A new, old “Lassie” comes home to U.S. theaters
By Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – “Lassie” comes home to another
generation of U.S. children this week in a new film that hews
closely to the original, dark tale of the loyal collie and her
boy in wartime England, instead of the sunny California of the
long-running television series.
The sable-and-white collie, Lassie, and her young owner,
Joe, first appeared in a 1938 short story in the Saturday
Evening Post by Eric Knight, a British-American journalist and
writer who spun the story into a 1940 book, “Lassie Come-Home.”
“To me, it was a new story, and if it was new to me it
would likely be new … to people younger than me,” the film’s
director, Charles Sturridge, said in a recent interview.
“Everybody thinks they know Lassie, but (the story) has a
freshness to it which I think deserves a new cinematic life.”
“Lassie” debuts in U.S. theaters on Friday, starring
newcomer Jonathan Mason as Joe, Samantha Morton and John Lynch
as his parents, and Peter O’Toole as the Duke of Rudling.
Like many fans, Sturridge had never read Knight’s book or
seen the 1943 film it spawned, and initially assumed from
watching the TV show that Knight had created Lassie as an
American dog living on a ranch in California with her owner,
In fact, the story grew out of a trip Knight took during
the Great Depression to England, where he saw people selling
belongings to survive, according to “Lassie” historian Ace
“The prized possession of these people were their collie
dogs,” Collins said. “A lot of people were having to sell those
dogs to put food on the table.”
MALE PLAYS A FEMALE
“Lassie Come-Home” became the story of a Yorkshire boy
whose coal miner father sells the family’s unusually beautiful
collie to a nobleman when he loses his job. The duke takes the
dog to Scotland, where she escapes and returns to the boy.
MGM Studios released the first Lassie movie in 1943,
starring Elizabeth Taylor, Roddy McDowall and Pal, the first of
nine male collies to play the world’s best-known female dog.
Collins said male collies are used because they do not shed
their heavy coats each year, as females do, and because they
are larger so that the children acting opposite them appear
Although a Pal descendant named Hey-Hey makes a brief
appearance in the new film, Lassie is mostly played by a collie
named Mason, Sturridge said.
The movie, released by Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside
Attractions, has a PG rating for language and mild violence —
Lassie is beaten with a belt in one scene and nearly starves to
death before reuniting with the boy.
It is the 11th movie to star the collie, and a Lassie TV
series that began in 1954 still airs in syndication.
“I get fan mail and e-mail from all over the world,” actor
Jon Provost, who played Timmy in the TV show, told Reuters.
“It’s a universal theme: a boy and his dog. It transcends
culture, religion, language.”
Provost also set the record straight on one bit of Lassie
folklore: the dog never went barking to Timmy’s mom to warn her
that the boy had fallen down a well.