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Warner Home Video presents

Courage of Lassie (1946)

"A man goes to church to talk to a God he can't see. But a dog, he can see his God that he loves, and talk to him and obey his commands all day long. You're Bill's God, and all he wants is to love you and have you tell him what you want him to do."- Harry MacBain (Frank Morgan)

Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Morgan, Tom Drake, Lassie
Other Stars: Mitchell Lewis, Selena Royle, Harry Davenport
Director: Fred M. Wilcox

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: G for (injury to animals, battle sequences)
Run Time: 01h:32m:31s
Release Date: 2004-08-24
Genre: adventure

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Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-B+B- C+


DVD Review

When you're dealing with a movie called Son of Lassie, you kind of expect that the main dog character might not be Lassie herself. But it's something of a surprise to learn that in Courage of Lassie the principal dog is named Bill (and sometimes Duke) and there's no Lassie to be seen. As the character evolved into a brand name, so too did the story start to degenerate into the often silly "Timmy's fallen into a well" melodramas that made up the long-running television series. Elizabeth Taylor also returns from the original, though not as the same character.

A young pup is separated from his mother, learning that he has to fend for himself in the wilds. When the brothers of Kathie Merrick (Taylor) shoot him, thinking him a woodchuck, she steps in and rescues him with the help of kindly old Harry MacBain (the Wizard of Oz himself, Frank Morgan). She gradually tames the dog, naming him Bill and training him to be a sheepdog. But Bill gets injured and vanishes, only to be drafted into service as a war dog. After serving a term and being driven half-mad by gunfire, Bill returns to the wild where he becomes a menace to society.

Even though sure hand Fred M. Wilcox is again at the helm (he had directed Lassie Come Home and his hand was missed on the iffy first sequel), the structure of the picture is seriously problematic. It really feels like four different two-reelers stitched awkwardly together: the innocent in the wild, domestication, war and the vicious and feral veteran. They hardly feel like they belong together, with the war sequence in particularly harrowing when compared to the first 20 minutes, which play like a bucolic True-Life Adventure. The whole thing winds up in a courtroom drama, which really comes out of nowhere based on what has gone before. While there might be a couple of decent movies in there, an effort has been made to cram far too much into the running time, and the result falls apart pretty rapidly.

Taylor seriously overacts here, which is surprising since she had been more restrained three years earlier. Perhaps her burgeoning stardom was going to her head. Morgan is reliable as always, though his character is fairly bland. Tom Drake, as the army trainer, gets glimpses of developing a rapport with Bill (or as he calls him, Duke), but it's pretty unsatisfying and there's not enough emphasis given to it to credibly make Duke/Bill serve as faithfully as he does, under extreme conditions.

The story to some extent is derivative of Call of the Wild, at least thematically, with some interesting and unexpected social commentary thrown in for good measure. Morgan makes the point, well before post-traumatic stress disorder was identified, that the returning veterans may well have the same difficulty in adjusting to civilian life as does the dog, a comparison that under the circumstances cannot have rested too comfortably with the soldiers and their families. Whereas the previous sequel did have a wartime focus, this entry in the series goes pretty far, particularly in showing carnage of war. Sensitive viewers should be warned that not only is Bill/Duke/Lassie abandoned, but gets shot not once but twice, and is run over by a speeding truck for good measure. Yes, even though I can take the most twisted Japanese gorefest with aplomb, even I am upset by people shooting puppies. Despite the G rating, this picture is not recommended for small children.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full frame Technicolor picture is generally quite good, though the nature sequences are a bit dupey at times, no doubt due to the difficulty of using Technicolor cameras on location. There are occasional nicks and dings throughout, but nothing seriously wrong. Color is vivid and fairly stable, with good black levels and shadow detail.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 English audio is acceptable, though on occasion it gets a tad murky. There's not much in the way of bass, and the music tends to be a little shrill. Hiss is moderate and never distracting.

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Two cartoon shorts
Extras Review: A pair of trailers are included: the original, which is upfront about the whole Bill/Lassie situation and a 1972 rerelease kiddie matinee trailer that essentially misrepresents Bill as Lassie. But the best parts of this disc are the 1946 vintage MGM cartoons supplied. The first is the classic Tex Avery Droopy cartoon Northwest Hounded Police, featuring an omnipresent Droopy as Sgt. McPoodle, pursuing Joe Wolf, an escapee from AlkaFizz Prison. It's vintage Avery and hilarious. A Tom & Jerry cartoon from the same year, Solid Serenade features Tom singing the classic Is You Is, or Is You Ain't My Baby to a female cat while Jerry causes him plenty of trouble. They're both a lot of fun and help make up for the shortcomings of the principal feature.

Extras Grade: C+

Final Comments

An oddball structure and some dubious acting sink this faux-Lassie entry. Not for the small tykes or the sensitive. But the bonus cartoons are certainly worthwhile.

Mark Zimmer 2004-08-30