"Old Yeller" is, simply put, one of the greatest films (and books) ever laid on celluloid. If you're unfamiliar with the story, you don't know what you are missing. "Old Yeller" tells the story of two boys (expertly played by Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran) who stay on their Texas farm with their mother while their father (Fess Parker) goes on a cattle drive. Yeller shows up and gives the elder brother, Travis Coates (Kirk), quite a bit of trouble until the dog proves his worth by saving everyone in the Coates family in one way or another. Of course, the ending of this heartwarming film is perhaps one of the most depressing in cinematic history, and Tommy Kirk handles his emotions onscreen to perfection.
"Savage Sam," which is sort of a sequel to "Old Yeller" since it has Travis and little brother Arliss in it, not to mention two other memorable characters (which I'll get to later). In it, Sam is the Coates' new dog and much like Yeller, he's smart, brave, and manages to get into trouble often. Unlike "Old Yeller," which was more of a study in the relationship between a young boy and his dog, "Savage Sam" plays out more like a Western adventure, full of Injun fightin', cowboys, and even a touch of romance. Travis, Arliss, and their friend, Lisbeth Searcy (Marta Kristen of "Lost In Space") are captured by a band of Apache warriors who plan to do who knows what to them. The Coates' uncle Beck (Brian Keith), Mr. Searcy (Jeff York) from the first film, and a gang that includes, among others, Slim Pickens and Dewey Martin, head out to save the kids. Along the way they pick up Sam, who was thought to be dead. Eventually, Sam picks up the kids' trail and he leads our heroes to the three captives. The ending of this film is a lot happier than "Old Yeller," but that ol' yeller dog set the bar so high that most will consider "Savage Sam" inferior to it. That's a fair statement, but there are few films out there that aren't inferior to "Old Yeller."
Bud Searcy (Jeff York) almost manages to steal both of these films. His proud, lazy, and "always around about dinner time" character is easily the funniest in the lot. Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran act well beyond their young years should allow in this film. Kirk is especially good at conveying the heartwrenching emotions that he feels as he puts Old Yeller to rest. Beverly Washburn portrays young Lisbeth Searcy in "Old Yeller," but she didn't return for "Savage Sam." No reason is given, but Marta Kristen fills the role nicely and the character gets a considerable amount of screen time in "Sam."
The DVD extras are very nice. "Bone Trouble" is a Disney short in which Pluto has a run-in with a neighbor dog over a bone in a mirror funhouse. It's a nice addition to this set. The real gems here are the features on Don Gipson, author of both "Old Yeller" and "Savage Sam." Gipson's son is interviewed on the day that Yeller and Travis are to be enshrined in front of the local library in Mason, TX, where the Gipson clan is from. There's also interviews with the cast in recent years about the making of the film. In it, Dorothy McGuire, Chuck Connors and Jeff York are fondly remembered by the rest of the original cast. There's also an intimate look at the Disney film life of Tommy Kirk.
"Old Yeller" is a must-have for any true fan of film and/or Disney. It's a Western tale that rivals "Shane" as one of the greatest Westerns of all time. "Savage Sam" is also a delight to have, and I'm glad it's included on this disk.
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