Lassie may have never really saved Timmy from the well but genius animals saving the day have been a fixture in motion pictures since the beginning and we’re going to enjoy some performances from our four-legged friends this month.
The difference between a genius animal and one that is merely cute onscreen is how much they drive the plot. A dowager may pamper her lapdog and it may be treated like a character but it doesn’t really count as a genius animal until it leaps out the window to get help when its mistress falls ill.
Unfortunately, cats are entirely too smart to participate in anything so nonsensical as motion pictures so the selection will be limited to dogs, horses and ponies. (In animation, however, cats are king and Felix is the emperor of them all.)
As is the case with child actors, I find animal stars to be more appealing and far less cloying in the silent era than they would be in talkies. So even if animal pictures aren’t generally your cup of tea, please give some silent title a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Over the years, I have covered films that use pets as comedy relief (Stella Maris), wild animals make a few appearances (The Extra Girl) and most of the big cowboy stars had their personal mounts. (William S. Hart’s pinto, Fritz, apparently refused to work without his friends Cactus Kate, a mare, and Lizabeth, a giant mule, nearby.) However, the only real genius animal picture I have reviewed is Rescued by Rover, a delightful British short directed by Cecil Hepworth. This is going to be a bit of a change of pace for me!
I hope this will be a fun experiment for all of us!