30 July 2007 | lugonian
RUSTY LEADS THE WAY (Columbia, 1948), directed by Will Jason, the sixth installment in the "Rusty" series starring Ted Donaldson, is another misleading title with a more dramatic story coping with a character's blindness and the adjustment for a seeing eye dog which turns out not to be Rusty (though it's Rusty who lead the way to the idea) but a bulldog named Tubby.
The story opens with an air-view focus of the town of Lawtonville with an off-screen narrator giving the description of its landmarks, ranging from city hall to a public school where the camera moves into a gymnasium with teenager Danny Mitchell (Donaldson), accompanied by his dog, Rusty (Flame), gathered together with his friends (Teddy Infuhr, Mickey McGuire, Dwayne Hickman and David Achley) to a game of basketball. During a conversation, he tells them that he doesn't let his parents tell him what to do. To make good on his word, he purposely forgets to pick up his father's suit at the cleaners. This later leads to a dispute at home followed by a father (John Litel) and son talk and mother (Ann Doran) serving Danny's favorite meal, goulash. With these little technicalities out of the way, the plot leads the way to its sole purpose. Penny Waters (Sharyn Moffett), a 13-year-old girl with a talent for piano playing, has recently moved into the neighborhood from Carmel, California, with her mother (Peggy Converse), an assistant librarian. The girl happens to be blind, having lost her sight in a car accident two years years ago. Her piano playing of Frederic Chopin's Pelude in "A" attracts the attention of Danny, who comes over to greet his new neighbor. Unfriendly towards Danny at first, Penny soon warms up to him and Rusty, which pleases her mother who wants her to have friends. Problems arise when members of the board of education feel Penny should be attending a special school for the blind instead of a regular school. Against their wishes, but at the urging of Danny, Penny attends the Reed Institute with Louise Adams (Paula Raymond) as her instructor and Tubby as her guide dog. While Penny struggles to become independent, she misses the comforts of home, especially the company of her best friends, Danny and Rusty.
For this entry, there's more involvement towards Penny than the Mitchell family, giving an indication of being a pilot for a possible spin-off movie series. In fact, there are times viewers are lead to believe they're watching an entirely different movie altogether since Rusty and the Mitchells are off screen for long periods of time. When the story shifts back to Danny, it finds him reading one of Penny's letters on how she's doing at the school, with a montage centering upon her outcome. Overall, a good story for children about patience and coping with handicap issues such as blindness and how finding good friends can make everything better. As for dog Rusty, he is given little opportunity to lead the way, first with a chasing of a cat that leads to Danny and Penny's meeting, and later running to the rescue to save Tubby, but on a whole, this story rightfully belongs to Sharyn Moffett.
Moffett's performance is quite remarkable and real, especially during her traumatic experience where she's put to the real test by leaving the school grounds with her seeing eye dog to go waking through the city alone, with Miss Adams not so far behind. Although she tries hard, she becomes all confused by her surroundings, frightened of people walking pass and around her, the sudden noises of cars and construction work that even puts the poor dog into a panic as the animal finds he's unable to follow her commands.
RUSTY LEADS THE WAY puts a lot of effort and situations in its tight 59 minutes. Not a bad movie by any means, but better direction (by its director, not the guide dog) and a more structured story might have placed this as a top entry in the series. With Penny being an addition to the series as Danny's new friend, and possibly female companion, her character doesn't reappear in future installments.
Rarely seen in recent years, RUSTY LEADS THE WAY was resurrected on Turner Classic Movies on June 9, 2007. Recommend viewing for adults, children and dogs alike. Next in the series: RUSTY SAVES A LIFE (1949). (**1/2)