GOODBYE, MY LADY, bucolic Americana from 1956, is a coming-of-age story about a rural boy and his pet. Like The Yearling, it’s set in Southern swampland, Mississippi this time, and instead of an orphaned fawn the object of affection and fulcrum of maturity is a wayward puppy. Brandon de Wilde is the youngster, ‘Skeeter’. The tear-jerker is played by a six-month-old Basenji pup named My Lady of the Congo. Coot aficionado Walter Brennan provides the voice of wisdom as ‘Uncle Jesse’. John Wayne produced, Sid Fleishman adapted James Street’s 1941 best-seller, William A. Wellman directed. *
JESSE: “That dog’s a foreign dog.” SKEETER: “Maybe it’s a Yankee dog. You know how Yankees are.” JESSE: “I don’t know much about Yankees, thank the good Lord, but that dog’s been around folks. Don’t belong around here.”
He’s gettin’ old, is dirt poor and darn near toothless, but ‘Jesse Jackson’ (Brennan) has raised his orphaned nephew ‘Claude’ (de Wilde), called ‘Skeeter’, to be a good, honest boy. Skeeter finds a rare dog in the bayou and adopts him, but then has a moment of truth to face when the owner turns up. The reward can help his uncle, but the pup has him by the heart.
Leisurely, pleasant little morality play with likable characters, and a face-up-to-it decision guaranteed to twinge memories of loss. Three years after Shane, now 13, de Wilde again connects with unaffected honest. Brennan had been playing characters older than he was for two decades; at 61 this folksy role a perfect fit. He had a part in another Americana picture in ’56, the superior, sadly overlooked Come Next Spring. The next year he’d start a six-season TV run as patriarch of The Real McCoys. The pooch is a smart little charmer: de Wilde kept him after the shoot ended. Also in the cast are bandleader/singer/occasional actor Phil Harris and Sidney Poitier, 28, working his way up.
For whatever reason, the well-reviewed picture didn’t click with the public enough to rank higher than 159th among the releases from 1956, grossing a disappointing $1,400,000.
With William Hopper, Louise Beavers and George Chandler. 94 minutes.
* Wellman: “Goodbye, My Lady was a financial fiasco. I don’t know why. The story was beautiful, the performances superb…How could you miss? But I did.”
While this boy-meets-dog tale didn’t wag with audiences, the following year they sat up and rolled over in droves for Old Yeller.