Hambone and Hillie (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog reunites with owner.

Hillie (Lillian Gish) is a 90-year-old grandmother returning to Los Angeles from her stay in New York. In order to board the plane she must put her dog Hambone in a cage, so that he can be transported separately. Unfortunately a young girl opens the cage and allows Hambone to escape, but only after the plane carrying his owner has already taken off. Hambone then goes on a cross-country trek to reunite with Hillie and has many adventures in-between.

Most dogs that are abandoned from their owners become strays and live on the streets, in rescue shelters or are taken in by a new owner, but they are definitely not homing pigeons that can somehow smell their owners scent from thousands of miles away. They also can’t read maps or road signs or even tell direction making this film’s premise totally ridiculous. Also, dogs, like with most animals, have very short attention spans, so the idea that this mutt is harboring a long-term ‘strategy’ even as he meets other people is absurd. Yes dog/owner reunions do sometimes occur but they almost always require another person getting involved in order to bring the pet back.

The film also cheats things by having the dog in Philadelphia during one scene and then in the next shot he is in Chicago, but without showing how he did it. His ability to survive on his own is also highly questionable. Since he is a domesticated pet he’d have no hunting or foraging skills especially when he goes through the forest and desert. We sometimes see strangers giving the dog water during his trek, but never showing him eating anything. After he crosses the desert you’d expect him to be at a near starving state with his ribs showing, but they aren’t. What’s even crazier is that after walking through the desert he then spots Hillie in a car driving away and he runs after the vehicle at full speed even though after what he’s been through he should barely be able to walk at all.

The acting is pretty bad too with O.J. Simpson and Candy Clark, whose birthing contractions become almost comical, giving the two worst performances. I also chuckled at how Timothy Bottoms gets listed in the opening credits as having a ‘special appearance’ even though there’s absolutely nothing special about it unless you count the moment where he refers to Gish, a woman who was 90 at the time and 60 years older than him, as a ‘young lady’.

The two children (Marc Bentley, Nicole Eggert) who take in the dog for a while are so squeaky clean that they become Stepford-like. The fact that their mother (Nancy Morgan) had brown hair, but they were blonde didn’t make sense either. Granted the father is never shown and maybe he did have blonde hair, but darker hair is the stronger gene, so unless they were adopted that’s what they should’ve had.

The only interesting bit is when a handicapped girl (Sidney Greenbush) puts a cross around the neck of a dog that was traveling with Hambone and tells this dog that the cross will help protect her, but then later this same dog gets hit by a car and dies, which was odd since the movie seemed pro-Christian and even has a scene where the girl’s grandfather (Alan Hale Jr.) reads from the Bible, so you’d think they’d show the dog that wore the cross not getting hurt, or miraculously escaping a close-call, but it doesn’t. What’s even more revealing is that when the dog gets buried the cross is then hung on the grave marker and the camera does a close-up on it that seems to be pushing a subtle pro-secular message by reminding the viewer that wearing the cross did nothing to help save the dog’s life.

Another odd element is that the dog shown on the movie’s promotional poster is not the same one that was used in the film. This might be because, and I’m only guessing here, that the dog in the movie had a freaky looking pair of eyes– not sure the breed– that made him look almost possessed and the film studio worried that his appearance might scare the children away from seeing the movie.

In either case this schmaltzy family film is a dud and even dog lovers will find it hard to take as only they or the most indiscriminating children could possibly enjoy it. Others should beware.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roy Watts

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS

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