Vintage Family Classics
by John Farr
John Farr offers three family friendly films to accompany this week’s Reel 13 Classic, “The Little Princess.”
March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934)
This musical fantasy based on a Victor Herbert operetta features a variety of familiar nursery rhyme characters joining Stannie-Dum (Stan Laurel) and Ollie-Dee (Oliver Hardy) in Toyland. Stan and Ollie are toy-making apprentices working for no less a personage than Santa himself. Meanwhile, Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry) wants to marry Tom-Tom Piper (Felix Knight), but evil landlord Silas Barnaby threatens to foreclose on Bo-Peep’s home unless she marries him. She refuses, and then Barnaby frames Tom-Tom, who gets relegated to Bogeyland. Stan and Ollie are around to stir up, then resolve several “fine messes” in the bargain, including the fate of Tom-Tom and Bo-Peep.
WHY I LOVE IT:
March”, a perennial holiday favorite produced by the legendary Hal Roach, retains its magic, thanks to a charming, refreshingly simple rendering of Toyland and its citizens, some cute songs, and the irresistible antics of Laurel and Hardy as the movie’s hapless heroes. Best for smaller kids and their parents (though more suggestible tykes might get a small scare out of Bogeyland’s denizens). In sum, this is a sweet movie that harkens back to a more innocent, fanciful time, while showcasing an immortal comedy team.
Captains Courageous (1937)
Young Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is the pampered son of a wealthy widower and tycoon (Melvyn Douglas) who has learned he can get whatever he wants if he whines, lies, and screams loud enough. On a posh cruise to Europe with his father, Harvey falls overboard and is rescued by a boat full of fishermen led by crusty skipper Disko (Lionel Barrymore) and including kind-hearted, Portugese-born Manuel (Spencer Tracy). As Harvey’s official rescuer, Manuel undertakes to teach the young Harvey about real life and the ways of humble men who work the seas.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Based on a Rudyard Kipling story, this heartwarming adventure saga follows the transformation of a bratty pantywaist into a decent young man under the tutelage of Tracy’s gentle fisherman. Bartholomew is a natural playing the self-centered child of privilege, and really clicks with Tracy, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the sensitive Manuel (though he hated putting on an Iberian accent). Absorbing for viewers of any age, “Captains” is a rousing tale whose bittersweet climax will not leave a dry eye on deck.
Lassie Come Home (1943)
Young Joe (Roddy McDowall) adores his collie, Lassie, and the dog returns his devotion. When hard times force Lassie’s family to sell her to a wealthy nobleman who lives far away (Nigel Bruce), the fiercely loyal and intelligent pooch cannot be deterred from returning to what she considers her true home and master.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Touching tale gets full MGM treatment, with sumptuous Oscar-nominated Technicolor and a solid cast, including Donald Crisp and Elsa Lanchester as Joe’s parents, and Elizabeth Taylor in her first MGM role. Mc Dowall’s performance is heartfelt and restrained for the time, and Lassie, of course, is the dog we’d all love to own- as evidenced by the numerous movie sequels and TV incarnations that followed.