Lassie Go Home

So, to delve a little deeper into the career of FORBIDDEN PLANET helmer Fred MacLeod Wilcox I looked at HILLS OF HOME, one of his Lassie sequels — weirdly, it doesn’t have the dog’s name in the title, but takes the word “HOME” from LASSIE COME HOME as if that was a clear enough association.

It’s one of those animal movies where they really struggle to keep the animal at the centre of the story. This is a jumble of incidents from the life of a Scottish country doctor, in fact adapted from a source that has nothing to do with Lassie and may not even have a dog in it for all I know. The idea that a doctor needs a sheepdog assistant is a bit of a stretch, anyway.

Lassie also turns up in Scotland in CHALLENGE TO LASSIE (above), with some of the same co-stars, in which he takes over the story of Greyfriars Bobby. Sheer cultural appropriation, and I’m not talking about Americans (grumpy Richard Thorpe, director) stealing a Scottish tale, but a border collie filching a role from a terrier.

Lassie seems to teleport from story to story, country to country, turning up where he’s needed — his previous owners disappear from film to film, and he magically acquires a whole new backstory. Thinking about it, maybe he’s less like Doctor Who — or K9 in a Terminator style skin-suit — than Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap.

HILLS OF HOME stars Wilcox fave Edmund Gwenn, doing a wretched but consistent Scots accent, Hollywood’s favourite faux-Highlander Donald Crisp doing a better one, and Janet Leigh doing an appalling one that veers west at every opportunity. Still, it’s sort of nice she tried.

Sometimes I’ll watch a dull film to the end for the nostalgic feeling of being a kid in the 70s when nothing good is on TV. Though I would probably have quite liked HILLS OF HOME, and gone “Aww” whenever Lassie is abused, which seems to be the main form of entertainment being sold.

There is absolutely no Scottish location work (unlike in the much grander CHALLENGE), but another chance to enjoy the Scottish/Irish village set showcased in BONNIE SCOTLAND, THE SWORDSMAN, and even MAN IN THE ATTIC where it stands in for London.

Wilcox’s direction remains absolutely competent, absolutely uninspired, but there are no special effects save the odd matte painting, no electronic tonalities, and no invisible monsters, or none that I could see.

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One Response to “Lassie Go Home”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    Trouble with “Bonnie Scotland” is that the movie didn’t stay in Scotland (or MGM’s backlot approximation). It’s part of what you might dub the Laurel & Hardy imperialist trilogy, in which the two Americans (Stan is clearly an American citizen most of the time) end up defending European colonial possessions. In “Beau Hunks” and “Flying Deuces”, the boys join the French Foreign Legion to help Ollie forget a woman. In “Bonnie Scotland” they sign up to preserve the empire because they need pants. There may be a psychological equivalency between rejection by Jeanie Weenie and a loss of trousers, but I’m not up to it.

    In the first two films, the boys become heroes by subduing the locals with nails and beehives. In the third, absent a native menace, they wreak havoc on Legion resources (shifting attitudes towards imperialism?). The ending is poignant when you consider they begin the film as mildly prosperous American tourists and end as a vagabond and a horse.

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