Thursday, November 20, 2014

Double Dog Daring with MGM's Lassie

Given the public's embrace of 1943's Lassie Come Home, it was inevitable that MGM would launch a film series featuring the lovable, clever canine. Most of the pictures were connected only in that the lead character was a collie named Lassie. However, Son of Lassie (1945) was a direct sequel starring Peter Lawford as Joe Carraclough, who was played by Roddy McDowall as a lad in Lassie Come Home.

Joe still lives on the Duke of Rudling's (Nigel Bruce) estate, where his father (Donald Crisp) tends to the kennels. The Duke's granddaughter Priscilla (June Lockhart) is obviously smitten with Joe, but by the time he gets around to confirming his affection for her, he's off to fly planes for the RAF.
June Lockhart, an unknown actor as Laddie, and Peter Lawford.

Meanwhile, Joe's dog Laddie, one of Lassie's pups, joins the military too when Joe's father agrees to train a canine corps. Missing his owner, Laddie runs away and eventually stows away on an airplane piloted by Joe. When their plane is shot down over Nazi-infested Norway, Joe and Laddie must find each other and then find their way back home.

The bulk of Son of Lassie is a solid World War II adventure that reminded me of Powell and Pressberger's more impressive One of Our Aircraft Is Missing. Both films highlight the resilience of the inhabitants of occupied territories, who take great personal risks to aid the escape of Allied troops.

Peter Lawford and Pal as Laddie.
Lawford, in his first lead role, is a likable hero and assisted by a first-rate supporting cast. Unfortunately, there aren't enough scenes of him with June Lockhart and therefore their climatic reunion generates little emotion. On the other hand, the bond between man and dog is captured nicely and Pal, the canine star, is convincing as both the adult Laddie and his mother Lassie. (Lockhart, of course, would later forge her own relationship with her collie co-star, playing Timmy's mother on the Lassie TV series).

It's not Norway!
For what is essentially a "B" film, Son of Lassie reflects the typical high MGM production values. The breathtaking, colorful landscapes of  British Columbia and Wyoming substitute effectively for Norway.

After another war-themed series entry, the fine Courage of Lassie, MGM cast its canine star in Hills of Home (1948). This heartfelt story of a rural Scottish doctor reunited Pal and Edmund Gwenn from Lassie Come Home. The pair would appear together again the following year in Challenge to Lassie.

Gwenn's character was inspired by Ian
Maclaren's Doctor of the Old School.
In Hills of Home, the aging Dr. MacLure worries about what will happen in Glen Urtach when age forces him to eventually retire. His plan is to send bright young Tammas Milton (Tom Drake) to medical school in Edinburgh, but Tammas's family and sweetheart (Janet Leigh) aren't sold on the idea.

A lonely bachelor, MacLure accepts a collie in trade for medical services. What he doesn't know is that the dog is afraid to cross running water. Over time, MacLure's frustrations with his bonnie collie give way to love--and when it comes time for Lass to prove her worth, she comes through admirably.

Janet Leigh and Tom Drake.
Still, this is an intimate portrait of a country doctor told through a series of sketches and performed admirably by Gwenn, Donald Crisp as his best friend, and Tom Drake in one of his best performances. Many of the cast and crew appeared in previous and future Lassie films, to include: Gwenn; Crisp (Lassie Come Home, Son of Lassie, Challenge to Lassie); Drake (Courage of Lassie); Reginald Owen (Challenge to Lassie); and director Fred M. Wilcox (Lassie Come Home, Courage of Lassie).

MGM went on to make three more Lassie films. The Sun Comes Up (1948) starred Jeanette MacDonald in her last movie role. The aforementioned Challenge to Lassie (1949) was based on the true story of Greyfriars Bobby (a Skye Terrier). The film series ended with The Painted Hills (1951)--although the long-running Lassie TV series would debut in 1954 and rack up 352 half-hour episodes over the next 19 years. One of its stars, Jon Provost, recently shared his Lassie memories with us.

As an added bonus to promote the Cafe's new YouTube Channel, here's the opening scene from Son of Lassie (if your mobile device blocks embedded YouTube videos, click here to view it):


  1. I tend to confuse the titles of the "other" Lassie movies, sitting down expecting one plot and getting another. It doesn't really matter. I still have a good time.

  2. There is such a sweetness about the Lassie films. It is lovely to sit down and become immersed in them. I do like some more than others but the dearness of the collie always warms your heart. Thanks for posting about them, Rick!

    1. Toto, I remember your COURAGE OF LASSIE review and, like you, I think it's the best of the series. I do enjoy these two, however, especially THE HILLS OF HOME.