Monday, February 22, 2016

Tonight's Movie: My Pal, Wolf (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MY PAL, WOLF (1944) is a fine family film which was recently released by the Warner Archive.

I very much enjoyed this tale of a poor little rich girl, Gretchen (Sharyn Moffett), and her dog Wolf (portrayed by Grey Shadow). Lonely Gretchen finds Wolf, a large German shepherd, in the woods and is thrilled at the prospect of having her very own dog.

Gretchen has loving parents (Leona Maricle and Bruce Edwards), but they have become consumed by their careers, leaving Gretchen to be raised by the ramshackle staff at their country house. Strict new governess Miss Munn (Jill Esmond) initially seems like just what Gretchen and the household might need, bringing some discipline and order into everyone's life, but unfortunately Miss Munn does not prove to be a very understanding sort of woman.

When Miss Munn realizes that Wolf is actually an Army dog and returns him, Gretchen is devastated. She runs away to Washington, D.C., where she wants to make her case for keeping Wolf to the Secretary of War (Edward Fielding).

MY PAL, WOLF neatly pulls together several themes in one package: It's a family film, an animal story, and a WWII homefront movie all woven together. It's also a very good film, with a fresh take on familiar story conventions. I don't mind saying that my eyes misted over a couple of times in the movie's final minutes, but the sentimental tears were well earned.

Sharyn Moffett, making her film debut here, was a very natural and charming child actress; Gretchen might be naughty at times, but she never stops being likeable. This is particularly the case as her background and character are so neatly laid out, despite the film's short 75-minute running time. Her dreams of living with her Mommy and Daddy in a "pumpkin shell" like in her Mother Goose book ("and there he kept her very well") are touching.

Charles Arnt and Olga Fabian play the sympathetic neighbors who welcome Gretchen into their home to play with their sons (Bobby Larson, Jerry Mickelsen, and Larry Olsen). Una O'Connor is the housekeeper who initially seems unkempt and annoying but ultimately proves to have a real heart for Gretchen, more so than her governess.

One of the film's strengths is that the characters are fully rounded, never black and white. Gretchen is a normal child who's charming but makes mistakes, while her parents have also made some poor choices but really do love their daughter. The housekeeper could do a more responsible job, but is there for Gretchen when she needs a caring adult, and the governess is initially pleasant enough, if firm, but ultimately can't unbend enough to truly get to know and understand Gretchen, let alone show her genuine affection. Gretchen is simply a job for Miss Munn, nothing more.

I particularly appreciated the scene where the Secretary of War explained to Gretchen what Wolf was trained to do and why he needed to go to war; it was extremely well done.

MY PAL, WOLF was directed by Alfred L. Werker and filmed in black and white by Jack MacKenzie.

Sharyn Moffett films previously reviewed here, which are all available via the Warner Archive: THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO (1945), THE LOCKET (1946), and BANJO (1947).

MY PAL, WOLF is another lovely print from the Warner Archive. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Clayton Walter said...

I'm in a sort of dog film watching spree, with Rinty, Rinty Jr, Strongheart, and Chinook, etc. Thanks for this clue-in to another fun picture! Our furry pals need more attention, wot? There are so many great movies like this.

Clayton @ Phantom Empires

4:02 PM  
Blogger KC said...

I like your take on this. Agree that Moffett was a wonderfully natural actor. I'm so pleased to have gotten to know more about her!

7:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Clayton, if you like dog movies I feel pretty sure you'll enjoy this. I really liked it.

Thanks, KC! I also went over and checked out your review -- you're right, the dog did have big teeeth! LOL.

Hope to see the rest of Sharyn's films -- including a rewatch of MR. BLANDINGS which I haven't caught for a few years now.

Best wishes,

7:34 PM  

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