Cast & Crew
At the Box Canyon Boys Camp in Arizona, sixteen-year-old John Cotton has a nightmare in which he and his cabin mates are placed in a corral and brutally shot down by hunters who turn out to be the boys' parents. Cotton awakens to find the other boys, Lawrence Teft, Sammy Shecker, brothers Steve and Billy Lally and young Gerald Goodenow, also awake and tense. Earlier that week, counselor Wheaties had taken the boys to a nearby buffalo preserve where people pay a fee to join state representatives in a ritual slaughter of buffalos to control the animals' population. Knowing the boys' trauma mirrors his own, Cotton suggests that they take action and return to the preserve to free the remaining buffalos scheduled for massacre. The others quickly agree and soon are riding away on camp horses. Later, Cotton stops the group to emphasize that they will be committing an illegal act, but the boys remain united. As they ride on, each of the boys reflects on his first few weeks at the camp, whose snappy motto, "Send Us a Boy, We'll Send You a Cowboy" emphasizes their dedication to athletic ability: Shecker, son of a famous television comedian, repeats his father's jokes and, being overweight, is uninterested in sports; Goodenow, whose mother has constantly babied him is, at fourteen, still wetting his bed at night; and the laconic Teft resents the forced camp games and consistently sabotages his own performance. After the first two weeks, the camp director calls a "pow-wow" to assign boys to the cabin determined by their abilities during the competitions. As they are filled, each cabin is given a Native American tribal name and awarded a mounted animal head trophy. The misfits cabin, whose occupants have scored the lowest in the games, are dubbed The Bedwetters and presented with a chamber pot. Back on the trail at sunrise, Cotton realizes that the boys will never reach the preserve by the day's end if they continue on horseback and declares they must leave the horses behind and hitch a ride. After several trucks pass the boys by, Cotton grows frustrated until Teft suggests that they stop at the next town and steal a car. In town, they find a battered large jeep used by a pest control company, which Teft easily hotwires. The Lally brothers, known as Lally 1 and Lally 2, bicker constantly throughout the trip, as Steve resents the sweet-faced Billy for being spoiled and indulged at home. As the trip proceeds, the boys again reflect on their life at camp: When Wheaties suspects the boys have been smoking pot, he threatens to turn them in until he is sidetracked by Shecker's gift of new radio headphones. Later, The Bedwetters' attempt to steal the trophy from another cabin fails and the boys suffer a group paddling, then are doused by the contents of the chamber pot, filled by each camper. After Goodenow is kicked out of another cabin for the second time, he walks into the lake, declaring he will kill himself, but finds the water too cold. Cotton invites Goodenow to join The Bedwetters and vows if anyone taunts the younger boy, he will beat them up. In the present, Shecker pleads for Teft to stop at the next town for food and Cotton reluctantly agrees. The boys enter what they believe is a deserted diner, but after ordering hamburgers, discover two pool- playing hustlers who, sizing the boys up with their camp T-shirts, immediately begin harassing them. The hazing reminds Teft of his sarcastic father, an obsessive stockbroker who has no patience or understanding of his son. Cotton urges the boys to take their food with them, but after the boys drive off, the men follow and force them to pull over. Unknown to the others except Cotton, Teft has brought along a BB gun, but when he threatens the men with it, they only laugh. Teft then shoots out a tire on their car, enabling the boys are able to resume their journey. That afternoon, however, the jeep comes to a halt and Teft realizes that he has completely forgotten about keeping the car fueled. Cotton grows hysterical and insists the car will restart. His distress prompts Cotton to think of his mother, a beautiful but insecure woman who has divorced Cotton's Marine officer father to carry on romances with several men. Prodding Cotton out of his panic, Teft urges the boys to begin walking, but Cotton declares the mission is a failure. One by one, however, each boy renews his dedication to try to reach the preserve and, pleased, Cotton rejoins the boys, who walk on into the night. Hours later, as the boys suspect they may be lost, they hear the sound of buffalos snorting and mingling in a large corral. Overcome with happiness, the boys rush to look at the beasts, recalling the tragic slaughter witnessed a few days earlier: Shocked by the callous salvo by several inexperienced shooters, including a child, the boys stagger away from the corral. Later, a young boy who had joined the shoot-out proudly displays the head of one of the victims and tells the boys the animals are useless and deserve to die. That evening, Wheaties lambastes the boys for their weakness until Teft intercedes. Throwing open Wheaties' footlocker, whose lock he has picked, Teft displays the counselor's vast pornography collection and a loaded pistol, vowing to report him unless he leaves them alone. In the present, Cotton surveys the area in the moonlight and maps out a rough plan for Teft to pick the gate's lock and the others to send the animals out of the pen. Teft then examines the lock and confesses that he cannot open it, sending Cotton into another emotional frenzy. As dawn breaks the next morning, the boys awaken as Teft roars into the preserve with a stolen truck. Reinvigorated, Cotton ties the gate chain to the truck and after prying the gate away, the boys blast their portable radios to rouse the buffalo. As the startled animals move out of the corral, the boys begin to cheer only to pause in dismay as the animals walk only a few yards away, then begin grazing. While the sheriff, Wheaties and several preserve representatives approach, Cotton jumps into the truck and races off to herd the buffalo away. Alarmed, the sheriff orders the men to shoot out the truck tires, but one shot goes amiss and kills Cotton. Horrified, the boys surround the truck as the buffalo gallop away to freedom.
Charles H. Gray
Vincent Van Lynn
June C. Ellis
Ira Anderson Jr.
Barry Botkin Jr
Perry Botkin Jr.
William A. Lyon
Roger Shearman Jr.
Bless the Beasts and Children - Bless the Beasts and Child
Producer-director Stanley Kramer later said he thought the reason for the film's lackluster box office was that it had "no name stars and it supports a principle for which Americans of the 60s and 70s may not have been ready." Contrary to Kramer's assessment, the film's theme and plot actually seem like a good fit for the times. The story concerns a group of adolescent boys dumped in summer camps by busy and neglectful parents. Unable to fit in, they are stigmatized as social misfits and decide to run away from camp on a crusade to save a herd of bison from being used as targets by a local rifle club. Social misfits with a mission to preserve nature should have been resonant enough for the period, even coming at the tail end of the '60s counterculture, but Bless the Beasts & Children (1971) still could not find a suitable audience.
Kramer was probably more on target when he said one problem was the lack of stars. The biggest name in the cast was 17-year-old Bill Mumy, although he hadn't really been on the public radar for a few years before this, having completed his three-year run in the hit television sci-fi series Lost in Space in 1968. For those who may not recall, Mumy was the cute, precocious red-haired kid on the show who was frequently told by the space family's robot, "Danger, Will Robinson," one of the more recognizable phrases from American pop culture of the decade.
The problem might have been Kramer himself. For many years, he had been the creator of movies that drove home - with a sledgehammer, some critics said - social themes and examinations of society's great ills, among them racism (The Defiant Ones, 1958), nuclear holocaust (On the Beach, 1959), war crimes (Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961), and greed and materialism (It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963), all commercial successes, even if critics found them a tad heavy-handed and intellectually unsophisticated. Kramer's last real hit had been another racism-themed story, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), more notable as the last pairing of one of Hollywood's greatest screen teams, Tracy and Hepburn, than for any kind of astute analysis of a real societal problem. By the time he made R.P.M. (1970), a movie about student revolt, both audiences and critics found him hopelessly out of touch with the leftist ideologies he purported to espouse, and the picture was practically laughed off the screen.
Kramer had high hopes, however, for Bless the Beasts & Children, entering into and ultimately winning a fierce bidding war for the film rights to Glendon Swarthout's 1970 novel, the biggest best-seller of the author's long and eclectic career. A Michigan native, Swarthout (1918-1992) wrote six novellas for young readers and 16 novels, ranging in genre from mystery to romance to comedy to Western. Among his other books made into movies were They Came to Cordura (1959), Where the Boys Are (1960), and The Shootist (1976).
"I still take a certain pride in the picture, but I must admit it failed to accomplish its purpose," Kramer wrote in his autobiography, noting that Bless the Beasts & Children still receives honors from conservationists. "I had imagined it as a saga of constructive youthful rebellion and an attempt by young people to grasp the bewildering society in which they live, but somehow it just didn't jell." As the director's remarks indicate, Bless the Beasts & Children tried to cover a lot of ground, resorting to individual flashbacks for each outcast boy to show how a dysfunctional home life led to his current situation, and then throwing all the young people together into the bison-saving mission. Film critic Roger Ebert admitted to feeling confused about the movie's message and intent and downright angry over its big statement ending, although he wasn't quite sure what that statement was meant to be.
Bless the Beasts & Children actually did better overseas than in the U.S. It made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in August, 1971 as the official U.S. entry in the international competition. Responding to the reception given to the film in the Soviet Union, Kramer noted that audiences there "viewed it as a preachment against Kent State and My Lai," even though he meant it to be more of a statement about America's "gun cult" and the higher possibility of violence in a society where weapons are so easily available.
Getting back to the music in Bless the Beasts & Children, the score was composed by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr., who received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song and the Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special. Their score included an instrumental selection titled "Cotton's Dream," named for the troubled youth played by Barry Robins. The motif was later reworked to become "Nadia's Theme," the title song of the soap opera The Young and the Restless and a top radio hit in late 1976.
Bless the Beasts & Children was filmed on location in Arizona, including a locale near Prescott named Hidden Valley Ranch --no relation to the famous salad dressing.
Director: Stanley Kramer
Producer: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay: Mac Benoff, based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout
Cinematography: Michel Hugo
Editing: William A. Lyon
Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler
Original Music: Perry Botkin, Jr. & Barry De Vorzon
Cast: Bill Mumy (Teft), Barry Robins (Cotton), Miles Chapin (Shecker), Darell Glaser (Goodenow), Bob Kramer (Lally I), Marc Vahanian (Lally II).
by Rob Nixon
Bless the Beasts and Children - Bless the Beasts and Child
TCM Remembers - Stanley Kramer
With these films, Stanley Kramer built his reputation as a producer of important films. He made movies with a conscience, movies with a message. Although his films were sometimes criticized as being too simplistic in dealing with tough subjects, Kramer still deserves a great deal of credit for tackling sensitive subject matter no other director or studio wanted to address. His exploration of timely social issues is what makes his cinema unique and his recent passing leaves us with no one to fill his shoes.
Kramer learned his craft within Hollywood's studio system. He began as a production assistant on So Ends Our Night(1941) and was soon writing and editing. By the late forties, Kramer broke away from the studio hierarchy and formed an independent production company. Outside of the Hollywood system, he could tackle social issues head-on while producing well-crafted and meaningful dramas. In The New York Times obituary for Kramer, the director was quoted in accessing his own career and it's most appropriate here: "I decided that somewhere between the films on outer space and Sylvester Stallone, there is a place for me. I was always associated with films that had an opinion. I don't believe films change anyone's mind, but I was spawned during the Roosevelt era, a time of great change, and I still believe in trying to get people to think."
For his directorial debut, Not As A Stranger (1955), Kramer signed up the all-star cast of Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Olivia de Havilland and Gloria Grahame to reveal the trials and tribulations of doctors and nurses balancing medical school with their personal relationships. In The Defiant Ones (1958) shackled Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier together as escaped convicts. As they flee the law they're forced to confront each other's racism and ultimately discover that beneath their skin color, they are not so different. On the Beach (1959) was Kramer's anti-atom bomb polemic in which Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Anthony Perkins and Fred Astaire survive an initial nuclear holocaust only to face a slow, painful death from fallout.
From the arms race to Biblical scripture, the following year Kramer turned his attention to the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 in Inherit the Wind(1960). This famous courtroom trial was a true-life clash of the titans as Fredric March and Spencer Tracy face off on the issue of Evolution versus Creationism. Although names are changed, March gave a grandstanding performance as William Jennings Bryan, the mouthpiece for conservatism, while Tracy played Clarence Darrow, a tireless fighter for progressive thought.
Kramer's films were more than just entertainment; his stories were political platforms for the Civil Rights Movement, disarmament and liberal thinking. For audiences who thought the director couldn't take on an issue greater than the Scopes Monkey Trial, Kramer's next film would prove to be even more controversial. Again, Kramer booked a cast of Hollywood's hottest names to bring mass appeal to his very serious film.
In Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) Spencer Tracy presides over a German war-criminal trial which delves into the atrocities of the Nazi regime. Burt Lancaster sits smugly on the stand as Ernst Janning, an unrepentant officer of the Gestapo, as Maximilian Schell mounts his defense. Montgomery Clift, as a Jew subjected to a sterilization experiment, nervously submits his testimony. Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich each take the stand. Hollywood's greatest stars came out to shed light on one of the darkest moments of the 20th century. The Academy responded with 11 nominations, including for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Tracy), Supporting Actor (Clift), Supporting Actress (Garland), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Editing. Schell won Best Actor for his dynamic performance as Herr Rolfe.
However, Stanley Kramer wasn't "Mr. Message Film" all the time. In a lighter moment, he produced the surrealist anti-fascist fantasy, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T(1953) in which he enlisted the talents of Dr. Seuss. More famously, he pooled the greatest comics together for an insane Cinerama screwball farce - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
By Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Stanley Kramer
Flashbacks are used throughout Bless the Beasts & Children to portray the troubled home lives of each of the boys. Footage of the buffalo massacre is also seen sporadically throughout the film. According to Filmfacts, prior to its release in the U.S., Bless the Beasts & Children was shown and well received at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as festivals in Moscow and Ontario, Canada, but its positive reception abroad was in stark contrast to its critical reception in America.
An August 1971 Variety article on the upcoming release of Bless the Beasts & Children speculated that the National Rifle Association might find the portrayal of hunters engaged in animal cruelty alarming enough to protest the film, but no information has been located to verify that any actual protests by the organization took place. Producer and director Stanley Kramer admitted that he contributed to the film's mixed reception by responding angrily to accusations that the film was about gun control in America.
An October 1971 Hollywood Reporter article states that the Los Angeles affiliates of the three major television networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, refused to air a commercial for Bless the Beasts & Children that featured well-known Southern California journalist Bill Stout interviewing an actor portraying a representative of a fictitious group, the "American Gun Cult Association," who denounces the film as an attack against hunters. The article added that although the commercial had played in Denver, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York without issue, a representative for station KNBC, the local Los Angeles NBC affiliate, was quoted as declaring the commercial "too violent." A biography on Kramer indicates that the director went on a television talk show to defend the film against a sports magazine writer, but instead seemed to emphasize that it indeed had an anti-gun theme. Kramer also admitted that the footage of the buffalo slaying seen in the film was authentic, provided by an association at Arizona's Hidden Valley Ranch, where portions of the film were shot.
Music in the film written by Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr., unofficially credited as "Cotton's Dream," was later used as the theme music for a television soap opera, The Young and the Restless. The same tune, renamed Nadia's Theme, became a best-selling single after NBC Television used it in a special highlights montage of Gold Medalist Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci during the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The title theme sung by The Carpenters (credited onscreen as "Carpenters") was also a successful single release and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Song.
Released in United States Fall September 20, 1971
Based on the Glendon Swarthout novel "Bless the Beasts and Children" (Garden City, NY, 1970).
Released in United States Fall September 20, 1971