Hills of Hope [Master of Lassie] (1948)

Toronto Film Society presented Hills of Hope [Master of Lassie] (1948) on Sunday, March 20, 1983 in a double bill with The Court Jester as part of the Season 35 Sunday Afternoon Film Buffs Series “A”, Programme 8.

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Producer: Robert Fisk.  Director: Fred M. Wilcox.  Screenplay: William Ludwig, suggested by Ian MacLaren sketches “Doctor of the Old School.”  Photography: Charles Schoenbaum.  Music: Herbert Sthothart.  Colour by Technicolor.  Opened Radio City Music Hall, Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1948.

Cast:  Edmund Gwenn (Dr. William MacLure), Donald Crisp (Drumsheugh), Tom Drake (Thomas Mitchell), Janet Leigh (Margit Mitchell), Rhys Williams (Mr. Milton), Reginald Owen (Hopps), Edmond Breon (Jamie Soutar), Alan Napier (Sir George), Hugh Green (Geordie), Lumsden Hare (Lord Kinspindle), Eileen Erskine (Belle Saunders), Victor Wood (David Mitchell), David Thursky (Burnbrae), Frederick Warlock (Dr. Weston), and Lassie.

A tender and sentimental story of an old Scottish doctor and his dog, each in his way devoted to those he has chosen to serve, is the wholly disarming subject of metro’s Hills of Home.  Boys and girls of all ages should be softly beguiled by it, for it’s a film in the best tradition of inspirational romance.  Furthermore, it is done very nicely in its story-book-colored Scottish sets.  Sincere and simple and unhurried, it is refreshing to have around.

Perhaps the one thing about it that will come as a bit of surprise is the fact that Lassie, the collie, does not play the leading role.  Man (if you’ll pardon the expression) steals the show from dog.  For it is really not the animal with whom the story is chiefly concerned but the elderly highland doctor to whom the dog is undyingly attached.  And since the role of this old fellow is played by Edmund Gwenn, it is not at all amazing that even Lassie should be eclipsed.

As the medieval saint of Glen Urtach whom neither sleet nor dark of night nor viciously raging rivers keep from his appointed rounds, Mr. Gwenn gives a sweet and touching picture of a truly noble old man.  In each of the standard little episodes with which the story is made up, he fills the old doctor with sly humor, conviction, and honest sentiment. . . .  To be sure, Lassie ably assists him as his gentle companion who finally overcomes a dread of water to bring him aid on a howling winter night.  Lassie, in one way or another, horns in on most episodes with which the story is made up, excepting the time the Queen’s own doctor comes up from London to operate.  And equally able in their assistance are Donald Crisp as highland friend, Tom Drake as a lad inspired to medicine, and Rhys Williams as the latter’s harsh old man.  Allowing for strange variations in the fluidity of their burrs, they people the story very nicely, as do Reginald Owen, Janet Leigh and several more.  But it is really the pleasant performance of the picturesque Mr. Gwenn which makes this film heartwarming–that, and the uncontested fact that Fred M. Wilcox has ably directed a nice, old-fashioned moral yarn.

New York Times, Bosley Crowther, November 26, 1948

Reviewing the film in Great Britain under the title Master of Lassie, the Monthly Film Bulletin of December 31, 1948 had this to say: “The simple, unsophisticated story, with its strong moral tone, provides Edmund Gwenn, as the old doctor, with an excellent opportunity to present yet another of those lovably human characterizations for which he is justly famous; and Lassie, who shows her usual amazing intelligence, is sure to score a huge personal success. . . .  Beautiful scenery, superbly photographed in Technicolor, forms no small part of the films attraction.”  (The California Sierras nicely fill in for the Scottish Highlands).

Notes compiled by Barry Chapman

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