Less Racist Than It Could Be, I Guess
I am, I must admit, perversely fond of [i]Old Yeller[/i]. I own the Vault Disney collection edition; I am startled to discover that I don't appear to have reviewed it. However, I got it out of the library anyway, because their copy is not the Vault Disney edition. It's another one of those movie-plus-sequel editions that Disney has released for various of its films. Both [i]Apple Dumpling Gang[/i] movies, for example, or [i]The Parent Trap[/i] and its first sequel. I hadn't seen this sequel in years. I'm not sure I've seen it more than a handful of times in my life. Most of my memories of it, in fact, are from a series of hardcover Disney storybooks, which included this in one titled [i]Americana[/i] or some such. I wasn't sure if they'd toned down the racism or not; you can't be too sure about things from this era. It only seemed tangentially a sequel anyway.
This time, the Coates boys, Arliss (Kevin Corcoran) and Travis (Tommy Kirk), are completely on their own. Their grandmother might be dying, and their parents are off with her. Travis is in charge, but Arliss has reached that age where he feels he older brother shouldn't be allowed to tell him what to do. They are visited by their uncle, Beck (Brian Keith), who thinks he might have solved things, but not really. Lazy neighbour Bud Searcy (Jeff York) visits the boys to warn them that the Apaches are on the warpath. Bud's daughter, Lisbeth (Marta Kristen), goes out with Travis to find Arliss, who is hunting bobcats with the family dog, Sam. However, Bud was right and the Apaches are out there, and they capture the Coates boys and Lisbeth. Travis manages to get away, and he, Sam, Uncle Beck, and Bud, along with several other local men, go to track down the Apaches and rescue Arliss and Lisbeth. Once again, Travis must become a man in his father's absence and take care of his younger brother--and, it is strongly implied, future bride.
It's interesting to see how they dance around the prospect of rape. Lisbeth Searcy says that she's afraid one of the Apaches will "make her his squaw." There is talk about her marrying one of her kidnappers. However, "marriage" isn't quite what everyone is so afraid of. I would imagine this confuses some children watching it, though I don't remember having much of an opinion on the subject myself. Of course, I was much younger when I learned what rape was than most people who were children in 1963. I haven't read the original book of this--though I have read [i]Old Yeller[/i]--so I don't know how it's discussed there, but it's an odd thing to crop up in a Disney movie. I mean, I supposed it would have been stranger if no one had been concerned about it, all things considered. However, plenty of things happen during movie timelines that never make it onto the screen. I'm sure the negotiations so the prisoners could go to the bathroom were involved as well, but we don't see them.
Unlike its predecessor, this is not really the story of a Good Dog. Sam, who is Yeller's son, does successfully track the Apaches and their captives, despite a hailstorm and other complications. He and Arliss do fight one of the Apaches on their own. However, this is really the second story of How Travis Coates Grew Up. His parents are so completely vanished from the story that they might as well be dead. (As if you could kill Fess Parker in 1963!) The boys are doing exhausting labour. Travis is basically, as they call it in the [i]Little House[/i] books, "baching it." (I might have the spelling wrong.) As in, "bachelor." The dog is hardly ever vital to the story the way Yeller is to his. Really, we are watching Travis discover exactly what it will be like to have his own place someday, except his own place will hopefully not involve someone quite so resistant to his authority. Even if Travis has kids, one assumes they won't huck rocks at him.
And the racism? Yeah, it's there. However, it really is much mellower than it might be. One of the men, possibly Lester White (Dewey Martin), expresses the belief that the Apache wouldn't be raiding all the time if the whites weren't working so hard to push them off the land. However, another of the men, possibly Pack Underwood (Royal Dano), is of the "only good Indian is a dead Indian" variety, as his whole family was killed and scalped a few years before the first man came out from Virginia. The Virginian, whichever he is (have I mentioned how badly credited old movies can be?), even agrees that the Apache don't own the land, though he says that, after a few thousand years, they might get to thinking they did. As if title deeds are required before someone can really have any say over a land, as if there's something reasonable to be said that it was okay to slaughter the buffalo just because they weren't owned. Still, for 1963, it's not all that bad. Even if none of the Apache are played by real Apache or anything like that.