Saturday, July 05, 2014

Good-bye, My Lady

In the middle: Brandon de Wilde and the Basenji dog.
Hyvästi, ystäväni / Addio, Lady. US 1956. D: William Wellman. Based on the novel (1954) by James H. Street. SC: Sid Fleischman. DP: William H. Clothier. ED: Fred MacDowell. AD: Donald A. Peters. M: Laurindo Almeida, George Field. C: Walter Brennan (zio Jesse), Phil Harris ('Cash' Evans), Brandon de Wilde (Skeeter), Sidney Poitier (Gates), William Hopper (Walden Grover), Louise Beavers (Bonnie Dew), George Chandler (reporter). P: John Wayne, Robert Fellows per Batjac Productions, Inc. 35 mm. 95'. From: La Cinémathèque française per concessione di Park Circus
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 5 July 2014

Lady is the name given by Skeeter to his Basenji dog.

Peter von Bagh (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Goodbye, My Lady is a good name for a film that has almost no women in it. This Lady is a Basenji dog (sometimes said to be able to "laugh and cry, but not bark"), one of the most memorable canine performers in the history of film. The title relates to the touching and real relationship between the young orphan boy and the dog, as well described by a contemporary reviewer in 1956 in the "Monthly Film Bulletin": "The opening scene, when the boy stands outside the shack waiting for the one important cry among all the night sounds in the woods, effectively establishes the mood; and the mutual affection that develops between the boy and his dog is made very real". This is the point. It's the kind of relationship that most films miss or fake; here everything is concrete, emotions as well as the vision of nature, the swamp, the forest. The film, one of the finest in Wellman's oeuvre and the kind of pastoral masterpiece that every great American director was due to sign at some time or other, is about an old man and a boy, both excellent as played by Walter Brennan (one of the greatest roles of that actor so dear to all of us) and Brandon deWilde, in a relationship where both change as human beings. That is the film's beautifully-conveyed leit motif. It's Americana at the root level, as basic as the purest Hemingway short stories or moments that Flaherty captured on film. Like the more famous The Yearling (Clarence Brown) but with all the Hollywood characteristics wiped away, running underneath it all is a sense of sad tenderness, the knowledge that every age, and becoming an adult and being accepted as a true member of a community, requires something and sometimes almost too much. This time it's the loss of Lady in a conflict between the boy and the owner of the valuable dog, or in other words, between pure human values and money." Peter von Bagh (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA:  One of the great dog films, and there have been many fine ones - Rescued by Rover - Rin-Tin-Tin - The Most Dangerous Game - Lassie - Lady and the Tramp - 101 Dalmatians - White Dog - Myrsky - White Bim Black Ear - A Dog's Life - during this festival we have seen The Exploits of Elaine Part 6: Vampyre (in which Elaine is rescued by her dog)... "A man's best friend", we can keep learning from a dog in real life, and a dog is never boring in a film.

During the 1950s, his last decade as a film director, William A. Wellman directed four films for Batjac, the company of John Wayne and Robert Fellows (plus worked in one further film for them without credit). His most famous Batjac film is The High and the Mighty, a pioneer film in the airplane blockbuster subgenre. The most generally acclaimed by critics is Track of the Cat. When I asked Dave Kehr at the start of this year's Il Cinema Ritrovato which William Wellman title I should not miss his answer was Good-bye, My Lady. Another special Batjac production I like is Island in the Sky. The two last-mentioned are "little" films. Wellman excelled both in epic genres and intimate subjects.

There are only two main human characters, the old man Jesse (Walter Brennen), and the orphan boy Skeeter (Brandon De Wilde). A strange sound alerts Skeeter: it is a little dog which does not bark but instead "laughs and cries", has an ultra accurate smell, and is constantly on the move. It turns out that the dog belongs to the rare African Basenji race - one of the most ancient, and perhaps the most ancient dog race. Nobody knows about the dog which Skeeter then adopts. People travel long distances to see the wonder dog. But in a magazine a Canadian hunter reports his dog missing, and gives unmistakable identification marks.

After a painful stage of hesitation Skeeter does the right thing.

Good-bye, My Lady is a story of loneliness, marginalization, and what it means to be an orphan. "The dog was the only thing that boy ever had". "I never saw anybody aching so much".

It is also a growing-up story. Skeeter learns how to train a dog, and how to lose a dog.

Wellman shows psychological insight in the delicate turning-points of the story.

He displays tact in a story of an immense loss.

The account of the black characters (Sidney Poitier, Louise Beavers) is dignified. Also in Wild Boys of the Road there was no racism in the way the black characters were depicted.

A fine print. The first 12 minutes were screened out of focus.

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