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Flight of the Doves

Flight of the Doves is a gem of a family adventure film beloved by many, especially those who were lucky enough to catch it upon its original theatrical release in 1971. Shot entirely on location around beautiful Ireland, the film reunites Jack Wild and Ron Moody who co-starred in the popular Oscar-winning musical Oliver! in 1968, for which they both received Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nominations for their memorable roles as the Artful Dodger and Fagin.

In Flight of the Doves, Wild stars as Finn Dove, a boy from England who, together with his sister Derval (Helen Raye), flees his tyrannical stepfather (William Rushton) and heads for the rolling green hills of Ireland to find their loving grandmother (Dorothy McGuire). Unbeknownst to them, Finn and Derval have been named as heirs to their late grandfather's estate and stand to inherit a large fortune. Meanwhile, hot on their trail across Ireland is their menacing uncle Hawk Dove (Ron Moody), a struggling actor who is next in line for the inheritance. Utilizing an endless array of chameleon-like disguises, Uncle Hawk uses every trick he knows along the way to get rid of the children and claim the money for himself.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, producer-director Ralph Nelson bought the rights to Walter Macken's 1963 children's novel Flight of the Doves after his 12-year-old daughter read it while on a family vacation in Ireland and recommended it to him. Nelson was a veteran Oscar-nominated producer and director best known for Lilies of the Field (1963) and Charly (1968), two films that earned the lead actor in each case-Sidney Poitier and Cliff Robertson-Best Actor Academy Awards. At the time, Nelson was coming off a big box office success with Soldier Blue (1970), a revisionist Western starring Candice Bergen and Peter Strauss.

Nelson tapped child actor Jack Wild to star as young Finn. Wild had shot to fame with his Academy Award-nominated performance as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, followed by a starring role in the offbeat children's television series H.R. Pufnstuf. Wild was looking forward to working under the direction of Nelson, but there was one problem: "[Nelson] was adamant that to play Finn Dove I would have to have my hair dyed red-ginger!-as I was meant to be half Irish," recalled Wild in his posthumously published autobiography It's a Dodger's Life. "Well, I wasn't having that in any way, shape or form." The 17-year-old actor flatly refused and left it to his manager to work out a solution with Nelson.

The solution that Nelson and his manager came up with was for Wild to wear a wig throughout the filming. "Well, I thought, yeah, that's alright," said Wild. "I was just pleased that it'd all worked out. If somebody said to me now, 'You've got to have your hair dyed sky-blue pink!' I'd say 'Right, where's the bottle?' But things are vey different when you're 17."

Wild was happy about working with everyone in the cast, which included his Oliver! co-star Ron Moody, William Rushton, Stanley Holloway, Dorothy McGuire and pop star Dana. Dana, who plays the gypsy girl Sheila, who sings the lovely original song "Far Off Place" in the film, was an 18-year-old Irish schoolgirl who had just won the 1970 Eurovision song contest and launched a successful recording career. According to Jack Wild, at that time Dana was considered a "national heroine" in Ireland. "I was looking forward to working with them all," said Wild, "especially Mr. Holloway and Miss McGuire as they were such established experienced actors. I'd seen Miss McGuire in Old Yeller at the cinema and cried."

When filming began on location in Ireland, Wild's agreement to wear a wig in the film was a decision he soon came to regret. "...I'd made a big mistake," said Wild. "On the first day of filming at Bray Studios, just outside Dublin, I was presented with my companion for the next 10 weeks-a companion I hated from the moment we met. 'Look at it!' I said. 'All I need now is a red nose and I'll be away.' It was my wig and it looked as uncomfortable with me as I was with it. It was not only red, it was permed--permed red hair. They were having a laugh, weren't they? I'd made a huge mistake. I should've agreed to have my hair dyed once I got over here, and then had it dyed back before I went home, then nobody who knew me would've seen it. That's what I should have done rather than being stuck with this abomination...It squatted on my head in protest and we did our best to ignore each other for the rest of the film."

Wild had great fun working on Flight of the Doves across the many locations throughout Ireland. He also loved working with Ron Moody again. "Such an amazing actor," said Wild. "His character, Hawk Dove, was a master of disguise and Ron had to play several characters throughout the film. He made them funny, sinister, and a bit mad all at the same time. Only Ron could've done it like that, and sometimes you'd swear it wasn't him at all...it was so hard to keep a straight face seeing Ron: he was just hysterical. But he was such a deep-thinking clown; one minute I'd see him in serious conversation with Ralph [Nelson] about his different characters, the next he'd be messing about with Willie [Rushton]. I think he's a genius."

Any difficulties that Wild encountered while shooting--aside from his wig--seemed to involve animals. In one instance, he was filming a complicated large-scale scene that involved a funfair with dozens of extras, a market and an array of farm animals including ducks, chickens, sheep and pigs. "[The animals] were waiting patiently in wooden crates," Wild recalled. "Then, inexplicably, there were cute little pigs out of their crates; and then there were cute little pigs all over the place. Cast and crew tried to catch these surprisingly agile and bloody fast little pigs, diving and weaving through the market on their podgy little legs; there seemed to be hundreds of them outnumbering cast and crew and extras alike."

Another instance required Wild to shoot a scene in which Ron Moody chases him through a herd of cattle. "I was terrified, terrified of these cows," said Wild. "...I was so frightened of these cows because they were much bigger than me and three times the size of Helen. When we came to do it, I just grabbed her hand and sped through the beasts, Helen airborne behind me. I ran so fast and ducked and dived, it was enough to make any podgy little pig proud."

Horses, too, presented a problem for Wild in a scene where he was to share a horse with Helen Raye and ride bareback with a stuntman who had to gallop at full speed down a hill and then jump over a stone wall. "They picked up me and Helen, and sat us on the front;" said Wild. "I personally closed my eyes. It wasn't so much the ride down, although that was bad enough, especially so close to the front; it was the jump over the wall I was concerned about. I was not happy because these are big horses. I didn't enjoy that at all...We had to do three or four takes of the horse nightmare; it was the only time I stopped worrying about my wig."

Despite all the animal adventures and the ongoing battle of the wig, Jack Wild looked back on Flight of the Doves with great fondness. "They were incredibly happy days in Ireland," he said. "It had been one big laugh from the day I landed on the island till the day I left. And the people are diamonds."

Flight of the Doves opened to mostly positive reviews in April 1971. Variety called it "a heartwarming, often funny, often suspenseful story...It allows Ron Moody to dominate the film from his first appearance. With almost as many character changes as Alec Guinness had in Kind Hearts and Coronets, Moody is so good at his disguises that the audience starts imagining that each new character who appears might be...Moody." The New York Times said, "...the balance between comedy and terror is sharp enough to establish a real and rather exciting tension."

by Andrea Passafiume

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