Old Yeller (film)

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Old Yeller
Old Yeller poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Produced by Walt Disney
Screenplay by Fred Gipson
William Tunberg
Based on Old Yeller 
by Fred Gipson
Starring Dorothy McGuire
Fess Parker
Kevin Corcoran
Tommy Kirk
Music by Oliver Wallace
Will Schaefer
Cinematography Charles P. Boyle
Editing by Stanley E. Johnson
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • December 25, 1957 (1957-12-25)
Running time 83 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $6,250,000 (US/ Canada rentals) [1]

Old Yeller is a 1957 American family tragedy film directed by Robert Stevenson. It stars Tommy Kirk, Dorothy McGuire and Beverly Washburn. It is about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas. The story is based upon the 1956 Newbery Honor-winning book Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. Gipson also co-wrote the screenplay with William Tunberg. The success of Old Yeller led to a sequel, Savage Sam, which was also based on a Gipson book.


In 1860s post-Civil War Texas, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) leaves home to work on a cattle drive, leaving behind his wife Katie Coates (Dorothy McGuire), older son Travis (Tommy Kirk) and younger son Arliss (Kevin Corcoran).

While Jim is away, Travis sets off to work in the cornfield, where he encounters "Old Yeller" (Spike), a Mastador. His name was Old Yeller because he was "old" and "yeller' being a slang pronunciation of yellow, the dog's color. Travis unsuccessfully tries to drive Old Yeller away, but Arliss likes the dog and defends him. However, Old Yeller's habit of stealing meat from smokehouses and robbing hens' nests does not endear him to Travis.

Later, Arliss tries to capture a black bear cub by feeding it cornbread and grabbing it. The angry mother bear hears her cub wailing and attacks, but Old Yeller appears and drives off the bear, earning the affection of the family. Travis eventually accepts the dog and a profound bond grows between the two.

Old Yeller's owner, Burn Sanderson (Chuck Connors), shows up looking for his dog, but comes to realize that the family needs the dog more than he does, and agrees to trade the dog to Arliss in exchange for a horny toad and a home-cooked meal.

One day, Travis sets out to trap wild boars. On the advice of Bud Searcy (Jeff York), he sits in a tree, trying to rope them from above as Yeller keeps them from escaping. Travis falls into the pack of boars below, one of which injures him. Yeller attacks the boar and rescues Travis, who escapes with a badly-hurt leg. Yeller is seriously wounded as well. Searcy warns the Coates family of hydrophobia (rabies) in the area. Fortunately, the boars did not have hydrophobia, and both boy and dog fully recover.

However, the family soon realize that their cow, Old Rose, has not been allowing her calf to feed, and may have rabies. Watching her stumble about, Travis confirms it and shoots her. While Katie and Lisbeth (Beverly Washburn) burn the body that night, a rabid wolf attacks. Yeller defends the family, but is bitten in the struggle before Travis can shoot and kill the wolf. The family pens Yeller in a corn crib for several weeks to watch him. Soon when Travis goes to feed Old Yeller, Yeller growls and snarls at Travis. After Yeller nearly attacks Arliss, who, not understanding the danger, had attempted to open the cage, a grieving Travis is forced to shoot Yeller. In doing so, he takes his first step towards adulthood.

Heartbroken from the death of his beloved dog, Travis refuses the offer of a new puppy sired by Yeller. Jim comes home with a bagful of money and presents for the family. Having learned about Yeller's fate from Katie, he explains to his son the facts about life and death. When they get back to the farm, the young puppy steals a piece of meat, a trick he learned from his father. Travis adopts the puppy, naming him "Young Yeller" in honor of his sire.


Reception and legacy[edit]

Bosley Crowther in the December 26, 1957 New York Times praised the film's performers and called the film "a nice little family picture" that was a "lean and sensible screen transcription of Fred Gipson's children's book." He noted that the film was a "warm, appealing little rustic tale [that] unfolds in lovely color photography. Sentimental, yes, but also sturdy as a hickory stick."[2]

The movie went on to become an important cultural film for baby boomers,[3] with Old Yeller's death in particular being remembered as one of the most tearful scenes in cinematic history. It currently has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.[4] One critic cited it as "among the best, if not THE best" of the boy-and-his-dog films.[5] Critic Jeff Walls wrote:

Old Yeller, like The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, has come to be more than just a movie; it has become a part of our culture. If you were to walk around asking random people, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not know the story of Old Yeller, some who didn’t enjoy it or someone who didn’t cry. The movie’s ending has become as famous as any other in film history."[6]

The film was re-released in 1965 and earned an estimated $2 million in North American rentals.[7]


External links[edit]