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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

OLD YELLER (1957)

Fondly recalled Disney meller is A Boy And His Dog For All Seasons, a gloss on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Boy And His Fawn classic THE YEARLING, a far richer book & film. But while this little Disney title is outclassed by the posh earlier production, it works after its own fashion, particularly for those who can stomach Disney ‘house style’ or ever owned a mutt. Tommy Kirk gets third billing, but the best part as the adolescent kid left to run the farm when Dad goes off to sell the herd. (Kirk never got another shot at something this serious, stuck in one bumbling comedy after another until he was summarily dropped by the studio.*) Dorothy McGuire & Kevin Corcoran are around as Mom & kid brother, but the real helper is a big ol’ mongrel who soon proves his worth. Too much of the film has a second-hand look to it, with stock shot cutaways of cute critters, an oddly cramped color palette (especially indoors) and that God-awful cutsey-poo musical background scoring Disney stuck to in the ‘50s & ‘60. (Come to think of it, even longer than that.) It’s one thing to make films with kids in mind, but once Walt turned his attention toward theme parks, too many Disney pics started to talk down to their presumed audience, predigesting dramatic action like a bird feeding its young thru regurgitation. Yuck.

DOUBLE-BILL: With a poetic script from Paul Osborn, knockout lensing by Charles Rosher and some remarkable kid actors under the sure hand of director Clarence Brown, THE YEARLING/’46 can still take your breath away. Plus, vanity-free perfs from Gregory Peck & Jane Wyman.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Okay, the book hasn’t been written (yet), but there’s a great subject in the hard luck tales of Disney’s three principal boy actors of the ‘40s; ‘50s and ‘60s: Bobby Driscoll, dead @ 31, a homeless drug addict; Matthew Garber, the little boy from MARY POPPINS and two more Disney pics, dead @ 21 from some sort of food poisoning; *and this film’s Tommy Kirk, blackballed off the Disney lot as a gay man @ 24. How’d Kurt Russell ever come thru?

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