Thursday, September 10, 2015

The William Wellman Blogathon: Goodbye, My Lady (1956)



William Wellman published a memoir A Short Time for Insanity in 1974 and hit the road to publicize the book.  In July of that year the road trip took Mr. Wellman to Toronto.  Catching up on the Monday edition of the Toronto Star, my father shouted an expletive and read aloud from Clyde Gilmour's "Movies" column.

Movie buffs have chance to meet director

"Hollywood's "Wild Bill" Wellman will be Toronto tomorrow, and movie buffs will get a chance to meet him in person and see two of his famous films at the incredible bargain price of zero dollars.

Admission will be free, as an anti-inflation service to the public, when the Ontario Film Theatre presents 78-year-old director William A. Wellman and a Wellman double bill, Wild Boys of the Road and The Ox-Bow Incident, Tuesday evening at 7:30."

-.-.-

The Nolans are not traditionally a spur of the moment family, but my dad said "What do you say, Paddy?  Let's go."  So, off we went to watch The Ox-Bow Incident, which we knew well, and Wild Boys of the Road, which was new to us.


There he was up on stage, "Wild Bill" Wellman.  He griped about actors.  He griped about Zanuck.  He griped about old age.  He introduced the beautiful Dorothy Coonan, his wife of 40 years, at his side.  He told us how she was the best dancer who ever worked for Busby Berkeley, how beautiful she was, how much she had to put up with, and how much he loved her.  We could see that.


After the screenings, we purchased the book (hardcover, $10.95), received autographs and shook his hand.  I cherish the memory of that brush with classic Hollywood and the spontaneous invitation from my father.


William A. Wellman
(1896 - 1975)

"Most motion picture directors are a little screwy.  I know that fliers are, and I have been both, so draw your own conclusions."

In A Short Time for Insanity I read about another "new" movie to me, Goodbye, My Lady.

"Goodbye, My Lady by James Street, was a financial fiasco.  I don't know why.  The story was beautiful, the performances superb:  Walter Brennan, Brandon De Wilde, Phil Harris, Bill Hopper, Sidney Poitier, and the cutest, gamest little dog you ever saw, a Basenji.  How could you miss?  But I did.

We went down in the swamps in Albany, Georgia, all through the peanut fields, with the snakes and the heat, and worked like Trojans.  For what?  For a plaque that reads:

To William A. Wellman for his outstanding contribution to the technique of Motion Picture Direction and for Goodbye, My Lady the national Society, Daughters of the American Revolution awards its CERTIFICATE OF HONOR for producing the Best Children's Picture of the Year 1956 - Josephine T. Nash - National Chairman - Motion Picture Committee - Allene W. Graves - President General.

Now, don't misunderstand me.  I am a father of seven kids and, up to yesterday, seven grandchildren.  I am very proud and happy to receive such a certificate of honor and am doubly proud to have made the best children's picture of the year, but why didn't the kids go to see it?  Why didn't they drag their mothers and fathers to the theater?  I guess you can't make a good clean picture anymore and make any money.  What am I talking about?  Disney does it all the time.  So it's as plain as the nose on your face.  I am just not Disney."  





"When your boy becomes a man it's a sad, glad thing."

- Lyric from When Your Boy Becomes a Man, the theme to Goodbye, My Lady music by Don Powell, lyrics by Moris Erby, sung by Howard Keel over the opening and closing credits.

The title card reads "William A. Wellman's Goodbye, My Lady" which denotes a justifiable pride in this fine film.


Orphaned Claude "Skeeter" Jackson (Brandon De Wilde) has been raised by his Uncle Jesse (Walter Brennan).  It is a somewhat lonely existence in the swamps of Mississippi, but the illiterate Jesse does the best he can at Skeeter's schooling and passes along life lessons of honesty and integrity.  Jesse's way is to lead by example and homilies, and to trust in Skeeter's heart.



Strange sounds at night turn out to be a breed of dog known as a Basenji, a hound of ancient origins and unusual habits.  Skeeter is intrigued and figures the dog needs him as much as he needs it.  The two creatures have found each other.  Skeeter immediately falls in love with the dog whom they name "Lady" and the dog, though obviously well cared for and trained, has found her true master.  The relationship grows over a period of months as Skeeter devotes his energy to training "Lady" into a fine bird dog.

Growing up is something that can only be done on your own, but even though he may not realize it at this time, Skeeter has the support and mentorship of more than his Uncle Jesse.  "Cash" Evans (Phil Harris) is the local storekeeper and close friend of Jesse's.  He has stood up for this makeshift family and supports them physically and emotionally.  Closer to Skeeter's age is Gates Watson (Sidney Poitier) who lives on the other side of the river.  He is a young man who knows the world and knows dogs and boys.  He always does Skeeter the honour of calling him by his given name, Claude.  Gates' friendship for Claude includes equal doses of respect and caring.  Through words and deed Skeeter learns from these friends and is secure in their support.



Eventually the fame of the strange little dog leads to knowledge of her exalted show dog status and rightful owners.  How Skeeter deals with the situation and the loving support of his friends and Uncle Jesse is admirable and truly touching.  We never do meet Lady's owners, but Mr. Grover (William Hopper) a kennel employee arrives to retrieve the Basenji.  After many viewings, the only word I have to describe Hopper's scenes is "beautiful".

The score for Goodbye, My Lady is gentle and evocative and was composed and played by Laurindo Almeida (guitar) and George Fields (harmonica).  The cinematography by frequent Wellman collaborator William Clothier (Track of the Cat, Wings) is in black and white and recalls to mind marvelous sketches that may accompany a novel.  James Street's novel was adapted by Albert Fleischman (The Deadly Companions, Bullwhip Griffin).  Featured performers in this movie include Louise Beavers as Gates' mother, who disapproves of Jesse's unorthodox parenting abilities, and Wellman good luck charm George Chandler.  Read about their relationship here.

The story of Goodbye, My Lady is told in a leisurely, laid-back fashion.  It takes us to, for many, a strange location and lifestyle.  Its dramatic moments are emotional in nature as we are allowed a look into the hearts and minds of these characters.  The cast is uniformly excellent, easily getting the audience to care for these people and the story of a boy and "a whole lotta dog".

TCM is screening Goodbye, My Lady on Sunday, September 20th at 6:15 pm if you want to see William Wellman's fine film.


The William Wellman blogathon is hosted by Now Voyaging and runs from September 10 - 15.  Click here to see what other fans have to share about the director and his films.
      

24 comments:

  1. This movie sounds lovely, but even more I enjoyed your story about your father taking you to meet Mr. Wellman! Memories like that really make your engagement with his films, and old movies in general so much more special! Thanks for sharing such a lovely story! Great post!
    Summer Reeves | Serendipitousanachronisms.wordpress.com | Twitter: @kitschmeonce

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a lovely film that highlights Wellman's mastery over so many different genres. Thanks for your kind, understanding comments.

      Delete
  2. I had never even heard of this film before this year; I stumbled across it basically by chance and my whole family watched it and really enjoyed it. A really lovely movie that I can't believe isn't better known.

    And having watched The Ox-Bow Incident and re-watched Island in the Sky not too long before that, I've been growing steadily more impressed with every Wellman film I've seen. Beau Geste, Yellow Sky and Battleground are all on my list to see eventually.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those movies we stumble upon are great treasures, and all the more special for the way they come to us. I love those films on your "upcoming" list. "Battleground" tops my list of favourite war pictures although the director preferred his own "Story of G.I. Joe".

      Delete
  3. I loved the story your father told of going to meet the famous William Wellman – plus buying a book to commemorate the occasion. What a great memory!

    As for the movie, it sounds like a Must. Thanks for recommending (another) new film! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Although the film wasn't a popular success in its day, perhaps an appreciation for it in the 21st century would have been pleasing to Mr. Wellman.

      Delete
  4. What a lovely post and how wonderful that you have a personal connection with William Wellman! I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thank you for joining the blogathon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, Liz. Thank you for hosting this wonderful event and giving us the opportunity to write about our favourite films from the wonderful Bill Wellman.

      Delete
  5. I should use your blog as my watchlist - you are always presenting great new films to me!
    And what a nice story of meetin Wellman and buying his book. I can just imagine your emotion in the moment!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, pal. I hope you have the opportunity to see this movie someday. I'm sure you would like it.

      Delete
  6. Excellent review, and I am jealous that you got to meet the director!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Wellman event was 40 years ago, but it feels like it was yesterday every time I watch one of his pictures.

      Delete
  7. Excellent review, and I am jealous that you got to meet the director!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Excellent review, and I am jealous that you got to meet the director!

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a great story about how you and your Dad met Wellman, and a lovely review too. I've never seen this film and would guess there is zero chance of it getting shown on TV in the UK, but I see it is now out on Warner Archive DVD, so will hope to catch up with it before too long!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Judy.

      "Goodbye, My Lady" is very worthwhile film. I find it easy to lose myself in its charms.

      Delete
  10. A charming review about a movie I've never seen. I love Wellman, dogs and Walter Brennan, so I'm going to have to check it out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a lover of Wellman, dogs and Walter Brennan this movie was made for you. Enjoy!

      Delete
  11. Sounds like your dad was quite the Wellman fan. Nice little story there.

    This must have been pretty early in Poitier's career. How is he in this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At this point Sidney Poitier had a half dozen movies under his belt including big roles in "No Way Out" and "Blackboard Jungle". The role here is not huge, but it is important and he plays a very mature character with a graceful ease.

      Delete
  12. What a lovely post about this movie. And how great that you got to see William Wellman in person! Wellman made such a great range of films, it's impossible to pigeonhole him. I hope this film will get the recognition it deserves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is true about Wellman being impossible to pigeonhole. "Goodbye, My Lady" is about as far from "The Ox-Bow Incident" as you can get, yet both have the power to move audiences.

      Delete
  13. Love the story about your Dad. You were in the company of two really swell guys at that event.

    ReplyDelete

HOLLYWOOD'S HISPANIC HERITAGE BLOGATHON: Ramon Novarro in The Big Steal (1949)

Hispanic Heritage Month is being celebrated by Aurora at her site Once Upon a Screen with  Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogatho...