The Courage Of Lassie

Written by Joe D on November 17th, 2007


Okay, you all think I’ve lost it. Writing about a Lassie movie! Is he nuts! Just hold on a second, bear with me. I happened to catch the last hour of The Courage Of Lassie on TCM the other day, and it had quite an effect on me. First off any movie about an animal I find very moving, if you’ve ever had a pet or a relationship with an animal I’m sure you’ll agree. In this movie Lassie is called Bill. He’s separated from his mother and siblings as a puppy.

The first 20 minutes of the movie are kind of like a Disney animal adventure, bears, mountain lion, eagle, fox, skunk, wolf, Lassie has a run in with all these creatures. He finally bumps into a pre-teen Elizabeth Taylor, she chases the puppy when Carl”Alfalfa” Switzer and his pal, out hunting, accidentally shoot him. This is a strange coincidence as years later (in real life) Alfalfa would be shot and killed in a dispute over a hunting dog.

Alfalfa, Dead at 31.

Liz saves Bill and heals him up. He returns the favor and saves her one night when they’re out rounding up stray sheep in the snow on a mountain.

Bill saves Liz from an avalanche

In the spring while rounding up more sheep Bill is hit by a truck and taken to a vet in town. There Bill is grabbed by an Army recruiter and taken to training camp. Next thing you know he’s shipping out, he’s on a transport ship, he sees action.

The men of his platoon are pinned down on a mountain side under heavy fire. The radio man got blasted off the mountain, Bill is their only hope. He goes back to get reinforcements. He dodges mortar fire, machine gun bullets, runs through hell. He’s badly wounded but makes it back.

Now he has to lead the troops back. He’s lying there near death but when his soldier buddy pleads with him to get up and show them the way, he does. He’s a hero but he’s shell shocked. They ship him back to the states and we see him in a cage on a transport train. He can’t sleep, every time he closes his eyes, he’s back there in the midst of all that death and destruction! Bill is having a flashback! Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome!

Combat Flashback

The handlers take him out of the cage to shoot him up with drugs and he bolts, jumping off the moving train. He makes it back to his old neighborhood but now he’s bad. He lives under bridges, steals chickens, hunts. He’s a homeless Veteran!

Homeless Psychologically Damaged Veteran

The local farmers get together and hunt him, they keep showing Close Ups of Bill snarling like mad. Young beautiful Elizabeth Taylor is outside reading, she hears something, hunters shooting, then a dog, it’s Bill. She runs after him and finds him hiding in a dark cave.

He growls, she pleads with him to be quiet as the hunting party passes. Elizabeth approaches Bill, he growls, then charges! She tries to run but she trips and hits her head. She’s out cold. Bill approaches, will he kill her? No he snaps out of it and begins kissing her, licking her face! Lassie has a love scene with Elizabeth Taylor! This may be Liz’s first screen kiss! And it’s from a dog!
OK, all seems well when the sheriff comes by. There’s a court order for Bill to be destroyed! They have a courtroom scene. All the local farmers testify that Bill should be put down.


But Bill has a defender, none other than Frank Morgan! The Wizard Of Oz! He sees an ID tattoo in Bill’s ear and during recess calls the Army. When court reconvenes, The Wizard gives a beautiful speech, telling about Bill’s heroism, about his place in society, about how the community must help him re integrate, about his own son, who at this very moment is recovering from Post Traumatic Stress in a hospital in New York.

The Wizard Of Oz Defends Lassie

Of course Bill is set free and reunited with the girl he loves. What a brilliant way for a movie studio to deal with the problems of returned veterans. They didn’t want to show the men acting strangely, back then they would have called them nuts or cowards. It’s always a huge problem and we’re facing it again today. I remember when I was a kid, returning vets from Vietnam, and all the problems they had. A large percentage of homeless people today are veterans. I’ve always liked films that deal with the problems of the returned Vet. I wrote about Act Of Violence and one of my favorites is Edward Dmytryk’s Till The End Of Time, a great movie about the problems of three returned G.I.s. Courage Of Lassie is an incredible artifact, the result of a giant image making machine (MGM) coping with a very real problem in a dreamlike Technicolor way.

The Happy Ending