Old Yeller (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Stevenson|
|Produced by||Walt Disney|
|Screenplay by||Fred Gipson
|Based on||Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson
|Music by||Oliver Wallace
|Cinematography||Charles P. Boyle|
|Edited by||Stanley E. Johnson|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
|Box office||$6,250,000 (US/ Canada rentals) |
Old Yeller is a 1957 American family tragedy film produced by Walt Disney. It stars Tommy Kirk, Dorothy McGuire and Beverly Washburn. It is about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas. It is based upon the 1956 Newbery Honor-winning book of the same name by Fred Gipson. Gipson also cowrote the screenplay with William Tunberg. Its success led to a sequel, Savage Sam, which was also based on a book by Gipson.
In 1860s post-Civil War Texas, Jim Coates (Fess Parker) leaves home to work on a cattle drive, leaving behind his wife Katie (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 (Labrador Retriever/ Mastiff) mix. He was called that because of "yeller' being a dialectical pronunciation of yellow, his color. Travis unsuccessfully tries to drive the dog away, but Arliss likes him and defends him to Travis. However, the dog'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. Its angry mother hears her cub wailing and attacks, but Old Yeller appears and drives her off, earning the affection of the family. Travis eventually accepts him and a profound bond grows between them.
Old Yeller's owner, Burn Sanderson (Chuck Connors), shows up looking for his dog, but comes to realize that they need him more than he does, and agrees to trade him 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 Old Yeller keeps them from escaping. Travis falls into the pack, one of which injures him. Old Yeller attacks it and rescues Travis, who escapes with a badly-hurt leg. Old Yeller is seriously wounded as well. Sanderson warns them of hydrophobia (rabies) in the area. Fortunately, the boars did not have hydrophobia, and both Travis and Old Yeller fully recover.
However, the family soon realize that their cow, 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 Searcy (Beverly Washburn) burn the body that night, a rabid wolf attacks. Old Yeller defends the family, but is bitten in the struggle before Travis can shoot and kill the wolf. They pen Old Yeller in the corn crib for several weeks to watch him. Soon when Travis goes to feed him, he growls and snarls at him. After he nearly attacks Arliss, who, not understanding the danger, had attempted to open the corn crib, a grieving Travis is forced to shoot him. 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 fathered by Old Yeller. Jim comes home with a bagful of money and presents for his family. Having learned about Old Yeller's fate from Katie, he explains the facts about life and death to Travis. When they get back to the farm, the young puppy steals a piece of meat, a trick he learned from his father. Travis adopts him, naming him "Young Yeller" in honor of his father.
- Fess Parker as Jim Coates
- Dorothy McGuire as Katie Coates
- Tommy Kirk as Travis Coates
- Kevin Corcoran as Arliss Coates
- Jeff York as Bud Searcy
- Beverly Washburn as Lisbeth Searcy
- Chuck Connors as Burn Sanderson
- Spike as Old Yeller
Reception and legacy
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."
The movie went on to become an important cultural film for baby boomers, 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. One critic cited it as "among the best, if not THE best" of the boy-and-his-dog films. 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."
The film was re-released in 1965 and earned an estimated $2 million in North American rentals.
The film is referenced on the television show Friends in the episode "The One Where Old Yeller Dies", citing the infamous scene where Travis has to shoot Old Yeller because he has rabies.
- "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
- New York Times Review
- WTC to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Old Yeller with Program, Exhibit
- Rotten Tomatoes - Old Yeller (1957)
- Dvdtown reviews - Old Yeller [Special Edition]
- Old Yeller (1957) - Jeff Walls review at AllMoviePortal
- See "Top Grossers of 1965", Variety, 5 January 1966 p 36
- Official website
- Old Yeller at the Internet Movie Database
- Old Yeller at AllMovie
- Old Yeller at the TCM Movie Database