DVD: Hills of Home (1948)

July 9, 2011 | By

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

Label: Warner Home Video/ Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: February 1, 2011

Genre: Family / Lassie

Synopsis: A country doctor struggles to meet the needs of his patients, and train his dog to overcome a fear of water.

Special Features: Short: “Fala at Hude Park” (1646) / Tom & Jerry cartoon: “Puttin’ on the Dog” (1944) / Theatrical Trailer

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Review:

After getting sidetracked (or indulged?) by WWII, MGM felt it was time to get Lassie back to basics, putting her in a period drama set in rural Scotland, where she plays a ‘useless’ sheep dog whose fear of water (ah, more Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder!) is eventually overcome when she must seek aid to save her master, a friendly itinerant village, Dr. William MacLure (Edmund Gwen, who had previously appeared in Lassie Come Home in 1948, playing an itinerant pots and pans monger, and would appear in 1949’s Challenge to Lassie).

Actor Tom Drake, who had previously appeared as a sergeant in Courage of Lassie (1946), plays Tammas Milton, the son of the cruel sheepherder who abused Lassie before selling her for a profit to Dr. MacLure. Tammas breaks family tradition when he decides to become a doctor, and Drake’s young hero is given a fair maiden to come home to after his studies have been successfully completed – Margit Mitchell (MGM starlet Janet Leigh, struggling with a wavering Scottish accent in her third film role).

Based on a short story (“A Doctor of the Old School“) by author / actor Ian Maclaren, screenwriter William Ludwig pulled off a major coup, borrowing the basic story of an aging doctor, and building several story threads to accodate Lassie as well as new characters – a minor miracle he similarly pulled off for the next two Lassie films.

Hills benefits from more sumptuous exterior Technicolor cinematography, a rich score by Herbert Stothart (also involved with Son of Lassie), and what should’ve been an Oscar-nominated performance by Gwen; Lassie’s great, but Gwen steals the film with his nuanced performance of a genial doctor who keeps undercharging his patients.

The film’s major crises have Lassie trying to alert humans of someone’s dangerous condition, and woven into the tale is the concept of a small village doc passing on his knowledge to Tammas, so he can continue to serve the community with respect and dignity, with some guidance by the doc’s best friend Drumsheugh (Donald Crisp, who would appear in 4 of the franchise’s 7 films, including Challenge to Lassie).

Also in the cast is Alan Napier (previously seen as a hunter in Lassie Come Home) as the Queen’s physician, Sir George, who passes on the miracle of chloroform to Dr. MacLure, making the use of whiskey as a knock-out drug obsolete.

Warner Home Video’s DVD includes another short film on President Roosevelt’s dog Fala (this time blown up from a ’16mm original’ Technicolor film. In “Falal at Hyde Park” (1946), the pooch conveys his impressions of Roosevelt’s White House and vacation places through the voice of Pete Smith. The camera follows Fala as he wanders through regular hangouts, including a wing holding carriages owned by the Roosevelt clan, and a wing displaying various gifts bestowed to the President – some regal, several tacky and bizarre (including Roosevelt’s face on a sphinx bust).

A Tom & Jerry cartoon, “Puttin’ on the Dog” (1944), has Tom attempting to snatch Jerry from a dog compound using a dog mask. At one point Jerry wiggles his ass at Tom, and Scott Bradley’s insane musical flourishes highlight every face-smashing and epic fumble as the two enemies try a

The original theatrical trailer infers Hills is a natural sequel to The Green Years (1946), another Scottish period drama that co-starred Drake with a wobbly Scottish accent, but Drake plays a wholly different character in Hills; one can only presume the faux relationship was MGM’s publicity department trying to push Drake into the public’s consciousness (which may have worked, seeing how the actor had a prolific career in TV and films for almost 40 years).

Originally released in 2006 in a 3-film set, this title is available 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), andHills 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) — Lassie Come Home (1943)  — Painted Hills, The (1951) —  Son of Lassie (1945) — Sun Comes Up, 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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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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