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Actor Kurt Russell turned 70 years old on March 17, 2021. Beloved by many, his filmography is quite extensive and he’s no stranger to this blog having appeared in over a dozen films for Disney. Today, we take a look at the first Disney film he acted in, the 1966 live-action film, Follow Me, Boys!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film begins with the opening credits, as most films do.
The year is 1930 and we are witness to a busload of traveling musicians merrily driving along one of America’s roads. Among them is the saxophone player, Lem Siddons, played by Fred MacMurray. Although he is passionate about music, he’s also looking to settle down and become a lawyer, taking any spare moment he gets to study his law books.
The bus makes a stop in the small, old-time Americana town of Hickory and the musicians alight.
Lem takes a shining to the town as well as to one of its bank tellers, Vida Downey, played by Vera Miles. As much as he’s interested in her, she’s not interested in him in the slightest. Nevertheless, he decides to settle down in the town and takes a job as a clerk in the general store.
One day he attends the local townhall meeting where the subject of the town’s youth arises. He proffers an idea that the town form a Boy Scouts troop. The mayor, played by Parley Baer, informs him that that idea has been proffered many a time, but nobody is willing to volunteer to be scoutmaster. Lem volunteers much to everyone’s surprise and respect, including Vida’s.
It’s not long before we see Lem parading down the streets with the newly founded Boy Scouts troop. Most of the town’s boys joins the troop with the notable exception of one known as Whitey, played by Kurt Russell. Whitey always puts on a “tough guy” image and says he doesn’t want to be part of the scouts. He also spends much of his time caring for his alcoholic, but loving father, played by Sean McClory.
During one of their marches, Lem invents a marching song for the troop to sing. We’re treated to the Sherman Brothers-written title song of the film that apparently the actual Boy Scouts of America considered adopting as their official song once.
On this march, he bumps into Vida and the two get to talking. She sees that he is a much nicer man than her current arrogant boyfriend, Ralph Hastings, played by Elliott Reid. She breaks up with Ralph and begins to date Lem. One night after seeing a movie together, the two pass by the general store and see Whitey there having broken in to steal from it. Lem is merciful towards Whitey and lets him go scot-free.
Soon Lem and Vida marry with Lem reigniting his dream to become a lawyer, but not getting enough time to do so due to his duties with the store and the scouts. Much to their disappointment, they soon discover that Vida is unable to have children. Lem lifts her spirits by telling her the scout boys are their boys. Even Whitey has since joined as he secretly wanted to be a scout.
Sadly, Whitey’s father passes away not long after and Lem and Vida decide to take Whitey in to live with them. He resists at first, but eventually relents. All seems to be going fine in their home and scout life until one day, Whitey rescues a fellow scout from a dangerous situation. Unfortunately gossip spreads around the town that the drunk’s son (Whitey) put the other boy in danger. Whitey runs away to spare Lem and Vida the gossip, but when they discover that he’s run away, Lem decides to resign as scoutmaster. He goes out in search of Whitey and finds him at the scouts’ headquarters. After talking, Lem decides to continue to be the scoutmaster and Whitey decides to stay with Lem and Vida.
Surprisingly enough, the film keeps going and actually progresses a number of years to 1944. Lem is still the scoutmaster, but he has a new set of boys in his troop. They’re currently camping in the wilderness and accidentally get mixed up with army exercises going on around them.
After that encounter, Lem gets his chance to be a lawyer when Mr. Hastings sues his aunt Hetty, played by Lillian Gish. Aunt Hetty wanted to donate the lake property which she owns and upon which the boy scouts’ headquarters are located to Lem and the scouts. Mr. Hastings wants the land for himself so that prompted the court case. Thankfully, Lem argues skillfully for Aunt Hetty and the judge rules in favor of her.
The year is now 1945 and WWII is over. Whitey, now played by Donald May, returns from the war along with his wife, Nora, played by Luana Patten. By now, Lem is old and has since decided not to pursue being a lawyer anymore. He had his day in court and that was enough for him. His health is also deteriorating resulting in him being forced to retire as scoutmaster after holding the position for about fifteen years. The town surprises him with his own holiday though, Lem Siddons Day. All the townsfolk celebrate him and all his old boy scouts, now grown men, have returned to pay tribute to the man.
And that was Follow Me, Boys!. Honestly, it was surprisingly better than I was expecting. Kurt Russell chose a pretty good film to make his Disney debut in and it’s honestly one of the best child actor performances I’ve ever seen! I’d argue it’s Kurt Russell’s best performance in a film ever!
Fred MacMurray also gives a wonderful performance. While Vera Miles was good, the script sadly didn’t give her much to work with.
The biggest issue with the film is the storyline after the Lem and Whitey storyline. It took the focus away from what the heart of the film was supposed to be. Yes, there were some good points to that section of the film. Hearing Lem say how he’s had his day in court reminds me a lot of the barber in the animated Pixar film, Soul. His dream was to do one thing, but he ended up becoming a barber and honestly didn’t regret it.
But, the army scene was really pointless and could have been cut out. Either the film should have ended at the 1 hour and 22 minutes mark or it should have just cut to 1945 with Lem as an older man. Other than that, I had no other major gripe with the film.
So, my final score for this film is 26/35 = 74.29% (C-) !
The next review will be posted on April 6, 2021.