When Joes family fall on hard times his dog, Lassie, a beautiful Collie, is sold to a Duke who takes Lassie to live hundreds of miles away. But the dog decides to make the long journey back to Joe
The first of the Lassie films, inspired by Eric Knight’s newspaper short story that later became a novel, was something of a phenomenon. A low budget film, packed with character actors, it was only expected to do modest business at the box office. Instead it made stars of its juvenile leads, Taylor and McDowall (who also formed a life-long friendship) and the dog itself earned a star on Hollywood’s walk of fame, becoming a major celebrity.
Now it’s easy to see how this winning formula of a boy’s love for his dog – equally reciprocated by the canine – struck a cord with wartime audiences across the globe. And although in later incarnations – several film sequels and television series - the dog’s ability to communicate the most complex information became laughable – here the situation is much simpler and more believable. The dog simply tracks his way home, having various colourful adventures along the way, while the moppets fret photogenically for his safe return. Every Lassie, except that of the most recent 2005 film, is descended from the star here – a one year old male collie called Pal, bought for $10 by dog trainer Rudd Weatherwax and put out to stud following the film so his line would be assured. Just as well since, following the film’s release, the demand for collies quadrupled over night. At least their fur would be thick enough to drown the inevitable tears that well up on repeat viewings of the final scenes, as once more the faithful dog limps forward to greet his master at school.
This was understandably inspiring to wartime audiences and actually still holds up as a heartwarming story with a very decent cast.