Friday, July 01, 2016

"The Proud Rebel" (1958)


It's Olivia de Havilland's 100th birthday today!  And unlike most of the people whose birthdays I celebrate here... Olivia de Havilland is still alive!  Isn't that amazing?  Happy birthday, Ms. de Havilland!

In her honor, Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Hollywood are hosting a birthday blogathon dedicated to her all weekend long!  You can find links to the other entries here.  For this event, I am reviewing the little-known western The Proud Rebel (1958).  I call it a western, but it takes place in Aberdeen, Illinois, and there aren't really any cowboys in it.  Some sheepherders and farmers, but that's it.  Still, it has the feel of a western to it, and generally is classified as such.


John Chandler (Alan Ladd), his son David (David Ladd), and their dog Lance arrive in Aberdeen looking for Doctor Davis (Cecil Kellaway, who was the doctor in And Now Tomorrow with Alan Ladd too).  They explain that David can't talk.  For a year, since having a shock, he has been mute, communicating through sign language and grunting noises.  The doctor recommends they seek out a man in Minnesota, Dr. Eli Strauss, who has had some success with similar cases.


But before the Chandlers can leave for Minnesota, John has a run-in with some local nasties, Harry Burleigh (Dean Jagger) and his sons Jeb and Tom (Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Pittman).  The Burleighs own a big sheep ranch, and they take a shine to the Chandler's dog, who is wonderful at herding sheep.  So they try to steal him, but when John catches them at it, they beat him up, claim he was drunk, and try to get him thrown in jail.  The meanies!


But a woman farmer named Linnett Moore (Olivia de Havilland) feels sorry for David, so she offers to pay his father's fine if he will work off the debt on her farm.  The judge agrees, and so the Chandlers ride out to Linnett's farm.  It's dry, dusty, run down.  But has good possibilities.  Linnett tells them she didn't get him out of jail as an act of charity.  She has a 200-acre farm she runs all by herself, and she can't really handle it.  Her barn's in bad repair, her fences need mending, she has stock to tend, fields to plow, and so on.  Chandler tells her simply, "I know about farming, ma'am."


So they get to work, chopping wood, repairing the barn, pitching hay, and so on.  David has a rip-roaring good time sliding down haystacks and taking cows to pasture while his father plows.


Linnett dotes on David, but has a harder time connecting to John.  They always seem to end up quarreling, though in a friendly way.  But before you know it, they're all sharing meals in her kitchen.


But guess who Linnett's neighbors are?  Those mean, nasty, low-down Burleighs.  They want her farm, and they'll use any underhanded means necessary to force her off it, including wrecking her fences, driving their sheep into her crops, and even burning down the barn John had just finished repairing.


Still, the Chandlers and Linnett keep right on farming until Dr. Davis arrives with a letter from Dr. Strauss in Minnesota that says he thinks he could help David.  But the Chandlers will need three hundred dollars for the trip up there, and they'll need to leave within a week.  John tries to raise the money by selling his horse and saddle, and Dr. Davis offers to loan him some.  But of course, there's only one way to raise that much cash quick:  he could sell Lance, but would break David's heart in the process.


(The next two paragraphs contain SPOILERS.)


While The Proud Rebel is a relatively simple, straight-forward story, it plumbs some intriguing depths.  Should a father have the right to sell his son's beloved dog just for the chance of restoring the boy's hearing?  I think modern films would say that no!  That boy's feelings for a dog must surely trump his father's desire to help him speak again, right?  But what about when that boy grows up?  The dog won't live forever, but the boy might have to live his whole life mute because his father couldn't raise the money for an operation.  It's such a meaty, difficult problem, and I think the film handles it well.  Particularly because John is a loving, gentle father who only wants the best for his son -- he's not laying down the law and being a peremptory authority figure here.  He does what he believes is the right thing for his son even though it might cause the boy to hate him.  John Chandler understands that doing what is right often means doing what is hard.  And later, when he realizes that he has the opportunity to get David's dog back, he risks his life to do so, walking straight into a trap that he knows is a trap to keep his promise to his son.


And then there's Linnett.  Never married, she's hung onto the farm she loves and worked harder than most of us today can imagine, trying to make a living and keep her land away from the bullies next door.  Her life must look a little hopeless before the Chandlers come.  But when John decides to leave with David to see out the doctor in Minnesota, she supports his decision, even though it will mean losing these two people she has grown to care so much for, who have brought hope and joy to her lonely life.  Even though she argues with John plenty over whether he should sell the dog, she accepts that this is his decision to make and doesn't try any kind of underhanded trickery to stop him.  She's a straight arrow, Linnett Moore, and not a caricature of a strong woman, but a truly sturdy one.

(END of SPOILERS.)


Olivia de Havilland's performance here is charming.  I'm so used to her playing ladylike, genteel characters like Melanie Wilkes or Maid Marian, and seeing her as the rough-edged Linnett Moore is a treat for me.


I love how she moves, walking and sitting as if, under her skirts, she's wearing trousers.  I'm surprised she doesn't wear them, living out on the farm alone like she did before the Chandler's came into her life.  They'd be so much easier to farm in than that big skirt, I would think.  But maybe that's the point -- she's just feminine enough to want the constant reminder that she's a woman doing a man's job, not a man.  She never gave up hoping that someday, somehow, she'd meet a man who would love her, want to marry her.  Who would see her strong heart instead of her work-roughened hands.


When we first meet Linnett, she's nice, but cynical.  Over the course of the film, hers is the biggest character arc, as she learns to like the Chandlers, then to trust them, and finally to love them.  De Havilland plays it beautifully, never letting Linnett lose her strength, but slowly letting her relax and soften little by little, as she learns to hope again.


The first time I watched this, I admit I spent more time mourning how much Alan Ladd had aged in the five years since Shane than paying attention to his performance.  Sure, his character is supposed to look weary and worn down by his troubles, but he looks a decade older than his forty-five years, to me.  In six more years, he'd be dead.  That made me very sad, and I found the whole movie a sad experience as a result.


This time through, I knew what to expect, and could focus on his acting instead.  And I was so impressed by how he balanced dignity and despair, often in the same moment.  This was a man who'd been rich and happy, but who'd lost his home and wife, not to mention his money, during the war, and spent the next year hearing time and again that his son would never speak again.  He's lost almost everything -- his son is all he has left, and his love for that boy is evident in every scene they share.


It helps, of course, that David Chandler is played by David Ladd, who has a sunny smile and pulls off all the sign language nicely.  For me, the best part of casting Alan Ladd's own son David as his son here is how naturally they behave together.  There's something different in how a parent touches their child than how even a good friend of the family or a grandparent does.  A parent is more proprietary, if that makes sense.  A non-parent will always be a little hesitant, touching carefully.  A parent touches them almost unconsciously, as though they have a perfect right to handle their child because, well, they do, and that's practically impossible to imitate.


Watching the two of them here, you can see that Ladd was an affectionate, kind father -- David's acting overall is fine for a child actor, but not nuanced or skilled enough to fake the level of confident love he displays for his father.


And then there's Dean Jagger, playing a lousy, cheating jerk.  Grrrrrrrrr, I despise his character, Harry Burleigh.  Which is hard on me, because I'm so used to loving him as General Waverley in White Christmas.  Hmph.

Happily, I'm not watching this movie for Dean Jagger :-)


You can watch this for free here if you have Amazon Prime or Amazon Video.  Or you can watch it here or here on YouTube.  It's in the public domain, so you can also buy in on DVD very cheaply, though of course, the quality varies.  I have this version, which is what I got my screencaps from.  If you've seen a different edition that has better picture quality, please let me know!


This is my thirteenth and final entry for the Period Drama Challenge as well.  That challenge ends tomorrow, and it has been such fun!  Thank you so much for hosting it again, Miss Laurie!  I look forward to doing one final recap post for it soon.  And look!  I squeaked one last Alan Ladd film in for it :-)  I don't have much to say about the costumes for this film -- they're perfectly fine, but nothing exciting.  Still, here's one of Linnett in her prettiest dress and shawl:


Is this movie family friendly?  Yes, it definitely is.  Nary a cuss word.  Not so much as one kiss, though there's a little innuendo about Linnett having such a handsome man working on her ranch.  But he clearly is occupying a completely different building from her, and of course, David is always there, so the audience knows no one's getting into any hanky-panky.  There's a little violence, including a gunfight at the end that involves some deaths, but almost no blood is shown.  The barn burning might be too scary for young children, though.


Thanks for reading!  Now go check out the Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon for more great posts dedicated to this talented, lovely actress.

36 comments:

  1. This is a lovely post! I haven't seen this film but I can see it is one I need to watch. I feel like Olivia really could run a farm by herself; she is that kind of strong woman.

    Thank you for joining the blogathon and helping us celebrate this joyous day!

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    1. Thanks! It's really a solid little film. Feels like an indie film, if those had existed back then. And really no sensible people question if Olivia can handle farming on her own, she just has too big a farm for any one person, man or woman.

      Thanks for hosting!

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  2. Great write-up for what is a favorite film of mine. All your observations ring true with me. And yes, I also was distracted by how much Ladd had aged, and was sad about that. Although I think it was one of his best performances. I really liked your comment about how his interaction was David was natural as only a father/child could be. I'm glad that David now seems to be doing his part to get his father recognition for a new generation.

    And wasn't Olivia fantastic? She could do anything, and obviously wasn't afraid to play unglamorous although she was still so beautiful. She could convey her character's rough edges without ever being coarse.

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    1. Thanks Jocelyn! I agree -- this is such a strong performance from Ladd. It's very quiet and subtle, to the point where he almost doesn't seem to be acting, which of course is the hardest thing to pull off.

      I so wish that Alan Ladd could see how well-respected his children have become. I think that would have brought him great joy and satisfaction.

      And yes, Olivia is amazing. Salt-of-the-earth type, but never coarse -- just excellent.

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  3. I saw The Proud Rebel some years ago and just mildly liked it then, but after recent re-watches I've come to like and appreciate it much more. It's become a favorite with my whole family. And the score by Jerome Moross is now one of my top favorites too (my siblings surprised me with the super-rare soundtrack CD for my birthday this year!).

    I think Olivia de Havilland's performance is one of the best things about the movie—I love how she shows Linnet gradually warming and softening, but still remaining recognizably the same sturdy, straightforward person she was at the beginning.

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    1. Elisabeth, this definitely grew on me in rewatches too. At first I was like, "But so much of it is saaaaaaad," but now I find it really uplifting. That's so cool that you have the soundtrack!!!

      Yes, Linnett's transformation is so well written and acted. This movie should be better known (and get a better transfer to DVD!) if only for her performance.

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  4. Olivia de Havilland is very pretty in this film, I think :-) Even though she's not all dressed up, she's still pretty.

    Oh, and one more thing:

    Do . . . not . . . sell . . . my . . . dog.

    Period.

    Under any circumstances.

    I'm not kidding.

    :-)

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    1. Jessica, it's a good thing you're not my child. I spend a lot of time during this movie saying, "John, you've just gotta do it. It'll hurt, but sell the dog already!"

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    2. No. Don't sell the dog. Ever.

      (I'm serious about this.)

      But now that you mention it . . . it's probably a good thing I'm not ANYBODY'S child anymore, actually. I mean, I'm not a kid--I'm 22--so I can make my own decisions and I don't HAVE to worry about others making decisions for me that I don't like. So it's a moot point, I guess :-)

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    3. You know, isn't it odd that we have all these movies that say, "You can't separate a child and their dog! That's cruel!" And then proceed to separate the child and the dog. What kind of jerks are running Hollywood, anyway? ;-)

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    4. I don't think I get what you mean?

      (I'm super tired and brain-dead right now, so that's probably why ;-) )

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    5. Jessica, I just meant that it often seems like storytellers (in this case, filmmakers) play up the "don't separate a child and their dog!" idea solely so that, when that child and dog get separated, it will feel more horrible. If they truly believed that was a terrible thing to do, why do they do it all the time?

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    6. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

      Do you mean movies where the kid and the dog get accidentally separated by circumstances, or where they're deliberately separated by some third party?

      I think in general, though, it's a storyline that gets used a lot because it's emotionally compelling--as in, we can all empathize with a kid's love for his dog, just like we can all relate to a guy's love for his girlfriend or what-not. Which is why there are a TON of movies which separate or threaten to separate the hero from his girlfriend; all because storytellers know that's something they can use to draw us in.

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    7. Of course it's emotionally compelling. Separation and loss are always emotionally juicy.

      Really, I was just being kind of silly in my comment that started all this. Like, "they tell us this is cruel, and then they go ahead and do it anyway -- they're the cruel ones!"

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    8. Oh, yes, I understand :-)

      I guess, really, when it comes right down to it, we writers are just a cruel breed and there's nothing anybody can do about it ;-)

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    9. Yes, we really are. I'm too softhearted to be a good writer, I fear -- always pardoning characters I should have killed off.

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    10. Isn't that funny? I'm SUPER softhearted in real life--or at least, I think I am--but when it comes to writing, I have pretty much no qualms whatsoever about killing characters whom I feel like need to die. I'm writing a WW2/Holocaust story right now where LOTS OF PEOPLE DIE, in fact. Sad but true.

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    11. Haha! That is funny. I just get to be friends with all my characters, even the villains, and then I don't want to kill off my friends. Sometimes I have to, though. In my last book, I went from "All the bad guys die! And this major good guy too!" to "Okay, those two bad guy henchmen die, and this minor character." Cried over that minor character dying, too.

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  5. Unlike many folks, this was the first film I ever saw Olivia de Havilland in, and I liked her right off (though I had heard her in old time radio shows before). It was also, coincidentally, the first film I ever saw Alan Ladd in, though I was very familiar with him in radio.

    It's a sweet story and a fine one for family viewing. And, as with most stories, there is some depth to it that I see more and more of with each time I watch it.

    Great review! Happy 100th birthday Olivia de Havilland!

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    1. Annie, wow! That's amazing. I figure most people see her first in either Gone with the Wind (like me) or The Adventures of Robin Hood (like my kids). And how intriguing that this was the first Ladd film you saw! Because I think it might be my first for him too. I discovered recently, while flipping through an old journal, that I saw this way back in 1997, though when I watched it again this year, I didn't remember ever seeing it before. I didn't see Shane until I was out of college, so yeah, this was my first Ladd film, even if it didn't really register with me at the time. (I was 17 -- I was probably really mad about him selling the dog.)

      And yes! It has more layers than you see the first time. Good stuff.

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  6. I didn't think I'd seen this, but, from reading your review, I realised that in fact I did see it on TV some time in the last few years. A very different part for de Havilland and a good film - great choice for the blogathon.

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    1. Judy, yes! It's externally a very different part for de Havilland. She's not rich or powerful or a renowned beauty. But I feel like, underneath, Linnett is the same sort of self-sufficient, morally upright character that I've seen de Havilland excel at time and again. The fact that she can make the role feel fresh is a great accomplishment!

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  7. Okay, first of all, I've got to say, I LOVE your blog cover! I hopped over to your blog and saw this glorious blossom right in front of me. So breathtaking! :)

    This film looks really interesting! I haven't seen it before, but I'll definitely be on the look out for it now! Don't know if I told you before, but when you reviewed Angel and the Badman, I ended up watching it - and loving it! :D

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    1. Thanks! That's a star-sisters dahlia. I planted them in my container garden for the first time this year, and WOW! They are stunning. I decided a shot of one would be a nice, summery look for the blog :-)

      I'm so excited that you saw Angel and the Badman and loved it! I hope you can find this one too :-) It's not quite on the same level as AATB, but it's still solidly enjoyable.

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  8. Nice tribute selection! Here's yet another film of hers I missed, so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

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  9. Ah, I've been looking forward to this review a lot ever since you watched it (on my recommendation!) and said that you liked it. :)

    It's hard to know just how much I'd have liked this film if it didn't already have the added interest of being something that I'd watched when I was a kid and had been half-searching for ever since. But I think the cast is great and the story interesting, so I probably would've liked it about as much as I do right now.

    Seeing Dean Jagger play a bad guy was a bit disconcerting as I've only seen him in nice roles (White Christmas, The North Star, and - I think - 12 O'Clock High) but it ended up working.

    Your comments on Alan Ladd and David Ladd's portrayal of a father-son relationship was interesting and not something I'd considered before (about how a REAL parent and child interact as opposed to just actors).

    Overall, I think you like The Proud Rebel about as much as I do. :) And I agree with thinking of it as a western even though it's reeeeally not.

    ~Eva

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    1. Eva, I have been looking forward to reading your comments on it!

      I probably wouldn't have noticed the extra-realism of the real-life father-and-son dynamic if I wasn't a parent myself. But the way Alan would touch David as if he wasn't even aware he was doing it, just a fond hand on a shoulder or whatever, really stood out to me. Also the way that he was willing to move David around a little, nudging him or restraining him, and the scene where he grabs him by both arms -- they just felt very natural and not pretend. And that hug after the fire -- the way he digs his fingers into his son's back, like he wants to clutch him as close as possible and never let go -- it's so possessive. So real.

      Yup, I think we're about on the same level for this one :-)

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  10. That sounds like a neat movie. Your review makes me want to watch it. Your observations about Alan Ladd acting with his son sounded very accurate. Good review.

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  11. I've never seen this film and I can't think of another film where Olivia might have played a similar character. With a cast like this, I must seen this soon! Thanks for the tips where a person can watch it.

    As for Olivia, you make a good point about her performance. She's good at nuance, and even though some of her characters could be identical in the hands of another actress, Olivia seems to bring something unique to each one.

    Great review!

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    1. Silver, that's cool! I haven't seen very many of her films, but it did seem like an unusual role for her. I hope you can see it soon!

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  12. I've not seen or heard of this one, but have liked Olivia in the rare few films I've seen her in. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. :)

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    1. Rissi, I'm the same way -- I haven't seen a lot of her movies, but the ones I've seen, I've liked her in :-) I'm still working my way through all the blogathon entries, and I've added several of her movies to my TBW list!

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  13. I've seen quite a few films starring either Olivia de Havilland or Alan Ladd, but I've never even HEARD of this one! A nice write-up...and I too would have some qualms about selling the dog! Especially to the BAD GUYS! And since I was wondering: did this have a 'Shane'-like feel to it, since it featured Ladd, a woman, a boy, and a ranch/farm? Or were the filmmakers able to steer clear of that?

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    1. Thank you, Todd! I probably didn't make it quite clear that they don't sell the dog to the bad guys, they sell it to a man who raises sheepdogs. HE sells it to the bad guys.

      It doesn't feel nearly as much like Shane to me as Whispering Smith does -- that one really feels like a dry run for Shane to me. But there's no love triangle here, which makes a big difference. Though there's a moment when Alan Ladd buckles on his gun that does make me think of Shane, but it's just a momentary thought, not a real similarity, I think.

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Agree or disagree? That is the question...

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)