Lassie Come Home [1943]

Lassie Come Home is a classic for all the usual reasons: its timeless, universal appeal, its first-of-its-kind status, and its exceptional cinematography, direction, and performances. What makes this 1943 charmer especially fun for grownups who haven't screened it since their own preteen, pet-obsessed days, though, is a couple of cute-as-a-button cast members. An adorably over-earnest Roddy McDowall stars as Joe, the mostly hapless lad whom Lassie refuses to part with despite his down-and-out family's decision to sell her, for a paltry 15 guineas, to a wealthy duke; and Elizabeth Taylor, already stunning at around age 10, surrenders a sweet if mawkish performance as Priscilla, the Duke's tenderhearted granddaughter, who lends a hand in Lassie's escape from her family's unkind kennel master and winks her way into winning the fearless pup a permanent place at her true master's side. Beyond that, it's no mystery why generations of dog-loving audiences have marveled at the precocious collie's career--Lassie is a great actor. She so convincingly digs impossible trenches, leaps towering fences, swims raging rivers, knocks out bad guys, and betrays the essence of brokenheartedness with her bedraggled coat and woebegone expressions that it's sometimes hard to shake the suspicion that she's really an incredibly limber person in a cute dog suit. All told, Lassie Come Home delivers a lot to love, not the least of which is the deeply dramatic score--quirky sounding to the modern ear--which returns audiences to simpler, irony-free times, as does the movie's message of loyalty at all costs. --Tammy La Gorce

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