Thursday, June 02, 2005

In defence of Lassie

The trouble with the Guardian is that nothing - with the possible exceptions of Tony Benn and comprehensive education - is sacred to it. Take today's parody of Lassie Come Home by David Ward:

Scene 1

Enter friendly collie dog, barking.

Well-scrubbed child: "What Lassie? Granny has fallen down the mine shaft again? We'd better get help!"

Scene 2

Lassie in phone box dials 999.

Well-scrubbed police officer: Hi Lassie. Granny in the mine shaft? We'll be right there.

Scene 3

Enter Lassie with Granny in mouth. All pat Lassie.

We are not talking about Flipper or Skippy here, but Lassie Come Home - one of the greatest family films ever made.

It was shot in 1943, based on the book by Eric Knight. Knight was born in England but settled in the United States as a teenager. By the time the film had made him famous he was already dead. A Major in the US Army, he perished in a wartime aircrash.

Lassie Comes Home is one of those films, like Mrs Miniver and Suspicion, that was set in Britain but made in Hollywood. The result is that every detail is slightly wrong but the whole is immensely interesting. The cast is also terrific: Nigel Bruce, Dame May Whitty and Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor as children.

There is nothing sugary about the film: poverty is at its heart. Lassie is sold because a rich man coverts her and the poor family that owns her cannot turn his offer down. If Roddy McDowall is "well scrubbed", it is his mother's attempt to retain her family's dignity in the face of that poverty.

After that the film becomes a hymn to unfashionable virtues like loyalty and steadfastness. You can see why the Guardian hates it, but I love it.

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