Tuesday, July 13, 2021 at 7pm
William Wellman's Goodbye, My Lady

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Gina Telaroli

Goodbye, My Lady, William A. Wellman, 1956, 16mm, 94 mins

“I dreamed of my dog. That is, the dog of my kid days. The dog of my life.
The president was then Mr. Taft, so we called the pup Taffy.
Mother gave it to us both on Christmas Day. A round furred bundle of black and white. He was just about everything. A little spitz, a dash of Eskimo, and a touch of collie; with brains and guts and a love for me that was eternal.”

- William A. Wellman, A Short Time for Insanity

“...simply the best film ever made about a boy’s love for a dog.”

- Elliott Stein

William A. Wellman is often referred to as a journeyman filmmaker, a moniker that lazily denies his particular and special filmmaking but admittedly acknowledges his very real inability to stay put at any one studio during his long career. In the 1950s however, he made a rare, prolonged pit stop at John Wayne’s outfit, Batjac Productions. The two collaborated on a series of aviation and adventure films—The High and the Mighty, Island in the Sky, and Blood Alley—before Wellman took a sharp turn, first making the pop-of-color Western-Noir Track of the Cat and then defying expectations even further when he brought James Street’s 1954 novel about a young boy and a basenji to the big screen in images that often border on black and white impressionism.

It’s a beautiful slow burn of a film. Just as Walter Brennan’s Uncle Jesse can’t be bothered to work, preferring instead to spend his days napping on the porch, Wellman’s film about a boy and a dog doesn’t care about plot and is instead most concerned with the pleasure derived from simply hanging out—the main plot point of the film being whether or not Uncle Jesse will ever let young Skeeter enjoy a cup of black coffee. It indulges in and pays tribute to the simple things: a well-written grocery list, the difficulty of eating without teeth, how to best say one’s prayers, walking through the woods with your friends, and, of course, having a dog of one’s own. It’s also a film of community and mutual aid—goods are paid for with labor and favors and sometimes, when times are tough, with nothing but thanks.

There are notable performances from my personal favorite Phil Harris—perhaps best known for his vocal turn as Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book—and a young Sidney Poitier. Together they provide faithful support to Brennan and Brandon De Wilde—already an Oscar nominee for his performance in Shane two years prior. For me, this is the performance of Walter Brennan’s long and storied career. Your heart breaks as he grapples with the joy and despair of life, as well as his lack of education and whether he is doing right by his nephew in what he has been able to provide him. And if there is any doubt about how Wellman viewed things, ¾ of the way through the film he lends his own Massachusetts-raised voice to the mix, and in one of the Golden Era’s most poetic moments Wellman himself provides the film’s first and only narration in a tone that can only be described as loving:

“Dog days came in steaming heat and the moon was red and there was a ring around it. The boy wrapped wire around a stick and taught his dog to fetch. And when she bit hard, she learned better. And then he got bird feathers and tied them to a pinecone and she learned to retrieve it without crushing the feathers. He worked her everyday while Uncle Jesse cut cyprus leaves in the swamp. And thus it was, and one day was like the next and the red moon wasted and the circle went away. And Autumn crept down from the North and brought the dry winds that blew the clouds high. And the ducks began flying. And all night they passed high against the moon.”

- GT

Tickets - $8, available at door, cash and cards accepted. Box office opens at 6:30pm.