Where the Red Fern Grows is the heartwarming and adventurous tale for all ages about a young boy and his quest for his own red-bone hound hunting dogs. Set in the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression, Billy Coleman works hard and saves his earnings for 2 years to achieve his dream of buying two coonhound pups. He develops a new trust in God as he faces overwhelming challenges in adventure and tragedy roaming the river bottoms of Cherokee country with "Old Dan" and "Little Ann."
The movie follows the inseparable trio as they romp relentlessly through the Ozarks, trying to tree the elusive "Ghost" raccoon. Their efforts prove victorious as they win the coveted gold cup in the annual coon-hunt contest, capture wily ghost coons and bravely fight a mountain lion. Through these adventures Billy realizes the meaning of true friendship, loyalty, integrity and heroics, in this timeless and poignant coming of age story.
James Whitmore ... Grandpa
Beverly Garland ... Mother
Jack Ging ... Father
Lonny Chapman ... Sheriff
Stewart Petersen ... Billy
Jill Clark ... Alice
Jeanna Wilson ... Sara
Bill Thurman ... Sam Bellington
Bill Dunbar ... Ben Kyle
Rex Corley ... Rubin Pritchard
John Lindsey ... Rainie Pritchard
Garland McKinney ... Mr. Pritchard
Robert S. Telford ... Station Master (as Robert Telford)
Charles Seat ... Carl Brown
Roger Pancake ... Shopkeeper
While the movie version of Where the Red Fern Grows is not quite as good as the book by Wilson Rawls, the film is still a quality family film and very much worth watching if you are a fan of the novel.
The changes in the plot for the movie version are minor, and most of the same themes Rawls intended for his readers can be found in the movie. However, one glaring difference is the fact that the characterization in the movie cannot touch the novel. The movie does little to build up Billy's "dog wanting" disease as well as Billy's dogged (pun intended) determination to secure himself some hunting hounds. This takes away from the reader's sympathy for and identification with the protagonist. Grandpa's character also does not come off as well as he does in the novel. In the novel, Grandpa is clearly a wise man despite his one irrational act; in the movie, he seems plain irrational, and there is no sign of his wisdom on the subjects of life and coon hunting. The extent to which the dogs are given characters and personalities in the book is not found in the movie, either. Billy's mother and father do translate fairly well from the book to the big screen, but the fact that the protagonist and his dogs do not is the major weakness of the film.
In closing, if you're a fan of the novel, then you should definitely watch this movie version, but don't expect it to be as good as the classic children's novel.
This is simple, well intentioned and instantly likeable film. Made in 1974, there are evident signs of the age of the film, but this works to its advantage. This is one of the classics. Perhaps not as famous as Old Yeller, it's `older brother', which also hailed from the Disney studio's, it is equally as likeable. Stewart Petersen does a terrific job as young Billy Coleman, and makes the character immensely likeable.
The film follows Billy's life, as he desperately saves money to buy a pair of hunting dogs. It is evident that he leads a fairly poor, but honest life, and struggles with his decision to buy the dogs, as opposed to giving the money to his Father. On going to collect the dogs, he is stared at by the local folk, almost looked down upon, each one in turn glancing at this scruffy, barefoot young character as he enters `their world'. Picked on by local children, he befriends the local sheriff, who we meet again later in the film.
There are some wonderful scenes, from his first encounter with his new found friends, as they lick his toes, and he gently picks them up for the first time, to the comical scene where he is training them, and they run, followed by three children, through the house, sliding every which way on their Mothers freshly cleaned kitchen floor, in a scene which borders farcical, but knows where to draw the line, in keeping the humour gentle.
Billy is an idealistic young man, willing to take a beating and defy his mother, rather than break a promise to his dogs. All this makes him a very likeable, and identifiable character. This is further showed toward the end of the film, when his true courage and sportsmanship show themselves in a hunting competition.
This is by no means a jolly film – it's a positive tearjerker, unashamedly so. There is a death, which in itself is only mildly instrumental to the plot, but serves Billy a valuable life lesson, and the viewer is left feeling his pain and sorrow.
The end is equally sad, which I won't give away, but there is a beautiful closing shot as the camera pans away from the family, focusing on a single red fern….
There are times when deep, clever plots, and intense dialogue serve no purpose, and this film is a shining example of this. It has no pretences about what it is. It is a lesson that true beauty is found in the simplicity and innocence of a child's world.
It is quite simply, a nice film. I am not fond of the word `nice', but in this instance it serves well to describe the film. A great example that some of the older films, can still give modern Hollywood movies a run for their money. This does just that, and wins hands down all the way.
Particular mention must also be made to the soundtrack, which is perfect for the film, and simply beautiful, from the gentle incidental music, to the lyrics in every song. I watched this anticipating it to be a little `ropey', and perhaps rough around the edges, given it is 30 years old. That anticipation was the only thing the film wasn't. It really is a polished gem of a movie, and one that I can recommend very highly. Sure it's a sappy, sentimental tearjerker – it doesn't pretend to be anything else, and for that, I loved it. A very well earned 10/10!
Today's young people should really take a look a look at this family movie. The morals and the lessons learned are very good. The story is simple, a boy and his dogs. What's important about this film is how different life was without television, cellphones, the internet, children did chores and helped their parents, and listened to what their parents had to say. The film is good, the acting okay, the animal scenes are very good, a good wholesome film. If your kids are acting up, force them to watch this movie, and then they will appreciate on how easy they have it. I liked the movie because it takes place in Oklahoma, rural Oklahoma, far from major cities like Tulsa. Life was simple then, and family values were high, I especially liked when Billy spent the extra ten dollars on his family, rather then spend it on himself, try getting your kids to do the same, I really doubt that would happen these days. I haven't seen the remake of this film, but it would have to be awfully good to top this one.