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Courage of Lassie

Courage of Lassie(1946)

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teaser Courage of Lassie (1946)

When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios were in production for a film about a brave dogovercoming incredible odds, the project was first titled Hold High the Torch. It was then changed to the more majestic sounding BlueSierra. Yet it was still missing the oomph the studio wanted. The filmwas slated to star a young Elizabeth Taylor, who a few years before received greatnotices for Lassie Come Home (1943). And the dog that would be her co-star? Why, none other than Pal, the collie who was the original Lassiein the first film.

In an attempt to capitalize upon the popularity of the film series - Sonof Lassie was released in 1945 - the Metro producers wisely renamed thefilm Courage of Lassie (1946). There was one problem, however.In the movie, they named the dog Bill. MGM reasoned that viewers would soon forgetthe movie title that drew them into the cinema and they were right, proving thatthe success of the Lassie phenomenon applied even when the dog's name wasn't Lassie!

Due to the success of National Velvet (1944), Courageof Lassie would mark the first time Taylor received top billing in a film,at the ripe old age of eleven. A fanatical animal lover, Taylor convincingly relayedher affection for all creatures large and small onscreen; she was to remark laterin life, "Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses." On location, the idyllic setting of Lake Chelan, in Washington State, provided the pastoral environmentthe producers hoped to capture. Taylor took advantage of the bounties of the countryside;during the filming of Courage, in fact, she caught twenty-fivechipmunks to keep as pets. All but one would be released. The one she kept and nicknamed "Nibbles" ended up being cast in a bit part in the film. Alas,his big scene was ultimately cut. As Taylor explained in an interview, "He was toogood. It didn't look real." Nibbles, however, did provide the inspiration for Taylor's book debut, Nibbles and Me, which was published in 1946, chronicling their adventures and mutual affection. Taylor also drew the illustrationsfor the 77-page tome and collected $1000 for her efforts. Courage of Lassiemarked the last time she co-starred with an animal.

Besides Taylor, Courage of Lassie is memorable for its supportingcast which includes Frank Morgan, best remembered as the title character in TheWizard of Oz (1939), despite his Oscar® nominations for TortillaFlat (1943) and The Affairs of Cellini (1934). Morgan,born Wuppermann, was born into wealth as one of eleven children of the co-founderof the Angostura-Wuppermann Corporation, which distributed the popular bitters condimentused in cocktails. He soon abandoned the family business, however, to follow hisacting dreams - changing his name along the way. Courage of Lassiehas another Oz connection: bit actor Mitchell Lewis had an uncreditedrole as the "Captain of the Winkie Guard". A prolific but unlucky actor, Lewis probably holds some kind of record for uncredited or deleted scenes in films - 90or more! Courage of Lassie was, in fact, one of his few creditedroles.

Our Gang graduate Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer also has a small partin the film as a young boy who accidentally shoots the dog in a hunting accident.Ironically, Switzer would become the victim of gun violence when he was shot deadduring an argument over money in 1959. Switzer and Taylor had previously starredtogether in Taylor's film debut There's One Born Every Minute(1942). George Cleveland, who plays the elderly man in Courage of Lassie,parlayed his involvement in the film into a three-year stint as "Gramps" Miller in the television series Lassie. Director Fred Wilcox had cuthis teeth on the first Lassie flick, Lassie Come Home,but he would be best remembered for his work on The Secret Garden(1949), starring child actor Margaret O'Brien.

Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Screenplay: Lionel Houser
Cinematography: Leonard Smith
Film Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Paul Youngblood
Music: Scott Bradley, Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Kathie Merrick), Frank Morgan (Harry McBain), Tom Drake (Sergeant Smitty), Selena Royle (Mrs. Merrick), Harry Davenport (Judge Payson), George Cleveland (Old Man).
C-93m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Eleanor Quin

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