Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Animals in Film Blogathon: A Tiger Walks (1964)


The Animals in Film Blogathon hosted by Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood has arrived and runs May 26 - 28.  Enjoy all the interesting contributions by clicking HERE.

"A tiger walks the streets of Scotia today while residents cower within their homes gripped by the primitive fear that jungle people have known through the centuries."

Doodles Weaver (Hockey Homicide, Duck Pimples) as Bob Evans, local reporter selling his big, big story to city editor Stafford Repp (Big House USA, TVs Batman).

Ian Niall's 1960 novel A Tiger Walks is the story of a man-killing circus animal loose outside of a village in Wales.  The Disney film version, adapted by Lowell S. Hawley (In Search of the Castaways, TVs The Loretta Young Show) changes the setting to a small New England town.  Norman Tokar (Candleshoe, Those Calloways, TVs Leave It to Beaver) directs a dream cast of familiar character actors.



Kevin Corcoran, Pamela Franklin

The truck transporting tigers for a travelling circus breaks down in the small town of Scotia leaving the handlers to wait for repairs.  Theo Marcuse (The Cincinnati Kid) is lead handler Joseph, a braggart, a bully and, on this tragic day, a drunkard.  He relentlessly torments the tiger Raja and foolishly leaves the cage door open in a show of misplaced courage.  The hungry and enraged tiger leaps to his freedom in the surrounding countryside.  Spectators, comprised mainly of youngsters, scatter as the tiger heads down an alley coming face to face with Julie Williams played by Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).  Raja is interested only in escape and Julie's only injury from the encounter is a scrape on her arm from a fall.

Joseph follows the tiger into the woods armed with a shotgun taken from garage mechanic Frank McHugh (The Roaring Twenties, Three Men on a Horse).  What Joseph does not know is that the gun is not fully loaded and this will lead to his death.  Also following Raja is the more sensible and compassionate trainer Ram Singh played by Sabu (Black Narcissus, Drums) in his last film.  Mr. Singh wants to capture the tiger alive and is instrumental in educating the local children as to the animal's true nature.

Julie is the daughter of the town's sheriff Pete Williams played by Brian Keith (The Wind and the Lion, Nightfall).  The crisis of the tiger comes in the midst of his re-election campaign.  His political opposition includes the governor played by Edward Andrews (Advise and Consent, The Unguarded Moment) and his opportunistic campaign manager played by Jack Albertson (The Poseidon Adventure, The Fox and the Hound).



Pamela Franklin, Brian Keith, Vera Miles

Julie inadvertently causes problems for her father when she explains to a reporter that her father is on the tiger's side in that it isn't the big cat's fault for behaving naturally.  The death of the sadistic trainer has caused the press to paint the tiger as a man-killer and everyone is out for blood.  Mrs. Williams is played by Vera Miles (The Searchers, Psycho) and she sees both sides of the conflict that causes tension in the home.  

Dorothy Williams:  "The thing is, Pete, we have talked to her.  Almost from the day we brought her home from the hospital.  We're the ones that taught her animals weren't put on this earth just to be kicked around; that they have certain rights just like people.  Who is it that taught her that justice is important?  That you have to do what's right?  Not just in the big things, but in the little things and not just when it's convenient, but when it louses up everything for you."

The escaped tiger has become national news and the tiny town is swamped with reporters, politicians and the military.  Local businesswoman, hotel and bar owner Mrs. Watkins played by Una Merkel (Destry Rides Again, 42nd Street) takes full advantage of the situation by raising her fees in the name of civic duty.



Raja's supporters

Hal Peary (The Great Gildersleeve) plays a children's TV host who spearheads a campaign based on Julie's television appearance to "Save That Tiger".  Protests are staged and money is collected to purchase Raja and his family for a zoo.  The governor intervenes when it appears the sheriff is being too soft on a man killer.  It is unexpected to see such behavior from adults and authority is such a cynical light in a family entertainment, but as a child I appreciated it and as an adult I find it amusing.

Raja, born and bred in captivity, is not equipped to deal with life in what is to him extremely strange circumstances.  He frightens more than harms the local wildlife and cultivated stock.  A farmer played by Arthur Hunnicut (El Dorado, The Red Badge of Courage) on his way to town to apprise the sheriff of the tiger's whereabouts is shot and wounded by a frightened National Guardsman.  Sheriff Williams had warned that the combination of fog and too many scared people would lead to disaster, but the politicians continue to view the situation as a way to garner votes.

The military believes they finally have the tiger trapped in a valley and the captain in charge played by Donald May (Kisses for My President, TVs The Edge of Night) agrees to let Sheriff Williams, Mr. Singh and a deputy played by Peter Brown (Summer Magic, TVs Laredo) attempt to capture the tiger alive.  The captain, however, is overridden by the governor who wants headlines of a different sort.  Events culminates in a race against time and authority to "save that tiger".

Deputy Vern Goodman:  "I wonder if it takes all this to put on a tiger hunt in Africa or India, or wherever the heck it is."

Sheriff Pete Williams:  "They're hunting a lot of things, Vern.  Headlines.  Pictures.  Trophies.  Excitement and publicity.  Not many of them come just to help out."



Walt Disney with Seranga and Sultan

Animal behaviorist, author and founder of Marine World and Africa, USA, Ralph Helfer supplied the tigers Seranga and Sultan to play "Raja".  Helfer trained animals using what he called "affection training" and provided exotic animals to Hollywood productions including TVs Daktari and Gentle Ben.



A Tiger Walks is entertaining, exciting and edifying.  The character of Raja is presented as what he is - a tiger; a natural creature with its nature perverted by a life in a cage.  The human characters are all too human with their fears, anxieties, ambitions, yet also their capacity for understanding and compassion.






18 comments:

  1. This sounds quite philosophical, which is a Must See in my book. The themes sound timeless – I bet it resonates with audiences today as much as it did when it was released. Thanks for the introduction!

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    1. My pleasure. It is an unexpected entry in Disney's live-action films of the time. A "little" picture with a big theme.

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  2. The first thing that jumped out at me was the name Doodles Weaver. I am a big Spike Jones fan and have heard that name all my life on his records. Didn't know he had acted too.

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    1. Same boat. I knew who Mr. Weavers was, but I don't think I had ever seen him (and wasn't aware in my childhood viewing of this movie). He's very watchable. I now wonder where I might have seen him before and not realized.

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  3. Sounds as if it tackles some disturbing themes for a Disney film, querying the keeping of animals in captivity. The politicians seeing it all as an opportunity for votes also sounds very topical. Enjoyed reading this.

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    1. Thanks, Judy. A studio with such a recognizable brand like Disney, could still surprise its audience.

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  4. This sounds cool: Vera Miles, Una Merkel and a tiger in the same movie? Wow.
    I liked that you said the characters are very human and the tiger isn't a villain - just a caged, suffering creature.
    Kisses!
    Le

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    1. Ha! I love the combination from the movie that you highlight. From now on it will be my Miles-Merkel-Tiger movie.

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  5. Splendid post, CW. Another new one to me. Where do you find them?

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    1. Hee-hee. I am old. And when my folks told me to go outside and get my nose out of my books, I went to see movies.

      Today's story about the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo makes this 50 year old movie seem rather contemporary. A creature of the wild in an unnatural setting, frightened people, even the point of a tranquilizer taking minutes to take effect and anything could happen.

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  6. Excellent post and this film is a veritable treasure trove of character actors! I don't remember seeing this on TV, even though I was glued to "The Wonderful World Of Color." Must have seen "Emil & The Detectives" eight times!

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    1. Everything I watched on "The Wonderful World of Color" is epic in my memory. My husband relates that as a kid he would grumpy on the weeks where there wasn't a cartoon. No love for Ida, the Offbeat Eagle in his heart. LOL

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  7. Thanks for participating in the blogathon. This is another film I need to see. Must do so soon. I enjoyed your great post on it.

    By the way, I'm not sure if you received my notification over Facebook, but I would love for you to join in on my next blogathon. Here is the link below.

    https://crystalkalyana.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/announcing-the-joan-crawford-blogathon/

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    1. I enjoyed participating in the Animals blogathon, Crystal. Nice job.

      I am quite fond of Joan Crawford, but don't feel inspired to write about any of her films at this time. I'll certainly be looking forward to all the contributions.

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  8. Wow, I don't think I've seen since was originally shown at the theater. (I now see it's on YouTube, so guess what I'm watching this week?) Pamela Franklin gave some excellent performances as a young woman, especially in THE INNOCENTS and THE NANNY. I look forward to seeing her in this movie; thanks for reminding me about it.

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    1. You remind me of so many movies that it is fun to give a little back.

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  9. What a great choice for the blogathon! I haven't seen this in years and had completely forgotten that it was a Disney picture. Look how young Pam Franklin is...and how OLD Moochie is! ;-)

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    1. It's like opening up an old photo album and not recognizing old pals.

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