G | 1 hr 25 min | Family, Drama | 1969
What draws us to old movies time and time again? For some people, it’s the artistry in the cinematography. For others, it’s the classy costumes. To still others, it’s the wholesome moral content. However, I think all classic film lovers appreciate old movies because of their nostalgia.
I generally write about movies made no later than the mid-1950s. This is because the high moral quality and decency which was commonplace for two decades during the Golden Era of Hollywood declined rapidly after 1954, when the Production Code Administration (PCA) stopped enforcing the Motion Picture Production Code effectively after Joseph Breen retired. However, not all movies made after 1954 reflected the indecent trends which plagued Hollywood.
One of the last categories of movies to remain family friendly was live action Disney films. Although Disney is seen differently nowadays, in the 1960s, movies about animals, children, and the great outdoors were good clean fun which the whole family could enjoy. Eventually, Disney’s content followed the rest of Hollywood, especially after Walt Disney’s death in 1966.
A Nostalgic Story“Rascal” is about the adventures of a small-town boy named Sterling North (Billy Mumy) during the last summer of his childhood. In 1918, Sterling lives in the small Midwestern town of Brailsford Junction, Wisconsin. His mother has died, and his older sister, Theo (Pamela Toll), works in the big city, so it’s usually just Sterling and his fun-loving father, Willard (Steve Forrest). Willard loves his son, but he’s a footloose wanderer who refuses to grow up enough to see how much his son needs him. Thus, Sterling spends a lot of time on his own.
At the beginning of summer vacation, Sterling’s caring teacher, Miss Whalen (Bettye Ackerman), worries that the boy will spend too much time by himself over the break. Little does she know that he will have plenty of company during the summer. The North family gains a new member when Sterling’s dog, Wowser, chases off a mother raccoon, leaving one abandoned baby in their yard. Sterling adopts the little raccoon as his pet, naming him Rascal. Sterling grows to love the little creature very much, and the boy, the dog, and the racoon have really wonderful adventures together during the summer. However, Miss Whalen wisely warns him that, like Sterling himself, Rascal will one day grow up and need to find his own life.
A Wholesome ExampleThe nostalgia in “Rascal” is no accident, nor is its wholesome moral content. You'd never guess that this movie was released the year of the “Summer of Love” (1967). I think that is the very point Disney Pictures was trying to make. While the modern youth was influenced by the hippie movement and drug culture, “Rascal” was a gentle reminder of America’s past.
Hollywood didn’t provide many good examples of innocent childhood by the late 1960s, just as it doesn’t now. It’s so refreshing to see a boy riding around on his bicycle, eating ice cream, and playing with his wild friends. For excitement, Sterling builds an Indian canoe in his living room. The disorder of the house appalls his neat sister and orderly schoolteacher, but Sterling could certainly have worse hobbies.
“Rascal” isn’t saccharine. Like many sentimental stories, it is bittersweet, evoking deep emotions. The film is beautifully narrated by the rich voice of Walter Pidgeon, who speaks as Sterling from manhood, warmly recalling the happy days of his childhood. His recollections are accompanied by a very touching song, “Summer Sweet,” which was written and sung by Bobby Russell.
It’s very appropriate that this movie was released a year after the dissolution of the PCA. The Code’s era of decency in films was similar to a golden age of innocence, a family time without the ugly things of the world. Although the Code had been dying for over a decade, when Geoffrey Shurlock failed to enforce the Code’s rules as head of the PCA, there always was some hope that the Code could grow strong again as long as the PCA existed. However, by 1969, it was really gone.
“Rascal” is a beautiful tribute to a lost age of Hollywood, Disney, and America. Perhaps you remember seeing this film when it first came out. Maybe you’ve never heard of it, since it is quite obscure.