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Movie Review

Savage Sam

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
1 hr. 43 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Cover graphic from “Savage Sam”
Featuring: Rodopho (Rudy) Acosta, Rafael Campos, Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran, Royal Dano, Dean Fredericks, Pat Hogan, Brian Keith, Tommy Kirk, Marta Kristen, Dewey Martin, Slim Pickens, Brad Weston, Jeff York
Director: Norman Tokar
Producer: _____
Distributor: Buena Vista

This Disney film is a typical old-style Western, with heroic cowboys and a stereotyped portrayal of Indians as “savages.” A special problem is that it’s presented as the sequel to “Old Yeller”—which is arguably the best dog movie ever made—but the title character dog in this film doesn’t even have a central role. The video box notes say that Sam (a hound) is the son of Old Yeller, although the film itself makes no such claim.

As the story opens, it’s several years after the Old Yeller era on the Coates farm in Texas. Travis and Arliss (Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran) are running the place alone while their parents are away visiting their sick grandmother. Freeloading loudmouth Bud Searcy (Jeff York) still stops by uninvited, along with his daughter Lisbeth (played by lookalike Marta Kristen rather than by Beverly Washburn). Those four characters are the only holdovers from the first film. Brian Keith appears as the boys’ Uncle Beck. When Travis, Arliss and Lisbeth are kidnapped by horse-stealing Apaches (led by a Comanche), Uncle Beck must lead a rescue posse using Sam as a tracker.

While the level of offensive content is nothing like that found in newer films, there’s a pretty constant stream of violence and several killings. The “feel” of the film is uneven and is very different from the original. Travis and Lisbeth are now young adults, and Arliss is beyond the “cute” stage; it isn’t funny to see Arliss still chucking his brother with rocks and getting away with it. There’s a lot of name-calling (not profanity, but creative insults and profanity substitutes). During the rescue attempt, one posse member wants to kill all the “Injuns” he can (in revenge for his own family being scalped); someone else reminds him that the whites were the intruders in the first place.

To me, the only memorable thing in this film was the over-the-top braggart/jerk character of Bud Searcy. Jeff York could and did do serious drama, but I remember him best in his comic-relief roles as Mike Fink (in “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates”) and as Searcy.

Overall, the film is average for its type and production era. Did I mention that I don’t like the treatment of Indians? (Not that the modern PC approach—showing them having special powers, sometimes triggered by the use of Peyote—is any better.) I recommend ignoring the misleading “sequel” claims and setting your expectations low, so you won’t be disappointed. Some people actually like this film better than Old Yeller; but based on the relative box office success of the two films, the majority opinion was clearly the other way around.

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