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  Dondi It's The Little Orphan Boy
Year: 1961
Director: Albert Zugsmith
Stars: David Janssen, Patti Page, David Kory, Walter Winchell, Mickey Shaughnessy, Robert Strauss, Arnold Stang, Louis Quinn, Gale Gordon, Dick Patterson, Susan Kelly, John Melfi, Bonnie Scott, William Wellman Jr, Nola Thorp, Joan Staley
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: Christmas Eve on this American Army base in Italy, and most of the soldiers have headed off into town to enjoy themselves before the big day, all except two, Dealey (David Janssen) and Peewee (Arnold Stang). Dealey is planning to head off soon, but cannot persuade his comrade to join him as Peewee wants an early night, so after opening a couple of presents he goes out into the snow - and sees a little kid (David Kory) who has been staring forlornly in through the window. He is an orphan, and little does Dealey know that he will be making up a big part of his life from now on...

Or he will if you were a fan of legendarily bad movies, as Dondi became one of the most notoriously awful family films ever made. Much of that reputation was down to the Medveds in their book The Golden Turkey Awards where they awarded poor old David Kory the gong for Most Obnoxious Child Performer of All Time, but surely he couldn't have been a horrendous as they would have had their readers believe? Well... if he didn't actively make you vomit in his sickly sentimentality, then perhaps that was no proud boast, as he was patently far from impressive. However, that was not entirely his fault.

Put most of the blame on producer and director Albert Zugsmith, a man who had brought classics like The Incredible Shrinking Man and Touch of Evil to the screen in the fifties, but by the time he had set up on his own was overseeing such trash as The Private Lives of Adam and Eve and Sex Kittens Go to College. And Dondi, his shameless attempt to court the lucrative family audience, offering a lead character who children would want to befriend and adults would want to protect as if he was their offspring, though the unkinder viewer might ponder if he wasn't an orphan after all and his parents had actually sent him out onto the streets so as not to hear that stuffed up monotone anymore.

Seriously, Dondi, it wouldn't hurt to blow your nose before a take, then it wouldn't sound as if you were struggling with a nasty head cold. In light of Kory's absolute disappearance from the entertainment world and indeed any kind of limelight after this starring role, we have to assume he was far from pleased with his efforts to appeal to the mass audience, and little wonder when he heard the reviews which pulled no punches whatsoever. For that pathetic reason it's possible to feel sorry for the tyke after all, not because of anything that happened in his movie but because of the overwhelmingly scathing reaction, although if you did actually track this down even the kindest hearted audience would be cringing and groaning well before "The End" appeared on the screen.

Based on a comic strip by Gus Edson, who Zugsmith wrote the script with, that was reputedly little better than its movie incarnation though it outstayed its welcome by decades rather than the hour and a half the movie does. The plot sees the G.I.s (or "Mister G.I. Buddies!" as Dondi's broken English would have it) adopt the moppet as a mascot, then have to leave him behind mere hours later when they are all posted back home to New York City, but don't despair, fans of illegal immigrants, Dondi stows away on the ship. The latter half sees him separated from Dealey - who has to explain the situation to erstwhile singing star Patti Page playing his frosty girlfriend - and living on the streets where with grinding inevitability he picks up a stray dog as a friend, supposedly upping the cuteness factor but in effect increasing the resistance factor. Seemingly with Tarzan as his dialogue coach, Dondi shuffles his way through fingernails down a blackboard setpieces of would-be heartwarming treacle, commercial cynicism more evident than any good intentions. Weird harmonica score by Tommy Morgan.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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