Monday, July 6, 2020

A Black Sheep and a Young Burl Ives

Bobby Driscoll as Jeremiah.
Young Jeremiah Kincaid lives in a small Indiana town at the turn of the century--the kind of place where the train passing through is the highlight of the day for a youngster. One of those trains changes Jeremiah's life when it stops so that Dan Patch, the champion race horse, can stretch his legs. Jeremiah feeds an apple to the dark-brown horse, who quickly becomes the most prominent subject in the young boy's scrapbook.

When a little black lamb is born, and rejected by its mother, Jeremiah adopts it. His goal is raise Danny, named after Dan Patch (of course), into a prize-winning ram. Jeremiah's pragmatic grandmother, who cares for the boy, has reservations. She knows that black wool has little value. It doesn't help that Danny is a rascal, who runs rampant one day and almost destroys the farm.

Made in 1948, So Dear to My Heart is a heartwarming Disney picture that combines live action with animated sequences. To be honest, the animation doesn't add much to the film except a splash of color and some modestly entertaining songs sung by cowboy star Ken Carson. Still, if one subtracts the animated scenes, the 79-minute film would barely be long enough for a theatrical release.
Ever notice that large animated animals have deeper voices?
It's interesting to watch So Dear to My Heart knowing the trajectory of Disney family films over the next two decades. The studio would gradually abandon endearing family fare like this and Old Yellow (1957) in favor of comedies starring the likes of Fred MacMurray, Dean Jones, and Kurt Russell. 

A young-ish Burl Ives.
Burl Ives had only appeared in three films when he took the role of Uncle Hiram, the town's blacksmith and a father figure for Jeremiah. At age 39, he looks relatively trim, but still possesses the engaging smile and twinkle in the eyes that would serve him well in movies like this one. (It's also why he was so very effective in different roles, as in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.) 

Ives also gets a chance to warble a couple of tunes, including the English folk song "Lavender Blue." It became one of his signature songs and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song (which is odd because it was not an original song).

Danny the black sheep.
 As Jeremiah and his grandmother, Bobby Driscoll and Beulah Bondi give appealing, natural performances. It's nice to see Bondi, a talented supporting actress, in a lead role and you can feel her character's angst as she struggles with how to raise her grandson. 

As for Driscoll, he earned a special juvenile Oscar in 1949 for his performances in So Dear to My Heart and The Window. Driscoll also appeared in other Disney fare such as Song of the South and Treasure Island. Unfortunately, his acting career fizzled as he grew older and, in 1961, he was sentenced to a rehab center for drug addiction.

So Dear to My Heart isn't shown as often as other Disney films. It used to be available on Hoopla, a free streaming service available through many public libraries. That ended, though, with the launch of Disney+. The film may not be one of Disney's best, but it nicely evokes a time when state fairs were a big deal and a small town could rally around the dreams of a young boy.


  1. Coincidentally, today is So Dear to My Heart's Luanna Patten's birthdate.

    This movie is very special to me. My special needs son writes out the title to indicate he is he feeling sentimental.

    I have found clips of Mel Torme on different variety programs singing the County Fair song which he and Bob Wells contributed to the movie (also a favourite of my son's). I am wondering if this indicates it was successful outside of the movie or if he kept pushing it hoping for success. H'm.

  2. I barely recognized that young Burl Ives!