8 January 2007 | bkoganbing
Best Doggone Dog Anywhere
One of Walt Disney's most enduring films in popularity will continue to be Old Yeller. There's something in the saga of the Coates family and that yellow mutt that touches the kid in all of us.
Fess Parker, wife Dorothy McGuire, and sons Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran are the Coates family scratching out a living on a small ranch on the Texas frontier. Dad has to drive their herd to market in Kansas and he leaves the other three behind. Parker though he's second billed in the cast has barely fifteen minutes of screen time in the film. He leaves before the main action starts and returns really as anti-climax. Nevertheless he was a big name back in 1957, coming fresh off his triumph as Disney's Davy Crockett. Didn't hurt him at all to come from Texas for this part.
So McGuire is left to cope with the kids, the farm, and a newly found stray yellow dog that both the boys take to. His coloring makes his name a natural and he proves quite a useful dog, earning more than his keep on the ranch.
Sad to say though that Old Yeller provides the saddest moment in any Disney film since Bambi's mother was shot by the hunters. I really can't say too much more, but the Coates boys prove to be made of stern stuff and Dad provides some sound country wisdom as he gets back from his cattle drive.
Because the setting is out in the wilds there are few human speaking parts. All the players here are well cast, but the one who's the best by far is Jeff York as the Coates neighbor Mr. Searcy. York appeared in a whole bunch Disney features and usually stole scenes in every one of them. York's a guy who's full of wisdom in his own right, he'll dispense with advice at the drop of a hat, but when there's work to be done is usually elsewhere. McGuire does remark it's no accident he's not on the cattle drive. When she needs help on the ranch, York delegates his daughter Beverly Washburn to stay behind. She's a sweet kid and a good worker and Tommy Kirk doesn't mind having her around at all.
Chuck Connors is also in this as a visiting trail boss and I wouldn't be surprised if his appearance here in this family feature led to his family television series, The Rifleman.
Fifty years after it was released Old Yeller is still good entertainment and will be making young folks dream about that idyllic boyhood the Coates kids have on those Texas plains.