In the small town of Lawtonville, Illinois, Rusty, high school junior Danny Mitchell's beloved pet German Shepherd, is celebrating a birthday soon. Danny is giving Rusty a new engraved ...
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In the small town of Lawtonville, Illinois, Rusty, high school junior Danny Mitchell's beloved pet German Shepherd, is celebrating a birthday soon. Danny is giving Rusty a new engraved collar for his birthday off of which they can hang his license. However, before Rusty's birthday, Rusty, through a series of misadventures, goes missing without any identification. He eventually ends up with the Neeleys - father Virgil, teen-aged son Bill, and infant son Jeff - a poor itinerant family, as Virgil looks for work in the area. Danny assumes that the Neeleys stole Rusty, which was not the case. Beyond Danny jumping to this conclusion from which he does not budge, he runs into a larger problem with young Jeff, who believes Rusty, who he has renamed Gladly, is rightfully his. But Danny butts heads with Bill even more. Bill and Danny's dislike of each other seems to stem not from each other per se as they don't even really know each other, but what the other represents. As Virgil hopes to stay ...Written by
RUSTY'S BIRTHDAY (Columbia, 1949), directed by Seymour Friedman, the eighth and final installment in the series, finds German shepherd dog Rusty (Flame) acquiring more screen time than in previous efforts. In this chapter, he finds himself in an unexpected adventure that sends him far from home and nearly acquiring new owners in the process.
The story opens with Hugh Mitchell (John Litel) and his teenage son, Danny (Ted Donaldson) preparing the homecoming of wife and mother, Ethel (Ann Doran) from her trip. Upon her arrival, she shows Danny Rusty's new collar she bought for his upcoming birthday, a gift Danny intends on giving to him on the occasion, and not before. While opening the other gifts, Rusty notices a vagrant (Robert Williams) sneaking out of the Mitchell's tool shed and chases after him over to Jack's Service Station where a middle-aged couple have stopped their trailer for gas. Noticing the handbag dropped on the street and the trailer driving down the road, Rusty takes hold of the lady's purse before the vagrant gets his hands on it, chasing after the trailer while the vagrant chases after the dog. Catching up to Mr. and Mrs. Wembley (Raymond Largay and Lelah Tyler), Rusty returns the handbag. For such a good deed, and believing the vagrant to be its owner, the vagrant earns his "reward" by selling "his dog" to the elderly couple. With Rusty, know called "Jackpot," traveling with his new owners, he eventually breaks away at the next stop hundreds of miles from both Lawtonville and Danny. During his long and tedious venture, Rusty injures his paw and while going down a hill to get a drink of water from a pond below, he gets himself trapped in a net overnight. The next morning, Rusty is released by Jeff (Jimmy Hunt) a little boy traveling across the country with his older brother, Bill (Mark Dennis) and their widowed father, Virgil Neeley (Ray Tea)l, an unemployed migrant worker looking for work. Against his better nature, Mr. Neeley agrees to let Jeff adopt the dog, even though he can't afford to feed himself and his sons. Upon their arrival in Lawtonville, Danny finds Rusty with the Neeleys and accuses them of stealing his dog. Further complications arise when Neeley is arrested for having an expired driver's license and placed under suspicion for taking Danny's dog. With both father and older son in the police station for questioning, the Mitchells take Jeff under their care until matters are cleared, causing Danny to become jealous of the youngster whom Rusty has developed a deep affection.
With so many situations occurring in this tight 60 minute programmer, the moral theme to the story is "never jump to conclusions," which is what Danny does on numerous occasions. Aside from accusations made towards the Neeley's for being dog thieves, and accusing the elder teenage son of breaking into his house, Danny's other problem is overcoming his jealousy towards the younger son who takes up much attention with both his parents and Rusty. Danny, about to be a junior in high school, is at an awkward age where he believes his parents no longer care for him, later deciding he would be better off leaving home and attending the Rowan-Lee Military Academy. With his heart-to-heart talk with his father, Danny comes to realize he's at fault for neglecting to have Rusty with a collar and name tag as required by law, and for that Rusty could rightfully belong to the Neeley's. As Danny is maturing to adulthood, so was its star, Ted Donaldson, in one of his final screen roles of his career. One wonders if Donaldson might have succeeded in adult roles. Although the scripts to this series are not very consistent from one film to the next, repetition sets in as Rusty goes through the motions of obedience with Danny going over what he has learned through the training process by giving him commands to lie down, walk backward, bark, among other things as demonstrated verbatim in THE SON OF RUSTY (1947).
Aside from Rusty, little Jimmy Hunt gets most of the attention as a little boy with an wild imagination and an imaginary dog called Gladly, the name he gives Rusty. One heart-felt scene finds him being sung to sleep by Carrie Simmons (Lillian Bronson), a matronly lady who takes an interest in the Neeley family, to the Stephen Foster song, "Beautiful Dreamer." Unashamedly sentimental, RUSTY'S BIRTHDAY gets off to a good start with its dog separated from owner and his journey back home theme, a reminiscent to MGM's own LASSIE COME HOME (1943). While the story strays away from its original premise, followers of the series will find this production satisfactory while those unfamiliar with the method of old-fashioned family movies of long ago may find the dialog trite and situations not true to life. How RUSTY'S BIRTHDAY is accepted as entertainment depends on the individual viewer.
And so ends the life and times of Rusty and the Mitchell family of the town of Lawtonville. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies cable channel for its June 30, 2007, presentation, along with other "Rusty" movies that have been unavailable for viewing in many years. And to Rusty, "Happy Birthday." (** collars)
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