Isaac: Well y’all, since you voted for Old Yella, it’s time to go into the Wild West for a hootin’ good time! …Yeah, no. Let’s just talk about Old Yeller. *dramatic guitar music* Isaac: So the theme for September’s Bonus Objective was more old live-action Disney movies, and I included a couple dog ones on there. In fact, I considered lifting my self-imposed dog film ban, but will still do a near year’s worth of them depending on how the Wano arc in One Piece ends. Anyway, about Old Yeller… This is by far the second oldest Disney movie I remember owning as a kid, and one that I didn’t know was also a book. The book, by Fred Gipson, was first released in 1956. Fred would go on to provide the screenplay, along with William Tunberg, to Disney for them to adapt into a movie the following year. We, of course, have The Love Bug director, Robert Stevenson, on this and also… This was the last film to have Charles Boyle on cinematography. He had also done work for Disney’s Davey Crocket mini-series that also got made into two movies, one of which I did own. So I’m excited, since it’s been forever since actually seeing something THIS old compared to some of the others we’ve seen. With that, time to see for ourselves just what kind of adventure we’re in for. This is Old Yeller. Well, they certainly don’t waste time bringing in our title character! Singing voices: Old Yeller! Old Yeller! OLD YELLER!! Here Yeller! Come back Yeller! Best doggone dog in the West! Isaac: Huh…someone’s being biased. It’s kind of funny how they start out by calling him ugly, before getting into what makes him a great dog. I suppose this song also serves as like…the legend behind him? Well, given what happens later, I don’t know who’s around to tell it! Looks like he spotted the main household…time to get to the human cast! Our main character in this is Travis Coates, played by Tommy Kirk. He’s the oldest sibling after Arliss, played by Kevin Corcoran. The two actors tend to share films as brother characters, which is interesting. Guess Disney really liked pairing them up for like five films. Arliss: What’d Papa get for this dollar? Travis: Nuthin’, it wasn’t no good. Arliss: But you just said that you could get anything with money. Travis: Well, ya can. Papa’s was Confederate. Arliss: What’s Confederate money? Isaac: It’s money that’s means nothing after they lost the war! Though in fairness, they don’t go into their political history. So we can assume they’re clean. For parents, we have Dorothy McGuire playing Katie Coates. And the father, Jim, played by Davey Crockett himself (Fess Parker). Both have top billing, according to the opening credits, but only Dorothy shows up the most. Jim, here, has to go sell their steer for money since they’re pretty much broke! Katie: Will you really be gone three months? Jim: All of three months. Maybe four. Oh, honey. Nothin’ to cry about. Katie: It’s just that we’ve never been separated before. Jim: You know what I’m gonna do when I sell them steers? Katie: What? Jim: I’m gonna get you a store-bought dress. The first one you’ve had since we’ve come to Texas. Isaac: Just as long as he stays away from the Alamo, nothing bad will happen to him! Seeing as this is going to be one of them “boy and his dog” stories, the most character development is going to Travis, who Jim is asking to be the man of the house while he’s gone, and all Travis wants in compensation is a horse of his own. Travis: Oh, Papa, you know I’ve been achin’ all over for a horse to ride. I told you time and again. Jim: Well, what you’re needin’ worse than a horse is a good dog. Travis: Yessir, but what I’m wantin’ worst is a good horse. Jim: Alright, boy. You act a man’s part, and I’ll bring you a man’s horse. Isaac: Spoilers, he gets him a cat instead. Nah…but after his first run in with Old Yeller, he’ll probably consider it. *sounds of dog barking whilst Travis repeatedly yells “Whoa!” Katie: Whoa! Whoa! Jumper! Travis: Get away from ma mule! Isaac: Well, now to get a new mule! Thanks, dog! Travis: Get, you crazy fool dog! Get! Isaac: Now I’m not gonna lie, but I actually like the family in this one. Besides Travis, I think Arliss is legitimately funny. Obviously too young to understand stuff, is clearly bound for big trouble, and can be a bit of a brat. But you can’t help but find him adorable…especially when he likes to stuff wild animals in his pockets. Katie: Oh, Arliss! How can you even touch those ugly things? Arliss: They aren’t ugly. Look it here at his belly,
how soft and smooth and pretty it is. Katie: I know. Everything you catch is pretty. But take him outta here. You can’t keep him in the house. Arliss: You mean I gotta throw him away? Katie: And everything else you got in those pockets. Arliss: My frog too? *frog croaks* Katie: Arliss, what all have you got in those pockets? *snake hisses* Oh! Isaac: Katie is also very patient, very kind and loving, and seems just as wise as the father figure. They also imply that they did have another dog that Travis liked, and it could be a sign of why he wouldn’t want another even if father offered him one. Travis: Mama, what happened to the middlin’ meat? Why, you no-account, thievin’ rascal! Get outta here! Isaac: *singing* Old Yeller was a rebel, a stubborn old rebel… Good thing Arliss is here to save the day. Arliss: You hit my dog and I’ll wear you to a frazzle! Katie: Travis, Arliss, whatcha doin’ out there?
Arliss: Let go of my stick! Katie: Arliss! Arliss. Don’t you DARE hit your brother. Arliss: He was tryin’ to kill my dog. Travis: He’s not your dog, and I never even touched him. Arliss: He’s my dog. Ain’t nobody gonna try to hurt him. Katie: Well…. Looks like we got us a dog! Isaac: Pah…wow. Poor Travis is just trying to be a man, keep this family from starving through the summer, and fix everything that dog did… And suddenly they become attached to it! This first act alone is basically “Poor Travis!” So the defence Katie has is letting Arliss have him, since he never had a dog like he did with their previous one and just to give him a chance. Now thankfully, even this early on, they don’t make Travis a complete sourpuss devoid of any fun, now that he’s become…a “pseudo-man”. He does respect nature enough that he doesn’t shoot a doe and its fawn, and finds squirrels amusing. Isaac: But he still has to get meat on the table and…dead! *imitating Travis* Here you go Arliss, here’s a dollar. *imitating Arliss* But it’s a buck-
*imitating Travis* Exactly! Man, the Wild West years were brutal for brothers. Constant rock and stick fights…nothing like it is today! Of course, Travis is just looking for an excuse to get rid of the dog. So he warns him that if he eats this hanging jerky again, he’ll shoot him. He even tempts him by lowering one down to his level. But come morning, he finds that the meat was untouched. *imitating Travis* Well darn, I got the gun out for nothin’. Travis thinks mother might have fed him, but it doesn’t appear so. Dog just might be smarter than he looks. Hell, he actually got a fish. Yeah, a lot of the movie shows some of their daily life. If anything, that’s the way the movie flows. It’s like a slice-of-life story where anything can happen and it will be beneficial to character development. It’s all about watching these characters grow into better people. That’s not to say we can’t have drama. As right here, Arliss thought it would be a GREAT idea to try and capture this bear cub! A bear cub that, by the way, is very real and might hurt this small child during shooting. But not as much as the mother bear that comes charging! And just before it, mother was indifferent to this, like… *imitating Katie* ”Well, it’d be one less mouth to feed”. But guess who comes to save the day. *sounds of Old Yeller barking at bear* Travis: Go on, ya old fool, before she kills ya! Isaac: It can’t. I think it might have been declawed and defanged. Either that or they’re both trained for this. Well this pretty much cements the family’s need for the dog, and even Travis was impressed. Now the movie starts building upon that relationship while also introducing some side characters; like Bud and ‘Lisbeth Searcy, played by Jeff York and Beverly Washburn. Jeff was also a Davy Crockett character in the River Pirates movie, meaning he and Davey have both transcended time and reality to be buds in this universe too. Bud: I’ll tell you, Miss Coates. It’s a heavy responsibility ridin’ herd on the settlement while the menfolks is gone. Wears a man right down to a frazzle. But I ain’t complainin’, though. I was chose for this job and I’ll get her done. Isaac: And he’s just as conceited here as he was there. He’s also the one who tells them about a thieving dog stealing food from all over the county, making me question the song in the beginning when Old Yeller is not the best…but is a thief. Of course it’s ‘Lisbeth who confirms it while they’re out in the field. And she’s only telling Travis because their dog will eventually have his puppies, and doesn’t want him shot or anything. ‘Lisbeth: Seen him swipe a pan of Grandma’s corn bread too. But I ain’t gonna tell. Travis: I bet you do. ‘Lisbeth: No, I won’t. Wasn’t goin’ to even before I knowed he was your dog. Travis: Just an old arrowhead I picked up. Comanche, Papa said. Well, you can have it. ‘Lisbeth: I won’t never, never tell. Isaac: Either way, this gets Travis to doubt him a bit, hence needing him to ensure he doesn’t steal by having him work constantly. They also take time to show how much he misses his father while slowly appreciating his new dog. But it’s during major moments where Old Yeller takes on more dangerous tasks that Travis can’t handle alone. One such instance is trying to get one of their cows back home, after she went off to have a calf. Obviously he has to carry the calf, while Old Yeller has to stop the mother from attacking them. Travis: – boy! *sound of Old Yeller barking at cow* Travis: Get her, Yeller! Bust her again! Isaac: Then later, as they have to milk the cow and she doesn’t cooperate, it’s Old Yeller who keeps her steady. NOW the song is starting to make more sense. Nothing but respect for this dog. Of course it’s during a later scene, after one that I’ll come back to in a bit, where Old Yeller actually saves Travis’ life! On the advice of Bud, during their first meal together, he suggested he can trap feral hogs by hanging in a tree, pulling them up one-by-one and tagging them that way. It works at first, but then after wrangling one hog too big, he ends up falling and gets his leg mauled. So Old Yeller does what he can to scare them away, only to get badly wounded. So Travis gets him dressed a bit, hides him in a cave out before going home to get his mother. It’s the first real moment in the movie where you’re afraid that something bad might happen while they’re separated. And by that, I don’t mean by nearly giving him up to his original owner! ‘Cause, one scene earlier, they get visited by a cowboy by the name of Burn Sanderson, played by Chuck Connors of the Chicago Cubs. He heard about a dog similar to the one he lost, and sure enough they have him. He’s aware that they might need him more than he does and is willing to loan him. But Katie thinks it’s better to return him now so Arliss doesn’t have a heartbreak later… But he can still fight now! Arliss: YOU CAN’T TAKE MY DOG! YOU CAN’T TAKE MY DOG! Burn: Woah boy! Arliss: YOU CAN’T TAKE MY DOG! Katie: Arliss, aren’t you ashamed throwin’ rocks at that man? Arliss: I’ll bust him with another ‘un if he takes my dog off! Katie: Arliss! Isaac: You’re just lucky that this guy didn’t shoot you or do worse to your family! This was still about that time where outlaws of that kind existed! But he’s rather chill about it, as he talks to him about what it might be worth to keep the dog. So the offer is this: They can keep Old Yeller if Arliss trades him this horny toad he has in his pocket, and get his mother to feed him a home-cooked meal. Arliss: I guess so. WILL YA FEED HIM, MAMA? Katie: Of course I will. Arliss: All right, I’ll swap ya. Burn: Here, boy! He’s all yours, boy. Arliss: Come on, Yeller. Come on, boy. Isaac: Hard to stay mad at this little child. He’s still growing. Now going back to my earlier discussion on “something bad happening”. Even after getting Old Yeller home to safety and healing him up, there was that possibility of him contracting hydrophobia (which is a term used to describe rabies). Though first brought up by Sanderson, since it can show up in wild animals, Bud thinks the two might have gotten it from the hogs, since they both appear to be sick now. ‘Lisbeth: I-I brung you a surprise. One of Miss Priss’ pups. Isaac: Oh yeah, and ‘Lisbeth’s dog had a puppy earlier. Just about as big as his mother. Speaking of mothers though, Katie was working into overtime in getting Arliss to cooperate without worrying about Old Yeller. And she also goes out on Bud for telling Travis about how scary hydrophobia is. Katie: There are plenty of ways a man could help around here. Bud: Huh? By doin’ what, Miss Coates? Katie: Like hitchin’ up the mule, and gatherin’ in the corn crop before the deer eat it up, or the blowin’ rain rot it in the field! Bud: Now, don’t you fret yourself at all about that corn crop, Miss Coates. I’ll be glad to take care of that. ‘Lisbeth? ‘Lisbeth: Yes, Papa? Bud: ‘Lisbeth, honey, Miss Coates here, she’s in kind of a bind. Ain’t got her corn in the crib yet. Figured I’ll leave you behind to help her with the job. Katie: Mr. Searcy, ‘Lisbeth’s nothin’ but a little girl. Bud: Yeah, well, she ain’t much for size… but she just like her old pappy: stout and will(ing)! Now, don’t you forget, Miss Coates. If there’s any other little thing I can do for you… don’t you be bashful about tellin’ me. I’m on call day or night. Bye! Bye. Henry (from 50 First Dates): What an asshole! Isaac: But just as Travis says, none of the hogs had it, and the two are able to recover in no time. Though, unfortunately, their cow got it. Time for the first real death of the movie! *gunshot* Katie: Let’s get finished and go burn the carcass. If the varmints get at it, could be that might spread the disease. Isaac: Travis has to go through a lot in this movie, and it’s painful to have him see him lose his innocence at this age. Being the man of the house isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, especially when you have a younger brother asking so many questions. Travis: Nowhere, I reckon. She just dead. Arliss: Will she go to heaven? Travis: I don’t much reckon. Arliss: Ain’t there no cows in heaven for the angels to milk? Travis: Well, how do I know? Isaac: It’s just going to lead into some REALLY painful stuff soon, because now we have a wolf attack! Katie: Travis! Travis! A wolf! *sounds of Old Yeller fighting with a wolf* Isaac: Hey…wait a minute…that’s a German Shepherd! Well after a long struggle of not being able to shoot clearly, he gets it off him. However, now we have a problem. Since the wolf just up and attacked when it did, Katie is worried that Old Yeller might have hydrophobia. Travis sticks up for him of course, after everything he’s done and all, and says he’ll lock him up somewhere until they know for certain he’s fine or not. At first, it seems like he’s alright. He’s acting healthy at least. But then…later that night. Travis: Yeller? *Old Yeller growling menacingly* Travis: What’s the matter, boy? C’mon, it’s time to eat… *Old Yeller still growling menacingly* Isaac: Yeah…he’s pretty much gone at this point. With rabies, there is no cure. Once you get it, you’re as good as dead. Travis doesn’t say anything at this point. But later when Arliss tries to interact with Old Yeller, he gets attacked. Soon, reality sets in that Old Yeller is suffering, and there’s nothing they can do about it… other than putting him down. Travis: I’ll do it… *gunshot* Isaac: It’s not often that a family movie goes as far as forcing a child to have to put down their animal companion like this. And this does play in line with the book. Like they seemingly follow it to a T. And when you apply talented actors to provide heavy emotions, it makes the moment even sadder. And keep in mind, they’ve been playing on the fact that this dog could do a lot, survive a lot, and pull through a lot. You were likely hoping that Old Yeller would get through this, and be happy just as the Coates are. But once it turns out to be false, you start feeling down like they do. The story does well in conveying how much everyone loves that dog after all that time spent with him, and how this loss affects them in the end. You feel like you lost something close to you as they did, and that’s something not many movies are willing to do. But there’s still the matter of moving on. And eventually Jim returns home to bring back the spoils of his journey. Arliss: Gee whiz! Jim: Put it on, son. There you are. All right, chief. Let’s hit the warpath. Arliss: *imitating Amerindian war cry* Come on, boy! Isaac: … Yeah, we know this was made with the time piece in mind… But at least Travis got that horse he wanted, though he’s still upset about Old Yeller’s death. They still have his puppy, but he ain’t interested. Jim sets him straight on what it means to move on. Jim: Life’s like that sometimes. Travis: Like what? Jim: Well… Now and then, for no good reason a man can figure out… life will just haul off ’n knock him flat. Slam him again’ the ground so hard it seem like all his insides is busted. But it’s not all like that; a lot of it’s mighty fine. And…you can’t afford to waste the good part frettin’ about the bad. But I’ll tell you a trick that’s sometimes a big help: You start lookin’ around for somethin’ good to take the place of the bad. As a general rule, you can find it. Isaac: And I think that’s some good advice: Always find some good in life so you’re not always dwelling with the bad. And what good Travis finds is that the puppy is very much like his father before him. So the memory can live on… in Young Yeller! Solo singer: Young Yeller is a puppy – a little ol’ lop-eared puppy It’s plain to see he’s got a family tree. The image of his pappy. He’s frisky and he’s happy. And that’s how a good pup should be! Chorus: Frisky and happy! Here, Yeller! Come back, Yeller! Solo: Best doggone dog in the West! Chrorus: In the West! Isaac: It goes without saying, but I really like this movie. It’s easily among the best dog movies I ever owned, and the best to use the “boy and his dog” formula well. And I think what helps it is keeping it mostly grounded in reality. Most dog films try to add a little too much to make the dog seem wacky or really damn smart, when really all we needed was a feel-good tale about a child learning what it means to grow up or take responsibility, and they don’t have to do it alone when they have their animal companion by their side. Old Yeller might be smart, but he’s still limited by what dogs of his breed can do. He’s not invincible, obviously, which is why it’s important that the bond between him and the family be strong enough that they’d help him as he helped them. Having the family be likeable is also a must, and despite a few shortcomings on like Arliss or even Bud, and some of the obvious racial byproducts of the time and era… everyone was pretty good to watch. In the way of cinematography, nearly every scene felt natural. There didn’t appear to be much need of stock footage or blue-screen effects. Just the good ol’ CALIFORNIA-Texan countryside! The lessons about growing up, taking responsibility, family and mourning are all well done and can be easily understood by younger audiences. And I can see many children and possibly some adults crying by the end, depending on how attached they are to Old Yeller. I can’t stress this enough, but this is the one dog that I would LOVE to have. I very much recommend this movie to anyone looking into Disney’s past library of live-action movies. This is certainly Disney at its best, and one you shouldn’t ever miss. I’m the Media Hunter.
Media’s my prey, and reviewing them my way! Singing voices: Best doggone dog in the WESSSSSSSSST!