comparatively sound stage-bound look of LASSIE COME HOME.
While clearly not full-scale restorations, Warner Home Video has paid its respects to the beloved collie by delivering three good full screen transfers that almost, but not quite, approximate the original look of the amazingly lush three-strip Technicolor process. It's hardly surprising that LASSIE COME HOME, easily the most revived of the series, exhibits the most minor damage, and while both SON and COURAGE occasionally look a mite on the pale side there's no question that all three look better than they have in decades, and the monaural sound is crystal clear with a minimum of distortion.
I hasten to admit, however, that these films are not for all tastes. While I was fully engrossed in all three, as was my dog Dudley who continuously and enthusiastically barked his approval, my cat Kuta remained steadfastly indifferent throughout.