Big Red (1962)

Action, Adventure, Drama, Family
Walter Pidgeon
Cute Disney fare.Brief OverviewWealthy sportsman James Haggin (Walter Pidgeon) lives on a Quebec estate called Wintapi. Émile Fornet (Émile Genest), handler of Haggin's hunting dogs, and Émile's wife Therese (Janette Bertrand), Haggin's cook and housekeeper, live in a separate house on the estate. To start a line of top show dogs, Haggin purchases the winner of the Montreal Kennel Club show, an Irish setter named Red. French-Canadian boy René Dumont (Gilles Payant) arrives at Wintapi on foot looking for work. He lived with his uncle in a cabin in the wild country and had no formal schooling. The uncle has died. Haggin hires René to help care for the dogs, especially Red, whom he expects to win the Westminster show in New York the next month. René is quartered inside the kennel.René and Red develop a special bond. The dog is too distracted by the boy to perform correctly for his owner, so Haggin moves Red to the main house until the show, and René is not to see the dog. Mollie, the mate selected for Red, arrives and is placed in Red's kennel. On the eve of the departure for New York, René sneaks to the main house to say goodbye to Red. Determined to follow the boy, Red crashes through a window and is gravely injured. Haggin orders the dog euthanized, but René sneaks Red away to his dead uncle's cabin and nurses him back to health. He returns the dog to Haggin. Red is scarred but still valuable for stud. Haggin wants to hire the boy back, but René finds work at the neighboring dairy farm.Haggin ships Red and the pregnant Mollie by train to Montreal to be sold. On the way, they escape from the baggage car into the wild. When René learns of this, he takes the train to where they were last seen and tracks them down on foot, reuniting with them just as Mollie gives birth to four pups. When Haggin learns that René has not shown up for work at the dairy farm for two weeks, he sets out on horseback to find the boy's cabin and learn what has happened. Man, boy and dogs are reunited in the woods, but not before Haggin encounters a cougar, loses his horse and gets trapped by a boulder. Red and René rescue him from cougar and boulder. Haggin proposes that René live with him at Wintapi and go to school. René accepts the offer, and they all walk back to Wintapi.Detailed SynopsisAt an outdoor dog show of the Montreal Kennel Club, a magnificent Irish setter wins Best in Show. Wealthy hunting-dog owner James Haggin (Walter Pidgeon) instructs his handler, Émile Fornet (Émile Genest), to buy the dog; Émile may go as high as $5,000 with his offer.The dog travels by train to Haggin's Quebec estate, Wintapi. René Dumont (Gilles Payant), a French-Canadian boy, arrives on foot at Wintapi carrying his travel bag with one hand and playing his harmonica with the other. He sees the Irish setter in its kennel run; boy and dog form an instant bond. The dog gets his left paw caught in the kennel fence, and René frees it. He enters through a gate identifying the occupant as Champion Redcoat Reilly of Wintapi, and the dog licks the boy's face in gratitude.Two gunshots are heard, and the dog bolts out through the open kennel gate and across a field where Haggin is hunting pheasant with Émile and two of his hunting dogs. Haggin wonders how Red got out and sends Émile after him. The boy also runs after the dog, slowing to speak in French to Haggin as he passes. Red scares up the pheasant and chases and corners it. René finds the dog first and uses his belt as a leash. He's taking Red back with one hand and holding his pants up with the other when Haggin stops him and asks, "Just where do you think you're going with that dog?" Émile catches up and translates the boy's French. René assures Haggin he was not stealing the dog. He was looking for the boss to ask for work. He speaks English, but when events move rapidly he cannot find the right words. Haggin allows that "events are moving much too rapidly." Learning that Monsieur is the boss, the boy introduces himself: "Monsieur, I am René Jean Paul Dumont. I am a strong worker; I do not get tired. I have lived with my uncle who trapped the fox, but now my uncle is dead, so I must work. I am learning to speak English from a book, and I like animals very much." He explains how the dog got loose after getting his left paw caught in the kennel wire. Émile checks the paw for damage, but there is none. Haggin gives the boy a job, and René thanks him: "Merci, Monsieur le Boss!" Haggin takes Red away, and Émile tells René to put on his belt so that his trousers do not descend.That night, studying from his book, René practices his English in his new sleeping quarters inside the kennel as Red and the other dogs watch. Émile comes in and checks on the boy. He describes René's duties and impresses upon him the importance of Red's care in particular. René is amazed that one dog cost $5,000. Émile explains that there will be a dog show in New York City the following month, and if Red wins this show, he'll be the best dog in North America, perhaps in the whole world: "And that is what Monsieur Haggin wants more than any one thing." As René prepares for bed, he says to Red: "Five thousand dollars. It is an honor to sleep in the same room with such a dog."Next morning, Émile is showing René the proper technique for brushing a dog when Haggin calls for him to bring Red outside. René makes a faux pas when he takes Red out through the swinging dog door between the inside kennel and the outside run. Haggin begins Red's training and says he'll be tough on him, as that Westminster show isn't so far off. Émile says he'll be all the tough judges rolled into one. When René objects to Haggin's harsh tone, suggesting he speak to the dog with gentleness, he gets a little lecture from Monsieur: "A dog is an animal; he's governed by conditioned reflexes. Dogs ... don't have human reactions, and the only way to handle them is with a firm voice and a tight lead." After Haggin departs, Émile advises René not to speak out to Monsieur unless he wants to join the ranks of the unemployed. He sends boy and dog off for a run through the fields but warns René not to let the dog off the lead. He adds, "The next time Monsieur calls, the front door if you please?"Boy and dog run together through field and stream. As they rest, René gets the idea to help Red walk as Monsieur wishes for the show ring, but the dog is quickly distracted by a pheasant. René tells him he has much to learn if he wants to be a hunting dog for Monsieur: "One does not become a hunting dog overnight." A rabbit runs into a woodpile, and Red bolts after it. René loses the lead but catches up and tells Red, "The rabbit, no; the pheasant, yes."In the kitchen of the separate house where Émile and his wife Therese (Janette Bertrand) reside, René fashions a lure out of feathers while Therese prepares soup. He thanks her for the feathers and praises her soup, which he tastes, but he is too eager to go hunting with the big red dog to take time for a bowl of soup. She will save the soup till he comes back.René runs with Red on a long lead. Then he brings out the lure and places it in a bush. He shows the dog how to smell the air, advance slowly and point. Red does not understand (but jumps over René twice). René says he'll never be a hunting dog and tells him to go walk around in dog shows the rest of his life. But when Red nestles on the boy's leg, René accepts his apology and says they'll try again tomorrow.That evening after supper, René plays his harmonica as Therese washes the dishes and Émile smokes his pipe. Red lies under the table by René's feet. Therese and Émile join the music, singing "Mon Amour Perdu" (My Lost Love) in French. Therese says it's a sad song, but it makes her happy sometimes to be sad. Then René and Émile start a harmonica-and-spoons duet with foot stomping, and Émile and Therese dance. The revelry is interrupted when Haggin comes in--he noticed Red was not in his kennel. René explains that he asked to bring Red there because the dog was lonely. He and Émile leave to take Red back to his kennel, and Therese serves coffee to Haggin. She thinks the music was good for Big Red, but he is skeptical: "Improved his coat, huh?" She speaks of happiness on the inside showing on the outside; she thinks it's good the boy and the dog have each other. "One should never be alone," she says, "even when one has great wealth." Her musings have shifted from the dog to its owner: "One must forget that which is past; one must go forward." Haggin responds good-naturedly, "I should have gotten rid of you five years ago, before you learned to cook."René loses his boot while running in the field with Red on the long lead. Sitting on a rock by the stream to put his boot back on, he sets the lure down on another rock beside him. The breeze blows it into the water. It drifts downstream past Red's nose as he drinks from the stream, and he follows it. It gets into fast water and he breaks into a run. René once again loses the lead and must run after Red. The stream comes to a man-made pool and waterfall with a flume leading to an empty mill. René enters the mill and sees Red below him through a crack in the floorboards. Descending to the level below, he finds Haggin picking what appears to be coarse, sticky sawdust out of Red's coat.René offers to quit "le job" and says he won't ask the full week of pay. But Haggin advises him: "Never quit 'le job,' son. Just tell 'em you're unhappy and ask for twice the money." René helps pick the debris off the dog. Haggin explains that Red is not like their other dogs; he's what is called a bench dog: "His kind aren't used for any practical purposes anymore. ... Once his kind were great hunters, but they're so good to look at that the hunting points were bred out. ... They've lost their most important point--the sense of responsibility." Red can still be ready for the dog show next month, and if he wins he'll be worth $10,000. Haggin shows René a photo of a female Irish setter: "She's for him, to start the Wintapi Kennels, when he wins Best in Show at Westminster."Walking home, Haggin learns from René that his uncle's cabin is 20-25 miles north. Haggin has hunted in that area and knows it to be pretty rough country. René never went to school, but his uncle taught him from books. Haggin stresses the importance of school. René agrees but says, "For me now, it is necessary to work and make my way in the world." Haggin says he won't get very far without an education: "If you want to be a success ... make a lot of money ... that's what you want, isn't it?" "Oui, Monsieur," replies René, "but most of all I want to be useful; that I think is the first thing." Haggin has to agree.Spence Blake of the Montreal Kennel Club arrives at Wintapi to give his expert opinion on Red. (He was the Best in Show judge at the start of the movie.) Haggin explains that Red seems uncontrollable; he doesn't seem to want to perform anymore. Blake is puzzled: "That's funny--an old trouper like Red." It becomes apparent to both men that the dog is too distracted by the boy who takes care of him--except when he's on the lead with René. Haggin decides to keep Red in the main house with him until the dog show, and René is not to see Red for any reason. Haggin invites Blake to stay for lunch, and the two depart. René asks Émile, "Pourquoi?" Émile explains: "Because that big foolish dog likes you too much. ... If he does not obey Monsieur he cannot win the show, and if he does not win the show Monsieur will sell him."Red lies at his master's feet as Haggin sits reading by the fire. Therese comes upstairs to take away Monsieur's dinner dishes, and Red follows her to the landing, where she gives him a morsel from the tray as she descends. Then Red hears the boy's harmonica and goes to the window seat to look out. René lies in bed and plays "Mon Amour Perdu." He looks out his window and sees Red across the way, looking down at him sadly from the main house.Champion Ginger's Mollie O'Day arrives at Wintapi and settles into Red's kennel. Émile tells her: "Mademoiselle, you are now at your own home--chez vous. If you wish for service, you have only to ring." He tells René, "With this one for Big Red, the Wintapi Kennel will be the best in the world!" René is glum: if Big Red loses the showing, Monsieur Haggin will sell him, and then where will the kennel be? Émile: "Monsieur Haggin is not a man who loses." René: "They are not judging Monsieur Haggin." But Émile is confident Big Red will win. The departure for New York is scheduled for the following day, and René asks if he can see Big Red tonight to say goodbye: "For ten minutes perhaps?" Émile refuses: "For no minutes. Red is now content, and he will remain so."After dark, Red is again at the upstairs window as René stealthily approaches the main house. René peeks in the downstairs windows, and the dog comes down to look for him. They meet on opposite sides of the French doors, and René gets his chance to say goodbye, even though he cannot come inside. Then he runs from the house, but Red is determined to follow him. Haggin and Therese can't stop the dog, and he leaps through a window, breaking the glass and injuring himself. René runs back to him, and Red collapses. René embraces the dog as Haggin, Therese and Émile look on.Émile checks the dog on an examining table in the kennel. He shakes his head--the prognosis is grim. Haggin instructs Émile, "Put him to sleep." René pleads with Haggin not to kill the dog: "Please, let me take care of him, Monsieur." But Haggin is adamant: "You don't want him to suffer, do you? ... Neither do I." Haggin leaves and Émile goes into the adjoining room to prepare the injection. When he returns, boy and dog are both gone. With his jacket draped over the dog, René carries him into the wilderness.Therese gives Haggin a difficult time: "Was it so bad--a boy who wanted to say goodbye to a dog? Oh, but I have forgotten--he disobeyed Monsieur, and this is terrible." Haggin doesn't want to talk about it: "Therese, it's over and done with, understand?"René nurses Red back to health at the cabin of his dead uncle. One day, Haggin is sitting in his yard preparing ammunition for hunting when an Irish setter comes up and sits by him. He wonders who let Mollie out until he realizes it's not Mollie but Red. René appears and tells where Red has been: "Now I return him to you." René has his travel bag, but he doesn't share Haggin's enthusiasm at his return. Haggin says, "Tell Émile you're back, and I'll tell Therese you're hungry," but René says he is not hungry. Haggin praises him for the fine job he did restoring the health of a dog that was practically dead: "Let Émile see this; he'll never believe it." Red's as good as new, says Haggin: "He'll take that New York show next year." But René says, "No, Monsieur"--Red has a scar that ruins him for showing. Haggin says he's still valuable for stud and reminds René, "Never quit le job." But René thinks it would be better if he found other work. Haggin says, "I feel I owe you something," but René replies, "You owe me nothing, Monsieur." Haggin reluctantly concedes the point: "Okay." René cements it with his own "okay" and starts to leave, but Red follows him and tugs at his hand. He tells the dog in a firm voice to go back. Red does so reluctantly and sits beside his owner. René walks and then runs away.Red and Mollie are housed together; Red is disconsolate. Haggin arranges over the phone to have both dogs sold. He is shipping them that morning to a man named Jim. He tells Jim that Mollie will be having Red's pups in a couple of weeks--Jim can keep one if he likes and sell the rest. Then he adds, "No, no, I don't think so," apparently on the question of Jim's holding back a pup for him. Therese has been dusting noisily, and Haggin hangs up and says, "No comments, Therese." She replies: "What is to comment? ... After all, a dog is only an animal. ... And if the dogs remind one of a certain person, that is unfortunate." Haggin reiterates, "The dog is a closed subject," and leaves. Therese picks up a framed black-and-white photo of a young man in uniform and says to herself, "There are many closed subjects in this house; I know that."Red and Mollie travel by train through the Canadian wilderness. They are together in one crate in the baggage car. The baggageman (Georges Bouvier) puts down a pan of water for them, but they can't reach it through the bars. He removes the lock on the door of the crate, and just then the train makes a sudden stop. He steps off the train to investigate. When he is gone, Red pushes open the door of the crate and goes to the open door of the baggage car, where Mollie joins him. There is a moose on the tracks. The baggageman has a remarkable talent that he has used before, and he is pressed into service again: he does a male moose call that lures the female off the tracks. When the train starts moving, Red and Mollie jump to freedom in the wild. The baggageman runs and jumps aboard the back of the moving train. The moose watches the train recede into the distance; Red and Mollie do the same.René searches on foot for an errant cow. She's a big, gentle Brown Swiss dairy cow, and he finds her just over a broken-down spot in the split-rail fence around Wintapi. He points out to her that she's trespassing on the private property of Monsieur le Boss: "This is not permitted." She lets out a loud moo, and he laughs. Haggin happens by just then in a one-horse carriage and asks, "Your cow, René?" René replies that she belongs to the farm of Monsieur Mariot, where he is working now. He starts to take her away but comes back and asks: "How is he, Monsieur? Is he well, Big Red?" Haggin informs him that Red and Mollie ran away over a week ago. They were being shipped to Montreal for sale and got out of the baggage car. It was up in the Laurentians. He notified the forest rangers, but there's not much chance of finding them: "Two kennel-bred dogs wouldn't last a week in that wild country. ... I'm as sorry as you are." René replies, "I can understand, Monsieur; it is too bad to lose all that money." Haggin departs without another word.René takes the same train to the spot where it stopped for the moose. He rides in the baggage car, and the same baggageman thinks his search will be impossible. But René's uncle taught him how to track fox and wolf: "A dog is no difference." When they reach the place, the baggageman wishes him "bon chance," and he sets off on foot with rifle and backpack.Red and Mollie climb the rocks beside a magnificent waterfall with multiple cascading levels. Red hears René playing "Mon Amour Perdu" on his harmonica in the distance. At the top, Mollie finds a cave in which to have her pups, and Red helps her prepare a depression in the floor of the cave. Then he runs down to René's campsite. After a joyful reunion, René gives Red smoked meat from the farm of Monsieur Mariot. As hungry as Red is, he takes the meat to Mollie and leads René to the cave where she is giving birth. They arrive just in time for René to present Red with his firstborn. In the morning René names one of the four pups 'Tit Rouge (Little Red) and tells Mollie that when they are big enough to travel, they will all go home. But that will be a while, and he and Big Red will hunt and bring them good things to eat.Haggin is bringing in his morning newspaper when he finds the same cow again on his property, eating one of his bushes: "Good morning, madame. How are you? I wish you'd eat your breakfast elsewhere." It appears she broke through the fence again. Dairy farmer Mariot (Doris Lussier) arrives on horseback and observes, "This is not a very strong gate, Mr. Haggin." He worries the bush might poison his cow, "to say nothing of spoiling her milk." It's possible he'll have to take steps: "In our province both the rich and the poor are equal before the law." Haggin says he thought the young boy René was tending the cow for him, but Mariot says the boy is no longer in his employ because he has not chosen to come to work for two weeks now: "Perhaps he has gone to that cabin of his uncle to sit all day and play the harmonica. ... And if this cow gets away again, I'll have a good idea where to place the full responsibility, sir."Early next morning, Therese is packing provisions into saddlebags when Émile comes down and asks what she's doing. It's for Monsieur Haggin, she explains. He is going into the woods to hunt--for one medium-size boy. He's going to the boy's cabin to see what has happened. Émile is surprised--only yesterday Monsieur said he was closing Wintapi to travel to Europe. Émile starts to go get his things, but Therese tells him he is going nowhere: "This is a journey of the emotions; there is no room for two."Haggin travels through the woods on horseback. René travels through the woods on foot with Red and Mollie--and the four puppies in his backpack. When Red spots a deer and chases it off, René remarks that Red loves to hunt but never catches anything. Haggin's path crosses that of a cougar, and his horse is spooked. He tumbles off the horse and down a steep slope into a ravine. The horse runs off. Haggin's foot is trapped under a boulder. The boulder won't budge; his rifle is just out of reach; he's at the mercy of the cougar. With his belt he tries to lasso the rifle, but he grabs a rock when the cougar drops from sight and he hears something approaching. Red appears; the cougar reappears. Red holds the cougar at bay until René and Mollie catch up. The cougar lunges from a high rock, but René shoots it in midair and it falls dead. René uses a limb for leverage against the boulder to free Monsieur. Haggin says he was wrong about Red: "I said he was irresponsible, but he was ready to get himself killed for me."Then René has something he wishes to say: "I have made many mistakes, Monsieur, and those mistakes were by my own foolishness. I have caused Monsieur much trouble. ... Would Monsieur want me in his employ again, perhaps?" But Haggin has a better idea, one he figured out on his ride up there: "You'll live with me at Wintapi, and then you'll go to school." René is reluctant to accept such a generous offer, but Haggin explains it's an arrangement where both parties benefit--he cares for the boy: "I came up here because I was worried about you." René says: "There is nothing I would like better in the whole world than to stay with you at Wintapi and go to school. Okay?" Haggin says, "Okay!" He needs help walking with his injured foot: "You tell me if I lean too heavily." They walk back to Wintapi with Haggin limping all the way and leaning on René. By the time they get back, the four puppies have grown enough that they run ahead of the others.
  • 1962-06-06 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
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  • Norman Tokar Director:
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