A Different Kind of Love: Lassie Come Home (1943)
When trying to think of a movie to write about for Valentine’s Day, I was looking for something a little different. Last year, I wrote about They Shoot Horses Don’t They?. It’s not the first movie that comes to mind when thinking about love I’ll grant you, but that’s why I went with it. While talking it out with my husband, he suggested Lassie Come Home. It’s perfect because what’s more pure than an animal’s love for its human?
On a side note, I almost didn’t write this because one of our cats, Dick, had been missing for the past few days. I was barely holding myself together as it was and there was no way I could write a piece about loving pets with him missing. My husband eventually found him in the shelter and well, here we are.
Lassie Come Home is based on the 1940 book of the same name by Eric Knight. Right off the bat, the movie starts off with an opening scroll that hits you right in the heart. The author died in World War II and never got to see this movie come to fruition. The film takes place in Yorkshire. Times are tough and money is scarce. Mr. and Mrs. Carraclough (Donald Crisp and Elsa Lanchester) and their son, Joe (Roddy McDowell) live out a meager existence out on the moors. The only thing of worth the family has is their rough collie, Lassie. She’s a gorgeous dog and everyone in town thinks she’s lovely. Lassie thinks the world of Young Joe. Every day at 3:50pm, she runs from home all the way through town to meet Joe under the tree outside his school.
With no job or money coming in, Mr. Carraclough decides it’s time he sells Lassie to the Duke of Rudling (Nigel Bruce). The Duke has long admired Lassie and is happy to take her off the family’s hands. When the day comes to hand over Lassie, they don’t even tell Joe that they’ve sold the dog so he doesn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to her. When he comes out of the school doors and she’s not there, he gets worried. He finally finds out the truth when he gets home and he’s devastated to have lost his best friend.
Lassie wants nothing to do with the Duke or his granddaughter Priscilla (Elizabeth Taylor, in one of her first roles). They don’t mistreat the dog or anything, but Lassie wants to be back with Young Joe so she breaks out of her kennel and runs back home. The dog is taken back to the Duke’s place but she runs back home again. Finally, it’s decided that Lassie should be taken up to the Duke’s palace in Scotland. They believe the dog will never try to get home with hundreds of miles between them. Boy, are they wrong.
Lassie, bless her. She wants to go home to Young Joe, and go home she will or die trying. The dog makes her ways along the Scottish coast and over steep terrain. Paws bloody, she sleeps in a cave during a thunderstorm. When she takes off again, she actually swims a goddamn river and eventually makes in into England. Near death, she manages to crawl to a cottage where a wonderful old couple, the Faddens, take her in. They feed her and treat her like a queen, calling Lassie “Herself”. She stays with them until she’s healthy. They notice that at 3:50pm every day, the dog gets restless and scratches at the door. They realize Herself wants to leave but she won’t leave on her own, they have to tell her it’s okay to go. In a scene that crushes me every time I watch it, they tell Lassie to go on, to continue on her journey and off she goes running through the countryside.
Lassie gets shot at on a sheep farm before running into a tinker (Edmund Gwenn) who takes her in. He offers her food and even puts the dog into his act with his other dog. Lassie knows the exact roads she needs to take to get her home so when the tinker turns off to go on another road, he realizes he, too, has to part ways with the dog. Nearing home, Lassie is chased by some dog catchers and makes a leap from a second story window to escape them. How much more punishment can Lassie take?
This movie is so full of love, it’s bursting at the seams. You get the unconditional love a dog has for his human. You get Joe’s love for Lassie, his best friend. There’s the special kind of love the old couple has for Herself. They love the dog, but like Sting says, if you love someone, set them free. They realize Lassie is trying to get somewhere and just release her from the duty she feels for them in nursing her back to health. There’s the love the tinker has for Lassie, he needs her in his life but is also willing to let her go because he sees she has somewhere to be. I cry at least four times each time I see this movie, more sometimes, depending on what’s going on in my life. Your heart takes a journey when you watch this film. Lassie Come Home puts you through the ringer and then back again for good measure before it is over, but you won’t regret watching it for a second. Sure, there’s probably someone out there who thinks the film is schmaltzy. I feel sorry for that person and it’ll make me question where that person’s ever felt the love for an animal and/or got that love back in return.