Release Date: Dec. 25, 1957
Based on: Old Yeller (1956 novel by Fred Gipson)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Starring: Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, Kevin Corcoran, Tommy Kirk, Spike
Box Office: $6.3 million (domestic)
After his father leaves home to work on a cattle drive, Travis Coates encounters stray dog whom he initially dislikes. However, after the dog saves his brother from a bear, the two become inseperable.
It’s the story of a boy and his dog, in which the climax has become ingrained in popular culture and many know what happens. Nevertheless, Old Yeller is a good film. The plot works well with the time period its set in. With Travis’ father off working on a cattle drive and the rest of the family living on the Texas frontier, a stray dog with a penchant for stealing meat from smokehouses and causing mischief has the potential to cause a lot of problems. The animosity Travis shows Old Yeller in the beginning of the film feels real as he has to be the man of the homestead and watch as the dog initially ruins all of his hard work. Additionally, the change of heart Travis has once Old Yeller saves his brother, Arliss, from a bear makes sense. It’s the first time he’s seen the dog do something useful. Throughout the rest of the film, it’s interesting seeing the two grow together in friendship, making it so the inevitable end carries the weight it needs.
The film has some decent foreshadowing concerning what ends up befalling Old Yeller as well. When the dog’s original owner turns up, his comments to Travis about how rabies has been surfacing seem like simple advice. Yet, Travis gets to experience how it can affect an animal soon after when he has to put down the cow once he realizes she has contracted the disease. It’s also what helps him realize the wolf’s actions further on in the film were not natural, considering it would normally have run away from the homestead. It’s all set up well and makes for good progression.
Most of the other characters in the film are written well. Travis’ mother, Katie, has good characterization as a longsuffering mother to a young son and teenager, eagerly awaiting the return of her husband from driving cattle. Further, Arliss has all the childlike wonder and curiosity a young boy his age would have. It gets him in plenty of trouble too, especially when he thinks he can trap a bear cub without any repercussions.
Still, the film is not without its problems, mainly appearing in the characters’ accents. The film is set in post-Civil War Texas and while the actors attempt to maintain an appropriate accent for the region, they just can’t seem to keep it up. There are scenes where they do a sufficient job, but it isn’t consistent through the whole film. It’s most noticeable when Kirk is referencing Old Yeller, switching to the dialect in order to call him an old yeller dog and going right back to his natural way of speaking immediately after. Though not enough to ruin the film, it’s hard to miss.
Golden Laurel Awards
- Top General Entertainment