Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Proud Rebel

A few months back, I got the chance to see The Proud Rebel for the first time when TCM showed it. TCM is running it again at 10:00 PM tonight as part of 24 hours of Olivia de Havilland films, so now would be a good time to do a full-length blog post on the film.

The movie opens up with John Chandler (Alan Ladd) approaching a town somewhere in southern Illinois together with his son David (real-life son David Ladd) and the best sheepdog in the world. It turns out that the elder Chandler is a southerner who fought for the Confederacy in the recently-concluded Civil War. But he's going north looking for doctors. Apparently his young son saw his mother die when the Union Army burned down the farm, and ever since then David has been either unwilling or unable to speak. Since it's probably some sort of mental block instead of a physical block, there's a chance that David might be able to speak again, and John is going to do anything he can to see that his son does speak again. This particular town has a doctor, Enos Davis (Cecil Kellaway), who might be able to help in that regard.

He's not able to help directly, but he does have an acquaintance at the Mayo Clinic up in Minnesota who might be able to help. Of course, there's the issue of getting the money to make a trip all the way up to Minnesota. And to complicate matters, John and David get waylaid in town. The Burleighs -- father Harry (Dean Jagger) and sons Jeb (Harry Dean Stanton) and Tom (Tom Pittman) ride into town, and their entrance spooks a flock of sheep. However, the Chandlers' dog is able to herd them back into some sense of normalcy. The Burleighs want that dog, although it's absolutely not for sale. Things get heated, and Harry's sons wind up getting in a fight with John, and lying about what really happened at the resulting trial. The only other witness is David, and he's not talking.

So John has to either go to jail or pay a fine with money that he doesn't have. Ah, but who does have it? The widow farmer Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland; after all, it is her day on TCM). She can use a man around the farm, especially since the Burleighs are trying to drive her off her land. Unsurprisingly, despite the fact that both John and Linnett intend for their relationship to be all business, you know that some sort of emotional bond is going to develop between the two, as well as between Linett and David, since he's now got a sort of foster mother. Not that it will help him to talk.

I mentioned earlier the problem of getting David up to Minnesota, and John can't just save up for it because the doctor at the Mayo Clinic who could help is going to be leaving in a month's time. It seems increasingly certain that the only way John can get the money is to sell the dog, but that will just devastate poor little David. John eventually does sell the dog without telling David, and the Burleighs find out which gives them a chance to get back at John....

The Proud Rebel a movie that I found squarely in the camp of your typical Hollywood studio era output, this time in the same sort of area that Friendly Persuasion falls into: it looks like it could be a western, but it's not really set out west now, is it? The ranchers, the conflict between the two farms, and a lot of other western tropes are there. But I really think of The Proud Rebel as more of a straight drama that just happens to be set in the post-Civil War era. The cast does well, including young David, who has a difficult part since he's not allowed to speak during the film. The cinematography is nice, and the film has a satisfying ending. I think it's also good for adults and kids alike.

The Proud Rebel is also available on DVD.

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