Monday, May 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Smoky (1946)

NOTE: This review of SMOKY is my contribution to this weekend's Horseathon, sponsored by Page at My Love of Old Hollywood. Visit Page's blog for a complete list of participating bloggers and movie titles.

In all honesty, I've never been a very big fan of animal movies. They so often have moments of pathos, and I'm simply too tender-hearted to handle watching animals in distress! But as a Fred MacMurray fan I've been wanting to catch up with his film SMOKY, and the Horseathon provided a great reason to do so.

SMOKY does have some sad scenes which were tough for me to watch, but on the plus side it's a very nicely made film, distinguished by beautiful Technicolor filming in Wyoming. In addition to MacMurray, the movie features a young Anne Baxter and introduces "The Singing Troubadour," Burl Ives, in his first film. I wasn't wild about the story, but I appreciated the movie's many positive aspects.

MacMurray plays Clint Barkley, a wanderer who hires on as a hand at a horse ranch owned by Julie Richards (Baxter). Clint has a troubled background related in some way to Frank Denton (Bruce Cabot), who shows up at the ranch looking for a job.

He may have a mysterious past, but Clint's got a great way with horses, and he falls in love with a wild horse he names Smoky. Clint trains Smoky and they have a mutual affection for one another; Smoky even aids Clint when he's injured. And then Smoky disappears, and an anguished Clint searches the country, determined to find him.

SMOKY has great atmosphere, thanks to the combination of the lovely Wyoming scenery and Ives' music, which accompanies lazy Sundays in the bunkhouse and evenings on the range. MacMurray is excellent in a touching performance, though I think his character has more of a relationship with Smoky than he does with Julie! Although it's obvious that a stunt double does the most difficult riding scenes, MacMurray is nonetheless quite believable as a man who knows his way around horses.

In one of the stranger sequences in SMOKY, Julie narrates the horse's early history, telling Clint things it doesn't seem Julie could know about the animal. It's almost as though Julie turns into an omniscient narrator, rather than speaking from her personal knowledge; it seemed as though what Julie was saying must have been based on passages from the book on which the film was based. Baxter does a nice job in a fairly limited role as the spunky young ranch owner. She was 22 or 23 when she made this film, and would soon thereafter win the Supporting Actress Oscar for THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946), released just a few months after SMOKY.

A couple years later Ives was also very effective in the Dick Powell "Western noir" STATION WEST (1948). Ives appeared in several films between 1946 and 1950, the other titles being GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING (1948), Disney's SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948), and the Audie Murphy film SIERRA (1950). He was then off the screen for five years before returning in EAST OF EDEN (1955); he went on to win the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for the memorable Western THE BIG COUNTRY (1958). Ives' place in pop culture history was cemented when he narrated the TV classic RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964), singing the unforgettable "Holly Jolly Christmas."

SMOKY was directed by Louis King and photographed by Charles G. Clarke. It was based on a novel by Will James. The running time is 87 minutes.

This movie is not available on DVD or VHS. It has been shown on Fox Movie Channel, and if I remember correctly it also turned up on Turner Classic Movies a few months ago.

As a postscript, my dogs rarely pay attention to the television, but SMOKY absolutely transfixed my dog Luke, who seemed very aware there was another animal on the screen. When a mountain lion appeared on camera, Luke jumped! I got quite a kick out of watching Luke's interest in the whinnying horse on the screen. This movie is recommended for dogs as well as those who love horse movies!

Update: Here's a review of the 1933 version of SMOKY starring Victor Jory, as seen at the 2018 Lone Pine Film Festival.


Blogger Page said...

I've gotten emotional a couple of times over the past couple of days just reminiscing about some of the lovable horses being written about so I can relate. Oddly, I haven't seen many Disney films nor did I watch the Lassie films or series. Shoot, Ive never seen an episode of Mr. Ed so this Horseathon has been a real treat and sadly, I've felt ashamed that I've let so many equine films have slipped by.

I love MacMurray and I actually did see Smoky on the TV schedule but I didn't get to record it. Hopefully I'll get another chance to see it one day.

Thanks so much for participating in the Horseathon and for writing such a nice review. I really enjoyed your info on the stars, Ives as well.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

I'm always ready for watching a Fred MacMurray movie and this will be a great one to add to the list. Ever since seeing Burl Ives in "Summer Magic" when I was a kid I was immediately attracted to his voice - and of course his singing in the Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer Christmas special - so Ives will be just one more reason to have to watch.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you each get to catch up with SMOKY, Page and Robby! I think you'll enjoy it if you like Fred MacMurray; he's really good in this. Thanks again for hosting the blogathon and inviting me to participate, Page!

I haven't seen SUMMER MAGIC in years, Robby! I do have the DVD, which other family members have enjoyed. It's on my list of Disney films to catch up with, along with another early '60s Disney film which was covered in the Horseathon, MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS. I've also got Hayley Mills' THE MOON-SPINNERS, which I've never seen, on my "to watch" checklist!

Best wishes,

7:20 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I saw Smoky at the Rivoli Theatre (Now Gone) in Rutherford, New Jesery and I've never seen it a second time. Loved it.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a wonderful memory to have of this film, Barrylane. I hope you have the opportunity to revisit it in the future.

There really needs to be a 20th Century-Fox program akin to the Warner Archive. There are so many good Fox movies that need to be more available. (Of course, I could say the same thing about Paramount and Universal films...)

Best wishes,

9:21 PM  
Blogger Jeff Flugel said...

As seems to be my refrain during this Horseathon, I haven't seen SMOKY before but would love to, as a diehard fan of westerns. I also enjoy Fred MacMurray and Burl Ives in most things (Ives is also very good in WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES, with Christppher Plummer).

Really nice write-up on the film, Laura! I like how you pointed out the strange logic of having Baxter's character narrate Smoky's backstory, and also your anecdote about your dog's reaction to the movie. It's funny how pets will usually ignore the TV except for the odd response here and there.


3:07 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

"I think his character has more of a relationship with Smoky than he does with Julie!"

Isn't that always the way?

Love Burl Ives and I hope to see this movie sometime. If Luke the Dog recommends it, I'm sold.

You should start a new feature: "Luke's Picks".

5:03 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

I think I know what you mean about the narration of Smoky's history. The book really doesn't have too much of a plot; it basically follows Smoky's life from his birth in the wild to his capture and through a series of owners. It's a slower read than, say, Marguerite Henry's horse books. It sounds like the plot of the film was created to give the human actors something to do! Clint is the only character mentioned who was in the book. But the movie sounds enjoyable in itself. You review so many interesting-sounding movies that aren't readily available!

5:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jeff, thank you so much for your comments, as well as blogrolling me, which I just discovered when I bookmarked your blog for future exploration. :) Thanks also for the recommendation of WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES.

It's funny, the only time I can remember Luke having a similar reaction to a movie was a single scene with a dog in MURPHY'S ROMANCE. He was so fascinated, putting his paws up on the TV table, that I rewound it several times just to watch his reaction.
Jacqueline, you cracked me up with "Luke's Picks"! LOL.

Elisabeth, thanks so much for providing information on how the book compares to the film, that's very interesting.

I like to hope that by covering films which aren't easily available, I'm helping in a small way to keep the flame alive, so to speak, letting people know these films exist and are worth finding, helping to drive a desire for the movies to become available. Perhaps, as I mentioned above, at some point Fox and other studios will have programs similar to the Warner Archive. Movies are such an important part of American cultural history, and as the decades pass I'd sure like to see titles become more easily available, rather than harder and harder to come by.

Best wishes,

8:27 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

In the original book of Smoky, the only female character is a kind hearted woman who contributes to Smoky's descent into ill health because of her ignorance.
I don't think Smoky's owner, even talks to a woman in the book, in fact he rarely speaks except to the horse. The original book brilliantly portrays the relationship of a man and his horse, illustrating a lot of good horsemanship in the old vaquero tradition. It's played out against a backdrop of the cowboy life, which means no gunfights and a great deal of hard physical labor. Obviously not movie material. The novel can almost be an instruction book. For a Hollywood movie, it captures the book quite well, despite all the human characters invented for movie plot. The 1970's remake of the movie Smoky is really awful. I'd hoped they were attempting another version of the book, but it was just a remake of the movie. Be sure to miss it.
As for pet preferences - literally!- my cats like to watch horse racing, especially steeplechasing because the races are long. My dog likes to watch "Sgt Preston of the Yukon" because it's the only dog he ever sees. (I have lots of cats.)

11:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your detailed knowledge of the book and also the movie remake, Panavia! Not to mention sharing your pets' viewing preferences -- that's fun to hear about. :)

Best wishes,

2:41 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You have opened my eyes, Laura. I always thought I had seen "Smoky" when I was a kid, but I realize now it must have been the 60s version with the likable Fess Parker. I also thought Ives didn't come to the movies until "So Dear to My Heart". I certainly have a lot to learn!

3:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad I could give you some new info, Caftan Woman! I've been learning more about Ives' early career myself. Need to watch GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING and SO DEAR TO MY HEART next.

How's this for amazing: this very day NY Post columnist Lou Lumenick shared info on a new "manufactured on demand" program for Fox films!

Let's hope SMOKY is part of this eventually!

Best wishes,

4:02 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

If you are going to watch Green Grass of Wyoming and in honor of horseathon, maybe you should watch the saga in sequence "My Friend Flicka" , "Thunderhead", "Green Grass of Wyoming". My my, talk about good horse stories turned into Hollywood fodder! In the books, Gus is a lean and laconic Swede, just like Burl Ives. ;-)
I just love the books, which portray a pretty rugged ranch life and very interesting family life.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Panavia,

I didn't realize the FLICKA movies were connected to GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING, thanks very much for the tip! I happen to have recorded the FLICKA films from Fox, because I enjoy Preston Foster and Rita Johnson.

Best wishes,

9:38 PM  
Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I loved Burl so much in Station West that I will try and make a point to see this one the next time it rolls around. Enjoyable review, Laura!

My "prove you're not a robot" word is "Scotch." (I hope it's not the tape to which they're referring.)

2:22 PM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Hi Laura,
I loved this movie the first time I saw it, in part because of MacMurray's excellent performance, as the horse took on more power throughout the movie reflected through Fred's sincere portrayal of love for the beautiful Smoky.

I must agree with your assessment that Julie was decidedly not the real love object here. I actually kept hoping that Ann Baxter would go back East or get hay fever making her stay off the screen so that there could be more time between Fred & Smoky alone!

That became particularly clear during the sequence when (à la Black Beauty) the trans-species couple were separated and almost missed each other completely during the Frontier Days scenes! Noir masters Hathaway, Siodmak and Lewis could not have built more agonizing suspense into that part of this horsey tail!!

Thanks very much for spotlighting one of Fred's gentlest portrayals of a not very bright but loving individual. Few other actors could have done it as well. Your post made me whinny with delight.

See on that lonesome trail, pard!

1:04 PM  
Blogger Silver Screenings said...

This is a nice review! Fred MacMurray and Burl Ives are always worth watching.

7:11 PM  
Blogger egomoi said...

If you think of animal pictures as something like Love Affair once removed, maybe you'd like them better. Personally as genres go, I find them preferable to soapy romances. And they are frequently in great Technicolor like Smoky is.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for the kind words and the feedback! Very much enjoyed the background and the varied thoughts on the movie and actors.

It was interesting for me to later see the '33 version with Victor Jory at the Lone Pine Film Festival!

Best wishes,

11:52 AM  

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