**SPOILERS** One of the first movies to confront the brutal game of pit or dog fighting and does it in an honest and effective way by bringing the best out of even those who are involved in it by them finally seeing the light due to the efforts of Reverand Will Norris and his young son Ted, Joe E. Brown & Richard Lyon.
The Slasher a champion fighting dog for the Barton kennel is so brutalized by his owner Barton, James Milligan, that the first chance he has takes off into the woods. Found hiding in the Norris home by young Ted he's slowly brought back to health by the loving and kindness of both Ted and his dad Reverand Will Norris. It's later when a reward is offered for The Slasher, who was renamed Dusty by Ted, and the description of the dog fit Dusty's that Rev. Norris tells a hurt and distraught Ted that he has to bring back his dog to it's rightful owner Barton.
It's when Ted and his little friend Genie, Jeanne Gail, are about to return Dusty to the Barton farm that they see just whats in store for the sweet and, at the hands of Barton, helpless dog and change their mind. This later leads Rev. Norris after finding out about what Barton is doing with Dusty, and some dozen other dogs that he has in his kennel, to not only refuse to return the dog to it's rightful owner but to face trial and even a stretch behind bars for not doing it.
Even though the law was clearly against his actions Rev. Norris believed that there are times when even the law should be challenged and in the case of his and Ted's dog Dusty this was just time to do it. Keeping Dusty hidden on an island off the river Ted is later followed by Barton's son Frank, Balyney Lewis, who spotted Ted rowing there. Laer in his attempt to get to the island on a makeshift wooden raft Frank lost his footing and fell into the river. Ted and Dusty swim out to save Frank's life with Dusty doing most of the work dog-paddling both boys back to safety and then risking his freedom, or even his life. Dusty rushing back to the Barton farm gets a surprised Barton, who chases Dusty wanting to get him back to his kennel, to rush over to the river and help together resuscitate his son Frank who had, after Dusty saved his life, stopped breathing.
Back in town Rev. Norris is about to go on trial for stealing Dusty from the Bartons but the trial is suddenly canceled with Barton showing up with Dusty and dropping all charges against Rev. Norris. His dad is now very upset at Ted from returning Dusty to Barton, it seemed that Rev. Norris didn't know the circumstances of how Dusty ended up back with Barton. The movie is just about to end when we see a truck loaded with a number of dog cages and a grateful Frank letting Dusty out to run back to Teddy and Rev. Norris and a life of freedom from fighting and dying in the "Pit" fighting other sad and unfortunate dogs like himself. Farnk from what we can see of his actions was to do the same to all he other dog that he had with him on the truck.
"The Tender Years" is a movie with a heart and soul to it not trying at all to demonize even the worst persons in it, the Bartons. The movie goes out of it's way to show that even those living creatures among us who we take for granted to not have any human feelings, like Dogs like Dusty, and thus are not to be looked upon with any humane kindness and understanding are in fact as deserving of the same feelings by us and protection by the law that every one of us are.
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