Shiloh, Tennesse
April 6-7, 1862
Union Leader: Ulysses S. Grant
Confederate Leader: Beauregard and A. Johnston

As Grant’s army drove south towards Mississippi, they stopped at a church in Shiloh, Tennessee, and were attacked in the early morning by the Confederates. Union troops are nearly wiped out, but using reinforcements, Grant drives Beauregard men from the field. The Battle at Shiloh forced generals of both sides to think defensively and give up any hopes of a quick and easy end to the war. 13,000 Union Troops and 10,000 Confederate troops died. Although this was sort of a draw, The North claimed the land in the end. This was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, causing more casualties than all the wars to it combined.

1996 drama, rated PG (US), runs 1 hour, 33 minutes.

Based on the book by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, the screenplay was written by Dale Rosenbloom, who also made his directorial debut.

Major Cast
Frannie (a beagle)
Blake Heron
Scott Wilson
Michael Moriarty
Minor Cast
Ann Dowd
Bonnie Bartlett
Rod Steiger

C-Dawg says: two paws up

I've heard this movie lazily described as a story of "a boy and his dog". Which is exactly what it is not. There is a boy. There is a dog. There is also heart-wrenching conflict between two courses of action, both of which are "right".

In a nutshell: a dog follows a boy (Heron) home, having run away from his owner who has his own ideas of how animals need to be trained and treated. The dog has clearly been injured, and when the owner (Wilson) shows up to claim him, he gets the predictable response from the children, while making no excuses for his behavior. When the dog runs away a second time and searches out the boy, the boy hides him from his parents while he attempts to earn money doing odd jobs so that he can offer to buy the dog. Naturally, that doesn't go off as smoothly as planned, resulting in conflicts between the boy, his father (Moriarty), and the dog's owner. Eventually the boy, with some blackmail on his side, agrees with the owner that he can buy the dog with a week's labor around the house; at the end of the week, the owner reneges on the agreement, calling the boy a fool. As he carries off the dog, though, the boy's appeal to his honor belatedly has him giving the dog over, with a happy ending.

This is an excellent movie for all ages, inviting the audience to try to decide, not between "right" and "wrong", but which "right" should trump the other. We feel that the principle of private property must have some flexibility when the property is living creatures, which is why we have laws against animal cruelty. While it is probably shelved by most in the "children's" or "family" section, as Roger Ebert says in an introduction: There's no such thing as a "children's" movie; if it can't be enjoyed by all ages, it's not a good movie. And I don't know any adults who can just blithely decide how they would handle the situation the movie presents without a lot of thought, both intellectual and emotional. Children can certainly be drawn to the movie, however, by the fact that the dog is tremendously cute, an area in which Hollywood permits no accidents.

Apart from the morality play, the whole movie has a kind of Waltons-esque feel to it. While the boy's father is employed, money is very tight; even though that is explained by having spent a great deal on a sick parent, there is an overall feeling that economic conditions are not good in (wherever the story takes place). While the product placement makes it clear that the setting is contemporary, it is definitely rural and then some. The dog's illiterate owner lives in an old trailer off of a dirt road and makes his living by hunting game, both large and small. Even the general store contributes to the effect.

Blending the Waltons with Disney is the almost inhuman goodnaturedness of everybody. Even while there are domestic conflicts over money, raising kids, and the question of the dog, no voices are raised. The thing that really came off a bit artificial is that the children are, shall we say, not totally childlike. The father immediately comes down on the side of the dog's owner, and purposely keeps his distance from the dog to avoid complicating the problem, and the boy seems to understand, not his position exactly, but that as an adult he may have superior ability to come to a decision and to do what needs to be done. There's a small bit of whining, but none of the shouting and angry words that would probably come from a real child in that situation.

In particular, in the last scene where the boy is appealing to the owner's conscience, I would expect that even if he were able to avoid revealing the details in an immediate outburst, he would remind the owner that their agreement had not only a written part (which the dog's owner had contemptuously repudiated), but the unwritten pledge which was the real leverage the boy had over him.

All of that seemed rather overt to me during my viewing, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie. While the moral questions are good for people to ponder, there is one bad lesson here for children. The boy wisely got the agreement on the work-for-dog deal on paper, but the dog's owner later told him that that was meaningless without a witness, and the sheriff would back him up on that. This is, of course, not true, and to me could serve to instill the idea in a child's head that governments and laws are necessary means for the world to work, rather than honest agreements among men.

Some of my favorite scenes were Rod Steiger, as the easygoing country doctor, having a talk with the boy about love, and how sometimes you have to fight for it, and be willing to give up all you have; and the boy's father coming downstairs in the night to pet the dog, thinking nobody sees him — and the couchfast boy playing along.

While the movie has an abrupt happy ending, with an only-in-the-movies change of heart by the "bad guy", there is a sequel which I haven't seen. In Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season, the conflict continues.

Shi"loh (shi"lo), n. [Heb. shiloh, literally, quiet, rest, fr. shalah to rest.] Script.

A word used by Jacob on his deathbed, and interpreted variously, as "the Messiah," or as the city "Shiloh," or as "Rest."

 

© Webster 1913.

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