13 August 2007 | lugonian
Triumph of the Will
RUSTY SAVES A LIFE (Columbia, 1949), directed by Seymour Friedman, number seven in the series, marks the return of Thurston Hall and Stephen Dunne, each having appeared in THE SON OF RUSTY (1947). While Hall reprises his original role as Lawtonville's counselor, Franklin P. Gibson, along with Rudy Robles as Gori, his Filipino chauffeur, it's Stephen Dunne who assumes a different portrayal, once again as an unlikable individual, yet not so much as mysterious as before, this time sporting a mustache looking very much like Tom Neal (best known in DETOUR (1945) for PRC Studios), and showing no concern for what people think of him and wanting very much to live the life of a loner. One wonders whatever became of Stephen Dunne, whose name is just as obscure as this film series itself.
The story opens in Gibson's mansion with the gathering of his young friends, teenager Danny Mitchell (Ted Donaldson), his dog, Rusty (Flame), Tuck (David Ackles), Nip (Dwayne Hickman), Gerald (Ronnie Ralph) and Squeaky Foley (Robert Scott, filling in for Teddy Infuhr), who have their meetings in a clubhouse located in Gibson's yard. Following dinner, Gibson announces he's going to make up a new will in favor of the boys. That very night before going to bed, Gibson makes true to his promise, and after it's set, he places the will inside a book, concludes his evening with a cigar smoke (against doctor's orders) and goes to sleep. The following morning, the boys discover from Codo that Gibson died during the night of a weak heart. Gibson's sudden death hits the boys very hard. After the funeral, Fred (Stephen Dunne), Gibson's nephew, arrives from Chicago by automobile for the reading of the will. Almost immediately, he is disliked for many reasons: for accidentally hitting Rusty with his car (the start of many growls of Rusty towards Fred); his straightforward manner; forbidding the boys on the property where he animal traps are placed and intentions of building a brick wall around the estate. Unable to locate the revised will, Danny's father, Hugh (John Litel), a city attorney, reads the original will to Fred that requests for him to live on the Gibson estate and Lawtonville for an entire year as well as carrying on his tradition by entertaining the boys as their host every Sunday afternoon. As much as Fred would rather return to Chicago, he agrees to remain so to collect his fortune. During his stay, the boys, hoping to locate the revised will, come up with solutions such as writing nasty notes and doing damage to his property to get Fred to leave. When it's Danny's turn, who shows up during the night, he ends up having to save Rusty caught in one of the traps with a blaze of fire nearby. In spite of Fred's attitude, he does show kindness towards Lyddy Hazard (Gloria Henry), an young artist and secretary. After the two get into an argument, Fred drives off in a rage, losing control of his car that lands in the river, leaving Fred to call out for help. Recalling the title of the movie, it's anyone's guess what Rusty does at this point.
A sort of story that would be commonly found in 1950s TV family shows, such as "Timmie and Lassie" for example, RUSTY SAVES A LIFE provides entertainment along with a moral lesson being "two wrongs don't make a right," a philosophy that still relevant today. With the boys purposely causing mischief to avenge to an unlikable new neighbor is never the solution to anything, as told to Danny by his conservative-minded father in the manner of Hugh Beaumont's portrayal in the "Leave It to Beaver" TV series. Of the actors who portrayed Danny's father in the past, ranging from Conrad Nagel and Tom Powers, John Litel is a logical choice for the role (having played the father to Nancy Drew and Henry Aldrich in two separate film series) due to his natural and believable manner, along with Ann Doran as his faithful wife, Ethel. Historians of classic TV shows will not only discover Ellen Corby appearing as Miss Simmons, but Gloria Henry, best known as Alice Mitchell in the "Dennis the Menace" (1959-1962) comedy series starring Jay North.
Rarely seen on television in decades, RUSTY SAVES A LIFE, which runs at 67 minutes, finally turned up on Turner Classic Movies June 23, 2007. Next and last in the series: RUSTY'S BIRTHDAY (1949). (** dog bites)