Courage of Lassie

Courage of Lassie (1946) features Pal the collie as Bill, a lovable sheepherder traumatized by the horrors of battle while serving as a combat dog in World War II. (Although it stars the same canine who played Lassie in the other films, the actual character of Lassie does not appear in this one at all—the studio was merely trying to capitalize on what had become a very “bankable” name.) When Bill is accidentally abandoned in the woods as a puppy, young Kathie Merrick (Elizabeth Taylor) takes him in. The two become best friends and with the help of Kathie’s elderly rancher friend, Harry MacBain (Frank Morgan), Bill grows up to be a fine sheepdog. Tragedy strikes when Bill, unbeknownst to Kathie, is hit by a truck and taken to a local vet. Subsequently, the army recruits and trains him as a combat dog. While Kathie continues to worry about her missing friend, Bill ships off to war with his new master, Sergeant Smitty (Tom Drake); although the collie shows considerable courage in battle, the experience traumatizes him and he returns home an unstable, snarling beast. En route to an army rehabilitation center, Bill escapes and goes on a rampage, stopping at various ranches and killing livestock. Before the ranchers can hunt the dog down, Kathie intervenes and rehabilitates him with her love. During a court hearing to determine whether or not Bill should be destroyed for his inexplicably vicious behavior, MacBain discovers an army brand on Bill and testifies that the dog is actually a war hero. He explains that many returning “human” soldiers are currently suffering from the same trauma as Bill, and that the dog deserves the same compassion and understanding. The court exonerates Bill, reuniting him with Kathie.

Courage of Lassie was the famous collie’s third film, and the second to feature Elizabeth Taylor (she had appeared in 1943’s Lassie Come Home). While the performances are endearing and the film nobly attempts to call attention to the harrowing affects of war on returning soldiers (today called “post-traumatic stress”), the sight of Lassie on trial in a courtroom for murdering chickens comes close to trivializing the important lesson at the core of the film. The project is elevated by Leonard Smith’s sweeping photography, shot on location near Washington’s Lake Chelan, and by a lush—albeit piecemeal—orchestral score.

The music for the film consists of several primary and secondary themes by composers Bronislau Kaper, Scott Bradley, Nathaniel Shilkret, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Robert Franklyn and Conrad Salinger—with Bradley and Kaper listed as co-composers in the film’s opening credits. (Studio staffer David Snell also receives partial credit for the “Main Title” on the production’s legal cue sheet.) Despite the multitude of composer/arrangers, the score remains stylistically consistent and relatively well integrated into the film—with the exception of the “Main Title,” which introduces two pastoral melodies largely abandoned in the body of the score. The film’s lengthy opening scenes of Bill wandering through the woods are daringly devoid of dialogue—the music here focuses on a playful, innocent puppy theme, composed by Bradley. The score’s most prevalent idea, however, is Kaper’s yearning love theme for Bill and Kathie, which dominates the second half of the film and nurtures the bond between the two friends even when they become separated.

The score was recorded in late July of 1945, at which time the film was titled Hold High the Torch (High Sierra was yet another early title for the picture). Kaper and Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed the bulk of the cues recorded at those first sessions; Shilkret also contributed a few cues, and Salinger wrote one (“The Rescue”). Shilkret conducted the original round of recording sessions, while the the following year Bradley rescored a number of scenes from the early part of the film (presumably due to a new edit of the first three reels) and conducted the necessary additional sessions in mid-March of 1946. This FSM CD includes all the surviving music masters from both the ’45 and ’46 sessions. In the following track-by-track commentary, the composers listed after each cue title represent those credited on the film’s legal cue sheet.

1. Main Title (Snell, Kaper, Bradley, Franklyn)
The opening credits play out over a painting of a majestic mountain lake in Washington State. After an introduction of heraldic brass fanfares, the “Main Title” offers two principal ideas that play in counterpoint with one another: a sweeping, pastoral melody marked by descending perfect fourths, and a hopeful, climbing theme (introduced on trumpet).
The Lake (Bradley)
The “Main Title” material is soothingly developed when the painting gives way to shots of the actual mountain lake. As wild animals in the surrounding woods go about their routines, the score responds with playful, bucolic material (mostly for woodwinds), as well as a mischievous tritone-focused theme—introduced here on bassoon—for a porcupine and later developed for a bear that befriends Bill.
Danger in the Woods (Bradley)
The score takes a threatening turn when the critters are spooked by unseen, approaching beasts. Bustling material captures the animals scampering away, but a rascally “family theme” surfaces when the intruders turn out to be a collie named Mary and her puppies, one of whom is Bill.
A lost cue, “Lassie and the Pups,” underscores the action, while Mary’s owner—a kindly rancher—gathers her and her puppies into his rowboat, with Bill inadvertently left behind to explore the forest. “Friends of the Forest”—another missing cue—accompanies his encounters with a cougar and a skunk.
2. The Lost Puppy (Bradley)
Woodwinds take up an innocent “puppy” theme for Bill as he explores his surroundings and interacts with the woodland critters. Bradley suggests the tritone idea for a hopping frog before a sentimental string theme underscores the rancher rowing off with the other dogs; Mary, now aware that Bill has been abandoned, barks toward the woods, but the rancher remains oblivious. The cue subsides with the puppy theme and the collie family theme from “Danger in the Woods” as Bill watches the boat disappear in the distance.
3. The Playful Puppy (Bradley)
Frolicsome developments of both the puppy and collie family themes sound for Bill’s subsequent wanderings through the wilderness. Bradley applies the bumbling tritone theme to a bear that Bill encounters and proceeds to follow around.
The Eagle (Bradley)
Treacherous brass marks the appearance of a hungry eagle, the score building suspense for its unsuccessful attempt to scoop up Bill. Once the bear scares off the eagle and Bill is safe, the tritone theme resurfaces, carefree as ever.
The Fishing Bear (Bradley)
Fanciful writing incorporates the bear theme for a scene of the beast hunting for fish in a stream while Bill observes from the shore.
Fish Jumps (Shilkret)
The bear gives chase when the puppy runs off with his catch of the day. The beast eventually lumbers up a steep log; his theme trades off with a wholesome woodwind motive for Bill, who is unable to climb the log and is once again left alone.
Bill has further encounters with an owl and a predatory coyote—from whom he escapes by jumping in the river. Three cues accompanied this action—“The Owl and the Coyote,” “Swimming Coyote” and “Coming Ashore”—the latter two are lost but the first can be found on track 14 of this disc.
4. Girl on a Raft (Bradley)
Bill makes his way to the lakeshore and happens upon young Kathie Merrick (Elizabeth Taylor) sunbathing on a raft. Bradley introduces a pure string theme for the girl while scampering variations on the puppy theme sound as Bill sneaks over to her clothes and runs off with her jeans. She chases him into the woods and—once she reclaims her pants—continues to search for the puppy, who has run deeper into the forest.
Fawn and the Raven (Bradley)
The tritone idea and the puppy theme continue to develop when Kathie discovers Bill sniffing a fawn. Her heart melts at the sight and she continues to follow the collie through the woods, with solo violin taking up her theme as she watches Bill and a raven drink from a water hole; Bradley characterizes the bird with a comically twitching saxophone-bassoon duet. The collie family theme returns as Bill runs off once more with Kathie in pursuit.
The Puppy Gets Shot (Franklyn and Bradley)
A noble horn line signals the appearance of two young hunters, who accidentally shoot Bill (thinking he is a wild creature moving through the brush). Urgent strings underscore Kathie arriving just in time to prevent the boys from putting the wounded puppy out of its misery. Feeling responsible for the accident, she pleads for a chance to save Bill, accompanied by aching renditions of her and the puppy’s themes. (Mario Castelnuevo-Tedesco originally composed a cue for this scene, “Boys With Gun,” but it was replaced with “The Puppy Gets Shot;” the Castelnuovo cue does not survive.) The hunters relent and Kathie takes Bill to see Harry MacBain (Frank Morgan), her sheep rancher friend. A short cue that accompanies her boating across the lake with the wounded puppy—“Mr. MacBain”—is lost.
5. Bill Barks (Kaper)
MacBain helps Kathie treat Bill’s wound, but the rancher is not sure the puppy will survive. Kathie takes Bill home, where a yearning, folk-like love theme is introduced in a lost cue (“Katie”) as she watches him sleep in her bed. The theme continues in the next cue as she goes downstairs for supper, the melody’s B-section gathering strength when Bill finally awakens and barks. The primary tune builds dramatically for Kathie rushing up to embrace him and then rushing back downstairs to inform her family.
Hello, Mr. MacBain (Kaper)
Kathie wants to train Bill to become a sheepherder for their ranch, but her mother (Selena Royle) will not hear of it. Kaper gives the love theme both lush and frisky treatments as Kathie ignores her mother’s wishes and secretly brings Bill to see MacBain at his sheep ranch.
6. Nellie (Kaper)
MacBain tells Kathie that if his old sheep dog, Nellie, approves of Bill, it will mean that the collie can be trained as a sheepherder. Amiable strings and woodwinds underscore Nellie’s first interaction with Bill; they are instant friends.
My Diary (Kaper)
A friendship montage features Kathie charting Bill’s progress in her diary as the dog grows older and learns to herd sheep at MacBain’s ranch. The score uses the tune “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” as a framework for the sequence, also incorporating the love theme amid playful material. The cue subsides with a soothing version of the love theme as Bill watches over a bedridden Kathie, suffering from measles.
7. Sheep in the Snow (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
A terrible snowstorm strikes, allowing some of the Merricks’ sheep to escape from their pen. Whirling strings evoke the blizzard, while a grim four-note motive suggests the introductory melody from the “Main Title.”
Rescuing the Sheep (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
Unbeknownst to Mrs. Merrick, Kathie and Bill set out into the blizzard to retrieve the stray sheep. As they head into the mountains, noble rising brass struggles against the chilly textures of “Sheep in the Snow.” The ground suddenly gives out beneath Kathie and she dangles off the edge of a cliff, the love theme sounding wearily as Bill pulls her to safety.
A hopeful “sheep” theme mixes with impressionistic trills when the action briefly cuts back to the ranch, where the Merrick family feeds warm milk to their newborn lambs. After the scene transitions back to the mountains, the love theme gently triumphs as Kathie and Bill rescue the stray sheep.
8. It’s Bill (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
The following morning, the Merricks panic when they realize Kathie is missing; the finished film dials out the opening minute of “It’s Bill” (reprising ideas from “Rescuing the Sheep”) during this scene. The love theme plays warmly when Kathie and Bill suddenly arrive at the ranch with the strays. When Kathie tells her mother of Bill’s heroism, Mrs. Merrick finally acknowledges the collie’s talents and assigns him and Kathie a flock of sheep.
Bill and Kathie spend a bucolic Sunday morning tending the sheep; a pastoral cue by Kaper (“The Truck”) that underscores the nature-filled scene has not survived. When Bill chases after some sheep and a truck appears from nowhere, hitting the hapless collie, Kaper’s music swiftly turns ominous. Unaware that the accident has taken place, Kathie searches in vain for her companion (“Katie Calls Bill” is another lost Kaper cue). Days later, while she still searches for him, a squall comes up as she is trying to cross the lake in her small sailboat. The storm knocks her overboard but Mr. MacBain rescues her; Kaper underscores the tension-filled moment with a yet another vanished cue—the turbulent “The Boat.”
9. At the Veterinary’s (Kaper)
The truck driver takes Bill to an animal hospital, where lonesome solo horn and strings take up the love theme for the collie resting in his cage. Because Bill is unidentified and unclaimed, the vet, Dr. Coleman (Byron Foulger) agrees to turn him over to the Army’s War Dog Training Center.
10. Dog Branded (Kaper)
A tentative rendition of the love theme’s B-section sounds as an army veterinarian brands Bill at the training center. Bill’s new master, Sergeant Smitty (Tom Drake), senses that the dog (whom he has dubbed “Duke”) is trying to tell him something; a distant version of the love theme’s primary tune sounds over dreamy harp and vibraphone glissandi, recalling Bill’s relationship with Kathie.
11. Down, Boy (Kaper)
After Bill undergoes combat training, he and Smitty are shipped out to war. Trudging chords sound under portentous trilling strings as the new partners sail across the ocean to engage the Japanese. Aboard the ship, Bill becomes agitated and begins to whine for Kathie; a haunted version of the love theme sounds when the film transitions to Kathie in her bed. She perks up when she thinks she hears Bill, but quickly sours when she checks outside her window and sees no one. The cue fades as Bill continues to sulk on the ship.
12. Ship Kitchen (Kaper)
In the Aleutian Islands, Bill’s heroic actions save an advanced platoon from the Japanese. (Legendary orchestrator Conrad Salinger composed the three dramatic and relatively extended cues that accompany this action—“Duke’s Mission,” “The Rescue” and “Shock”— but unfortunately they are not among the surviving music masters.) The collie, however, is traumatized by his combat experience, and on the boat ride back to the States, he is confined to a cage; an unused sustain for eerie high strings and low winds was intended to sound as he growls at Smitty.
The Change (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
Upon reaching Seattle, Bill is sent by train to a rehabilitation hospital, but he breaks free and tears through the wilderness, stopping at ranches along the way to kill livestock. (Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s cue for the collie’s escape from the train and the havoc he wreaks in the countryside, “Forty Miles From Nowhere,” is lost.) Angry muted brass calls represent a group of shotgun-toting ranchers, who pursue the shell-shocked collie, with compound-meter string writing propelling the hunt, until Kathie becomes aware of the commotion nearby. An aching development of the love theme sounds as she joins the chase, the compound-meter material resurfacing as Bill loses the ranchers.
Kathie follows the collie into a cave and corners him—she tries to reach the snarling dog with her compassion, the love theme cautiously asserting itself. The score builds to a suspenseful peak as Bill lunges for her and she falls backward, hitting her head on a rock. Seeing Kathie hurt snaps Bill out of his trauma; a pure version of the love theme unfolds as he snuggles against her until she comes to and embraces the rehabilitated dog.
Kathie asks MacBain to temporarily keep Bill, but when two ranchers arrive with orders to take and destroy the “vicious” dog who has been causing mischief throughout the area, the girl breaks down; a lost but lovely Kaper cue (“I’m Sorry”) uses English horn and clarinet to sympathetic effect. The final scene of the film has Bill tried in court, and when MacBain discovers the dog’s army brand, he realizes that Bill is a war hero and testifies in his defense. He goes on to explain that many returning American soldiers suffer from the same symptoms as Bill and that they all deserve compassion. The dog is set free and reunited with Kathie, to a final rousing statement of the love theme (Kaper’s lost “End Title”).

Bonus Tracks

13. Trailer Opening (Shilkret)/Trailer Finale (Shilkret)
Based on the descending-fourth melody from the “Main Title” (with phrases of the Bill/Kathie love theme as well), these two fragments from the beginning and end of the film’s trailer were recorded in September 1945—two months after the bulk of the score.
14. Sunrise (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)/Dog and Puppies (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)/The Lost Puppy (first version) (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)/Dog Meets Animals (Shilkret)/Woodland Animals (Shilkret)/Fish Jumps (first version) (Shilkret)/The Owl and the Coyote (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
This lengthy suite collects several cues that were recorded at the first sessions in July 1945. All but the last (“The Owl and the Coyote”—which has been included here for musical reasons) were replaced by other cues written by Scott Bradley and recorded in March 1946 (see tracks 1–3). Given the differences in timing, one can only assume that the film was heavily edited, thus necessitating the re-score. Although the precise action for which Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Shilkret composed these cues cannot be specified, this lost gem makes a delightful “woodland ballet” for the imagination.
15. A Girl, a Dog and a Raven (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
Yearning, melodic material for Kathie alternates with more playful passages for Bill in this cue that was replaced by Bradley’s similar “Girl on a Raft” and “Fawn and the Raven” (track 4); the woodwind “caws” and pizzicato strings at 2:46 almost certainly represent the bird.

Hills of Home

16. Opening Title and Narration (Stothart)*
Although none of the music masters for the fourth film in the series survive, FSM has included the opening music from the Hills of Home music-and-effects tracks to provide listeners an idea of Herbert Stothart’s richly colored score for the picture. The “Scottish snap” rhythm underlying the lion’s roar immediately establishes the setting, followed by the sound of three pipers and two drummers. In typical Stothart fashion, the cue seamlessly blends original material with vague whiffs of traditional Scottish melodies (“Loch Lomond” and “Comin’ Through the Rye”); it also briefly quotes Daniele Amfitheatrof’s theme from the first Lassie film.
André Previn, who would score the next two Lassie films, recalled Stothart when talking to biographer Helen Drees Ruttencutter: “He did all the great pictures, and had done so since the advent of time. He was a charming man, phenomenal-looking, with an enormous mane of white hair and an imposing presence. He conducted like a demonic windmill, and got some very pleasant performances out of the orchestra.” —