Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Voice of Bugle Ann

With all that's been going on in my life, I haven't had so much time or energy to watch enough movies to keep the blog going on a daily basis. Recently, however, I did watch a pair of movies off of my DVR that just happen to be coming up this week on TCM as part of Summer Under the Stars. First up is The Voice of Bugle Ann, on TCM tomorrow, August 8, at 12:15 PM as part of a day of the films of Maureen O'Sullivan.

The nominal star here is Lionel Barrymore, playing Spring Davis, an old farmer in a rural part of Missouri who hunts foxes and raccoons together with his fellow farmers, using their dogs to track the prey. Spring has a long-time wife (Spring Byington), and an adult son Benjy (Eric Linden) who also works the farm. One of Spring's dogs has a littler, and Spring winds up taking care of the runt of the litter, a dog he names Bugle Ann because it grows up to have the perfect call for hunting.

Meanwhile, on an older farm in the area, a new man arrives, Jacob Terry (Dudley Digges). He's planning to raise sheep, which means fencing that will be dangerous to the dogs that roam the country. He's got an adult daughter Camden (Maureen O'Sullivan), who lives with Dad even though she has reason to think he's a mean guy. She and Benjy unsurprisingly fall in love, while nobody loves Jacob. Jacob, in fact, threatens to shoot dogs that trespass on his property.

This leads to a confrontation when Bugle Ann goes missing and presumed dead somewhere near the Terry property, and despite Jacob's protestations, every other farmer in the area is convinced that Terry shot an innocent dog. Jacob and Spring get into it, with Spring shooting Jacob dead when it looks like Jacob is about to draw his gun on Spring. Now, this is where the movie develops a bit of a problem, in that you'd think all the other witnesses around would say that Spring was shooting in self defense (even it it wasn't so clear). There's nobody who would support Jacob over Spring, so there ought to be insufficient evidence to convict. But Spring gets convicted and sent to a long prison sentence. Camden leaves, but refuses to sell the farm.

Things get really weird about a year later when everybody swears they could hear Bugle Ann's call again one night, even though they know she's dead because they eventually find her collar. And then Spring gets a mysterious pardon from the governor even though his is a case the governor really should take no interest in. What really happened that fateful night?

The Voice of Bugle Ann is the sort of movie that to me made me think of the famous Variety headline "Stix Nix Hick Pix" that had appeared about a year before the movie. It's not a bad movie; it's more that everything seems somewhat off. I don't know that Hollywood ever got the farm right, at least not in the days when they were mostly bound to the back lot. Now, there are stronger stories that overcome this, such as the lovely Hide-Out from a few years earlier. But The Voice of Bugle Ann really feels like it's missing something that I just can't put my finger on.

Still, it's worth a watch for the odd plot twist, and it doesn't show up all that often, so catch its rare TCM airing.

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