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Fourteen-year-old Chris is haunted by the death of his father and resentful of his stepfather Cal. He befriends a lost dog and names it Smoke, but tries to keep it a secret for fear Cal will take the dog away. Written by
Eric Sorensen <Eric_Sorensen@fc.mcps.k12.md.us>
After helplessly witnessing his father's death, in a fiery car accident, 14-year-old California boy Ronny Howard (as Chris Long) goes into shock. Overcoming some grief, young Howard must adjust to life with a new stepfather, Earl Holliman (as Cal Fitch). Although Mr. Holliman tries to be fatherly, he only opens old wounds. Howard wants his real father. That is not possible, but could Howard have a dog? Mr. Holliman turns his stepson's request down, as a dog's presence would disrupt Holliman's sheep ranching business. When Howard finds a "wild dog", wounded in the woods, he is defiantly determined to keep the animal.
In good hands with director Vincent McEveety, "Smoke" is a great story; it's one of those symbolic animal tales the Disney studio favored, and often did so well. This one surely benefited from William Corbin's original book (adapted by John Furia Jr.) - the young man's transference of love to, and identification with, the wounded animal is nicely done. But, the story's more subtle symbolism (like the "fox in the hen-house") is even better. The climatic, heavy-handed "rescue from fire" isn't as satisfying; but, this is mainly due to budget restraints. "Smoke" could have stood up as a first class feature presentation.
Howard and Holliman do well, as the disconnected son and stepfather. Of course, Howard uses his acting education, from years of appearing in Andy Griffith's "Mayberry"; still, this is a strong, individual characterization - and, it shows Howard to be very capable between his two long-running typecasts ("Opie" and Richie"). Jacqueline Scott (as Fran Long Fitch) makes the most of the more minor mother/wife role, lifting the picture with a couple of very strongly performed dramatic scenes. With Pamelyn Ferdin and Andy Devine in the cast, "Smoke" is cute and irresistible.
******* Smoke (2/1-8/70) Vincent McEveety ~ Ron Howard, Earl Holliman, Jacqueline Scott
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