8 February has been a bad day for me for 25 years, now. I can tell you some pretty exact details about 8 February, 1983, if you care to hear them, though I'm sure you don't. It's the day my dad died, and since I'm emotionally unstable to begin with, I don't think I will ever stop handling this day badly. In fact, now I think about it, this isn't the smartest movie in the world for me to be watching today, given that there's the death of a much-beloved father in it. Still, this is one of my mom's favourite movies, so here we are.
Lemuel Siddons (Fred MacMurray) has been, for an unknown number of years, touring with "Melody Murphy's Collegiates," a (probably) Dixieland band. They haven't, as Lem puts it to Melody, been collegiates for quite some time. He tells Melody that, the first honest job someone offers him, he'll take. So when they see a "help wanted" sign in Hickory, (probably) Illinois (they mention having to get to Chicago before dark), Lem takes it, not least because he sees a pretty woman in the bank that he thinks he can hit it off with. As part of his effort to woo her, he ends up also becoming the first-ever troopleader of Hickory's first ever Boy Scout troop. The whole rest of the movie involves his decades of service.
This is not a great movie by any means, but it's far better than a lot of other Disney movies from its era. (It was made in 1966.) For one thing, Lillian Gish is in it. It's the final film role, though he did several television appearances after it, of one of the old mainstays of Disney, film in general, and this journal Charles Ruggles. Actually, quite a lot of its stars have appeared here before; Vera Miles, who plays Vida Simmons, was in [i]Psycho[/i], for heaven's sake, and it's one of Kurt Russell's first film appearances as the defiant Whitey. Not to mention Fred MacMurray, who's put in more appearances here than practically anyone else, and we've got plenty of his movies yet to go.
There are some amazingly funny sequences in this; the best is in the 1944 section, wherein the troop captures a tank during war games that happen around their camping spot. There are also dramatic sequences, such as Whitey's pain over his alcoholic father. There's the running gag of Lem's inability to tie a sheepshank. There is the odd fact that half the boys in town seem to own no other clothes than their Boy Scout uniforms, while quite a lot of the other boys never seem to wear theirs. Also, the characters' aging is handled very well, and the actors chosen to play the kids after they've grown up actually tend to look like the actors playing the kids do--though, of course, grown-up Whitey looks nothing like grown-up Kurt Russell, though we couldn't've known that then.
This is one of the more obscure Disney movies, which I first saw lo, these many years ago, when the Disney Channel played their old stuff. (For that rant, see practically any other review of a live-action Disney movie from this era.) It's a shame it isn't better-known, since it's better-made than a lot of the others. I keep failing to watch [i]The Ugly Dachshund[/i] in its Hallmark Channel appearances, but they never play this one.