Cast & Crew
In the late eighteenth century, miner Jonathan Harvey strikes a rich vein of gold and hurries to town to tell his partner, Frank Blake. In the saloon, Jonathan is greeted with the sad news that Frank has recently died of pneumonia. Frank's widow, Martha, tells Jonathan how helpful Lin Taylor, a newcomer to town, has been to her and her son Tommy and reveals that Frank made Lin his partner just before he died. Jonathan is concerned, but takes Lin's advice to wait before registering the claim in case the vein is not the motherlode. Trying to console Tommy, with whom he is close, Jonathan decides to give the boy his beloved collie Shep for Christmas, then returns to his mountain claim. Although Shep loves Tommy, he pines for Jonathan and refuses to eat. Their friend, Bald Eagle, tells the boy that Shep will starve herself to death without Jonathan, so Tommy decides to return her. Because the trip to the mine is too far for Tommy to attempt alone, Lin offers to escort him. They find Jonathan ill with fever at his cabin, but their care and Shep's devotion enable the miner to recover quickly. Now more trusting of Lin, Jonathan reveals that the vein he found petered out, but that he has worked his way upstream toward what must be the motherlode and has panned more than $6,000 in gold. Soon Lin and Tommy work alongside Jonathan to pan as much as possible, but Lin begins to harbor secret fears of losing the gold. Jonathan recognizes Lin's increasing greed and worries that it will result in Lin trying to cheat him, Martha and Tommy out of their fair share. As a safeguard, Jonathan secretly reveals his fears to Tommy and sends him to town to register their claim, advising him not to tell anyone what he has said. He asks Shep to go with Tommy, but assures her it is just temporary. When Lin returns to the cabin after searching the mountain, Jonathan tells him that Tommy was homesick and returned home. Lin then tells Jonathan that he found the motherlode and asks him to come up the mountain with him. Meanwhile, Tommy becomes worried about Jonathan and sends Shep back. She arrives as Lin pushes Jonathan off the side of the mountain and only hears Jonathan's plaintive cry. Lin tries to make friends with Shep, knowing that her death might prove difficult to explain, but Shep eventually finds the grave Lin has dug and refuses to leave it. When Shep eventually comes back to the cabin looking for food, Lin throws her meat laced with poison and she is barely able to make it to a stream before collapsing. She is found by some Indian children, who recognize her and take her to their village. There Bald Eagle treats her and summons Tommy. After Shep recovers, Tommy promises to discover what happened and takes her back to the cabin. Lin tells Tommy that Jonathan has been gone for days, but Tommy is suspicious because of what Jonathan had told him. That night, Tommy sneaks out to follow Shep, who will not go near Lin, and finds Jonathan's hat near the grave. When Lin goes looking for Tommy and Shep, Tommy is terrified and jumps on his horse while Shep is fighting with Lin. The boy is injured in a fall from the horse and is taken into the cabin by Lin, who cares for him. Lin then tells Tommy that Jonathan has died, but says that he lied to keep him from further grief. The next morning, three men, including Pilot Pete, a traveling preacher who had visited the cabin earlier, arrive with Tommy's runaway horse. Lin cajoles them into accepting his version of Jonathan's death and Tommy starts to believe that it is true until he later overhears Lin tell Pete that Jonathan never found any gold. Tommy immediately lashes out at Lin, calling him a liar, and runs to the cabin to show Pete and the others the bags of gold they had hidden under the floorboards. When they reach the cabin, though, Tommy discovers that only a small amount of gold is still there. Lin then tells the men to take the gold to Martha and says that Tommy's fall has confused him. The men take Tommy away with them and Lin suggests that they take Shep as well. The dog resists and eventually breaks loose of her tether and runs back to the cabin. Seeing her, Lin gets his gun and chases her far up the snow-covered mountain. Shep is wounded by Lin but continues to a high precipice near the spot where Jonathan fell. Finally face to face, Lin fires point blank at Shep, but his gun jams due to the freezing cold. Now facing Shep's wrath, Lin tries to save himself but backs up so far that he falls to his death off the precipice. Just then, Tommy, who returned with Pete to look for Shep, finds her and the two embrace.
Andrea Virginia Lester
"brown Jug" Reynolds
Chester M. Franklin
Ralph S. Hurst
Newell P. Kimlin
William J. Tuttle
Edwin B. Willis
The Painted Hills
Based on the 1930 novel Shep of the Painted Hills by Alexander Hull, The Painted Hills was the seventh and final Lassie feature made by MGM after a lucrative decade-long winning streak at the box office. Lassie debuted on the silver screen in 1943 with the very successful Lassie Come Home, based on a story by Eric Knight, starring the very young Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall. The first Lassie was played by a male Collie named Pal, who was the lucky dog selected from over 300 furry candidates. Since the canine star's debut in 1943, all Lassies have been played by Pal himself, or his descendants, coached by the legendary Hollywood animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax until his death in 1985.
The Painted Hills has a surprisingly darker edge than most other Lassie films, though it never fully departs from the franchise's tried-and-true "Lassie Saves the Day" formula while winning the heart of a lonely young boy (Gary Gray). While shot on a lower budget than usual, the vibrant use of Technicolor and the rugged beauty of the great outdoors help add flavor and excitement to The Painted Hills. Featuring a healthy dose of suspense and action with its sentiment, Lassie proves once again why this brave and resourceful Collie never goes out of style.
Harold Kress, the director of The Painted Hills, started out as a film editor for MGM in the 1930s. He was eventually allowed to direct in the 1950s, and wound up directing a total of five features for MGM. The Painted Hills was his fourth. Soon, however, he went back to his true calling: editing, and went on to win Academy Awards for cutting How the West Was Won (1962) and The Towering Inferno (1974).
Following the release of The Painted Hills, MGM sold off the rights to the character of Lassie, believing that the franchise had run its course. However, that was hardly the end of Lassie, who by now was a cultural icon. In 1955, Lassie starred in her own wildly successful television series which ran a whopping 17 years. In 1973, Lassie also had her own series of cartoon shorts called Lassie's Rescue Rangers. Lassie has also periodically returned to the cinema over the years in such films as The Magic of Lassie (1978), Lassie (1994) and a 2005 remake of Lassie Come Home.
Producer: Chester M. Franklin
Director: Harold F. Kress
Screenplay: True Boardman, Alexander Hull (novel)
Cinematography: Alfred Gilks, Harold Lipstein
Film Editing: Newell P. Kimlin
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Leonid Vasian
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Paul Kelly (Jonathan Harvey), Bruce Cowling (Lin Taylor), Gary Gray (Tommy Blake), Ann Doran (Martha Blake), Chief Yowlachie (Bald Eagle).
C-69m. Closed captioning.
by Andrea Passafiume
The Painted Hills
The film's working title was Shep of the Painted Hills. Modern sources also list the alternate title of Lassie's Adventures in the Gold Rush, possibly used when the picture was broadcast on television. This was the last in a series of films produced by M-G-M from 1943-1951 that featured the collie known as "Lassie." For additional information on the films, please consult the entry for Lassie Come Home in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.