Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Dog of Flanders

The British writer Maria Louise Ramé, writing under the pseudonym Ouida, wrote quite a few novels in her lifetime. One of them, 1872's A Dog of Flanders, has been turned into several films. TCM will be running the 1935 version of A Dog of Flanders tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM.

The scene is a small village not far from Antwerp in late 19th century Belgium. Nello (Frankie Thomas) is a poor boy who has been orphaned and lives with his grandfather (OP Heggie). They only have a small dairy business to keep them fed and clothed and put a roof over their heads, and they don't even have a horse to pull the dairy cart. One day, though, as Nello pulls the cart toward town, he meets a drunken peddler with a dog who is, unfortunately, abusing the dog. Nello takes pity, takes the dog in, and brings the dog back to health, at which point he and Grandpa use it to pull the milk cart! (I'm surprised nobody thought of this as abusive to the poor dog, which doesn't look to be the sort of breed that would be a sled dog.)

Meanwhile, Nello dreams of being an artist, and he actually has a bit of a talent for it. There's an art contest, and Nello is determined to enter it and win the scholarship to art school, which would make his and his grandfather's financial problems much less severe. Encouraging him is Maria (Helen Parrish) a daughter of a well-to-do family who is about Nello's age and who takes a shining to him. Maria's parents understandbly don't like Nello since he's entirely of the wrong social class for her, and want her to be with young Pieter (Richard Quine, the future director). Pieter likes art, too, and buys one of Nello's drawings, hoping to enter it into the contest himself....

The best word I can think of to describe A Dog of Flanders would be "mawkish". I suppose this is the sort of movie that would have been considered more suitable for children back when it was released. While I have no problem with making movies for children, I can't help but wonder whether even the children of 1935 would have cared for this movie, which is impossibly cutesy. The worse thing is that it's in black and white and filmed on the studio back lot. At least the 1959 remake had lovely color and some location shooting. Still, I suppose there are some young kids somewhere who will enjoy this, and at 73 minutes it's not too long.

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