DVD: Son of Lassie (1945)

March 29, 2011 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer: Very Good/ DVD Extras: Good

Label: Warner Home Video/ Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: August 24, 2004

Genre: Family / Lassie

Synopsis: Lassie’s son Laddie proves his mettle (and shows he does indeed have some brains) by helping Joe escape from the Nazis in occupied Norway.

Special Features: 1945 Tom & Jerry cartoon “Flirty Birdy” / Theatrical Trailer

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Review:

Deliberate or not, MGM was clever by starting the first Lassie film, Lassie Come Home (1943), with an opening narration alluding to contemporary ‘dark forces on the horizon’ (most likely something known as WWII), which makes this wartime sequel feel like a natural follow-up to the dramatic adventures of little Joe Carraclough and his beloved pooch Lassie.

Peter Lawford (then 22, and as tall as a building) plays Joe, fast-tracked from a little pip to a young man of 17 years, already active in the Royal Air Force, with Lassie also older and less energetic, but a good mama to a young but not-so-bright pup named Laddie.

Joe’s still great friends with Priscilla, granddaughter of the Duke of Radling (Nigel Bruce), who still breeds prize-winning dogs with the aide of Joe’s father Sam (Donald Crisp, back with another funny hat and pipe).

Formerly played by raven-haired Elizabeth Taylor, Priscilla is now reincarnated as young brunette young adult June Lockhart, and although she repeatedly talks of marriage, Joe is more smitten with Laddie – a kind of affection / companionship / obsession that’s sanctioned by Joe’s squadron leader, Sergeant Eddie Brown, on loan from Canada. (Eddie himself carries a “pin-up” image of his own  pooch – a bulldog – in his wallet, so he understands what it’s like to put a dog before a pretty girl.)

Laddie is initially drafted into the military (a more pivotal element in Courage of Lassie), but he flunks his first lessons in jumping, and reacting with a pre-emptive strike towards a gun-toting stranger, and only when Joe is off to ply his new nationalistic trade as a bomber navigator / reconnaissance expert does Laddie show traces of his mom’s determination, travelling twice 50 miles across variable terrain when he’s returned home to father Sam.

Prior to a reconnaissance flight over Norway, Eddie breaks military rules and smuggles Laddie into the plane, but German anti-aircraft guns mortally wound the craft and its pilot, leaving Joe and Laddie as survivors, stranded in the chilly mountains Norway.

When Laddie leaves his unconscious pal for help, he comes upon a pair of Nazi soldiers, and innocently guides them back to Joe’s location, except Joe’s gone off on his own, searching for Lassie and a hideaway. The soldiers initially think nervous Laddie’s plum crazy, until they read his collar I.D. and realize he’s technically a British military dog – das enemy in pooch form.

When he’s shot at, a slightly wounded Laddie makes it to the water, and not unlike the lengthy trek Lassie makes in the first film, Laddie meets sympathetic characters who nurse him back to health, and let him go when they sense ‘he wants to leave’ because ‘he’s got somewhere to go.’

The first stage in Laddie’s recuperation comes from a group of children, headed by Thea – played by Terry Moore (Mighty Joe Young) in her first credited role (as Helen Koford). The kids’ cheeky decision to give a Heil Hitler to swarming Nazi soldiers backfires, drawing attention towards their firewood cart, and Laddie bolts to safety once again.

When Laddie later reappears in town, he just misses Joe being smuggled into a church in a large potato cart, and is further discombobulated when (presumably) Allied planes bomb the town to smithereens in an unusually ferocious sequence. He eventually finds Joe’s scent and follows his trail into the mountains, and so begins a lengthy repeat of the search & struggle montage from the first film, spread out across actual glaciers and mountainsides, and a near-death grenade impact in a cabin.

Screenwriter Jeanne Bartlett had to keep Joe and Laddie separate for the bulk of the second act, but their eventual reunion is nicely staged, and launches another elaborate sequence involving icy cold rapids.

Every major sequence was designed to show off Lassie’s skills and loyalty, as well as sumptuous Technicolor cinematography by Charles Edgar Schoenbaum (who would later photograph The Hills of Home and Challenge to Lassie). Herbert Stothart’s score is a suitably slick blend of classical themes and original underscore, plus the odd vaguely familiar folk theme for extra commentary.

Unlike the first film, the WWII setting boosts the opportunities to place Lassie is various states of danger caused by Bad People rather than natural elements, and it’s perhaps shocking to contemporary audiences to see so much stunt work handled by dog Pal, who played both Lassie and grown-up Laddie in the film. One sequence has Laddie running down a runway as Joe and Eddie fly off on their maiden voyage with three other fighter planes, and in a wide shot we see the last plane fast approaching, getting airborne, and passing over the dog in one shot – a stunt that would’ve been all CGI today.

The film’s biggest strengths lie in its mix of sentimentality and pulp novel plotting, and the wartime setting gives the drama a bit more urgency, particularly when the filmmakers are basically repeating the formula of another lonely dog montage spread across splendiferous wilderness scenery. Perhaps due to ongoing A-level films, the production had great sets at their disposal (the small Norwegian town is quite detailed), and one prisoner of war sequence sitiated by the coast is filled with hundreds of extras.

It's a romantic cheat, folks.

Warner Home Video’s DVD includes a decent transfer of the film with some visible digital noise cleaning, and a few shots where white levels are a bit harsh. A theatrical trailer implies a multi-generational family film with action and romance, and the sleeve art bears the original teasing poster art featuring a fetching couple who in actuality never engage in any physical pecking.

Also included is a 1945 Tom & Jerry cartoon “Flirty Birdy,” where Tex Avery sensibilities dominate this Hanna-Barbera directed collage of much head-smashing and androgynous teasing between a buzzard and Tom, with mouse Jerry caught in the middle.

Pal would continue to play Lassie and other collie derivations in 5 further films, and Donald Crisp would reappear in a few more entries, albeit as different characters. Peter Lawford enjoyed several leading roles in period dramas such as Little Women and the postwar thriller The Red Danube (both 1949) before switching to TV; and after a handful of film roles, June Lockhart almost exclusively worked in TV, achieving immortality as Ruth Martin for 6 years in the long-running Lassie TV series in 1958, and matriarch Maureen Robinson in Irwin Allen’s family sci-fi series Lost in Space (1965-1968).

Originally released in 2004, this title is available separately or as part of the new TCM Lassie omnibus, which includes the first four films: Lassie Come Home (1943), Son of Lassie (1945), Courage of Lassie (1946), and Hills of Home (1948).

Strangely, the last three Lassie films – The Sun Comes Up (1949), Challenge to Lassie (1950), and The Painted Hills (1951) – remain unavailable on DVD. Lassie’s other adventures moved to radio (1947-1950), several TV series (notably 1954-1973), and a handful of film efforts to rekindle the franchise: The Magic of Lassie (1978), Lassie (1994), and Lassie (2005).

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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Related links:

DVD / Film:  Challenge to Lassie (1949) — Courage of Lassie (1946) — Hills of Home (1948) — Lassie Come Home (1943) — Mighty Joe Young (1949) — Painted Hills, The (1951) — Sun Comes Up, The (1949)

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Related external links (MAIN SITE):

DVD / Film:  Lost in Space (1965) — Red Danube, The (1949)

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External References:

IMDB Fan SiteSoundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography

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Buy from:

Amazon.com – TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection: Lassie (Lassie Come Home / Son of Lassie / Courage of Lassie / Hills of Home)

Amazon.ca – Tcm Greatest Classic Films: Lassie

Amazon.co.uk – Tcm Greatest Classic Films: Lassie [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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