Roddy McDowall and Pal in Lassie Come Home (1943)


(director: Fred M. Wilcox; screenwriters: from the novel by Eric Knight/Hugo Butler; cinematographer: Leonard Smith; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Roddy McDowall (Joe Carraclough), Donald Crisp (Sam Carraclough), Dame May Whitty (Dally Fadden), Ben Webster (Dan Fadden), Edmund Gwenn (Rowlie Palmer), Nigel Bruce (Duke of Rudling), Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Helen Carraclough), Elizabeth Taylor (Priscilla), Pat O’Malley (Hynes); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Samuel Marx; MGM; 1943)
“It’s the classic shaggy dog story that began it all.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the novel by Major Eric Knight, who was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1897. He fought for his country during WWI and in the 1930s moved to America where he wrote in NYC this Lassie novel. During WWII he was killed in action fighting as an American. Knight’s Lassie story got sold to MGM in the early 1940s, and 7 such Lassie movies were made by the studio. Later a television series emerged and more Lassie movies were taken from the long-running TV series. Unfortunately Knight died before he saw how popular his book became through the movies. Director Fred M. Wilcox (“Forbidden Planet”) shows he knows every trick in the book to get us to love the greatest dog in the world. This one’s a real tearjerker. Only a cad would not feel for the loyal dog and the torturous journey she has to take to come home again. The female dog was played by a male named Pal. The Technicolor version I saw was lush.

It’s the classic shaggy dog story that began it all; a heart-warming story, a dog and child friendly tale and one played by actors who resemble real people who can get worked up about a dog’s feelings and make it believable. A family value story that is really a family value story.

Lassie is the valued collie of the 14-year-old Joe Carraclough (Roddy McDowall), whose decent Yorkshire father Sam (Donald Crisp) is an unemployed coal miner during the Depression of the 1930s and his caring mum Helen (Elsa Lanchester) tries to feed the family as best she can without any wages. When the poor parents see they can’t afford to feed Lassie and take care of their basic needs, they reluctantly sell the dog to the lord of the manor, the kindly Duke of Rudling (Nigel Bruce). Unfortunately his kennel keeper Hynes is insensitive to the dog’s needs. Lassie escapes to meet Joe at the end of the school’s day like he regularly does. But Hynes recovers the escaped dog from the Carraclough’s home. Lassie escapes again and this time Sam and Joe return him to the duke. Priscilla (Elizabeth Taylor), the duke’s 10-year-old granddaughter, befriends Joe and promises to make sure Lassie is properly cared for. The duke takes Lassie to be exhibited as a show dog in Scotland, but Lassie escapes by running away from Hynes. Priscilla, in sympathy with the dog, opens the estate gate. To get home Lassie must go on a hazardous thousand mile journey where she must avoid a rancher trying to shoot her as a possible killer of his sheep and the rancher’s ferocious dog, cross the Tweed River to England, let a kindly older couple (Dame May Whitty & Ben Webster) know he’s on a mission and can’t accept their hospitality any longer, leave the friendly confines of a lonely man in a trailer (Edmund Gwenn) when she’s fed and rested in order to continue the journey home, and a few more perilous undertakings (like escaping the dogcatcher) before returning home to meet Joe once again in front of the school.

It’s fluff, but well-made fluff.