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  Courage of Lassie The Dogs Of War
Year: 1946
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Stars: Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Morgan, Tom Drake, Selena Royle, Harry Davenport, George Cleveland, Catherine McLeod, Morris Ankrum, Mitchell Lewis, Jane Green, David Holt, Bill Wallace, Minor Watson, Donald Curtis, Clancy Cooper, Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A collie has taken it upon herself to head off to a remote part of the countryside to bear her puppies, and after looking after her four offspring for a while she returns to her master, who arrives in his boat to take them all home. However, he does not notice that one of the pups has been left behind to fend for itself, which is what it is forced to do, foraging for things to eat and seeking shelter in the Great Outdoors. It's not such a bad life for an inquisitive dog, and he gets to know his fellow creatures around the area, although he would be wise to steer clear of the wolves...

For the third Lassie movie, director Fred M. Wilcox returned from the first hit to helm this one, which had more of a wartime flavour to its adventures. One thing that distinguished this from what had gone before was the fact that Pal, the dog who played Lassie, was not cast in the role of the title at all: actually, there was no hound named Lassie in this as the dog we follow is named Bill, then Duke, then Bill again. At least Pal got to play his own gender this time around, which must have come as a relief to him, but as far as his acting went it was business as usual - this was still one very well-trained pooch.

Elizabeth Taylor returned to the series too, here as the little girl who gives the dog his name of Bill when she encounters him in that area when he steals her trousers. She heads off in hot pursuit, only to see the animal shot down by two young hunters, one of whom was Carl 'Alafalfa' Switzer of Our Gang fame, who himself would be shot a few years later. In that case fatally, but in this fiction he merely wounds the dog and Taylor's Kathie rescues him and takes him to recuperate, adopting him as her new pet. As the farmer, Harry MacBain (Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself), tells her, she is now Bill's "God", and she must treat him benevolently.

If this is striking a religious note, then it does feel on the confused side, but you do get the idea of what MacBain means. Mainly this was concerned with that recuperation, as Bill stands in for the soldiers who had returned from World War II which explains why he spends most of the film either committing acts of bravery or trying to get better after his physical ordeal. Kathie might be the God who looks over them and offers them their reward once they get through their hardships, but more aptly she represented the society which tries to understand what the soldiers have suffered through and accept them now they are home, whatever their traumas might have been - she does display abundant love for the dog.

But how does Bill end up going to war in the first place? Yet another accident, where he is run over out of sight of Kathie, and the truck drivers take him to the vet, but as he wears no collar he is recruited into the war training division under the tutelage of his new owner, Sergeant Smitty (Tom Drake). This leads the now renamed Duke into the war in the Pacific, where he carries out the acts of courage that the title refers to when he saves a platoon by running for help across the battlefield, and back again to show the rescuers where those needy are. Alas, this man's best friend turns vicious due to his experiences, and no wonder as he has to do the old Lassie goes cross country thing not once but three times, and two of those times while being shot at. Will Bill get back to Kathie? Will he recover and become a valuable member of society once again? Well, no surprises there, but while it aims too obviously for the tearducts, its message was a sincere one.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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