A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Majolica in the Movies: Lassie Come Home

When it comes to family friendly movies nothing beats the adventures of Lassie, and when it comes to Lassie movies, the granddaddy of them all is the 1943 movie Lassie Come Home.

As a child of the 50's, I grew up with Lassie. The black and white series that starred June Lockhart, Tommy Rettig and John Provost was must see TV every Sunday night at 7:00 from the early 1950's through the early 1960's.

It wasn't until I reached adulthood that I saw the movie that started it all long before I was born, Lassie Come Home. The movie was a dramatization of a popular novel by Eric Knight starring Roddy McDowall and Donald Crisp with a supporting cast that can't be beat: Elsa Lanchester, Edmund Gwenn, Dame May Whitty, and a very young Elizabeth Taylor in an unbilled role. (Three years later, Taylor would star in her own Lassie movie, Courage of Lassie.)

The basic story is set in England before the war and concerns a poor English family (Crisp, Lanchester and McDowall) who need to sell their only real asset, their dog, because the father is unemployed and they need the money to survive. Lassie escapes from the new owner and spends the remainder of the film encountering various characters and hardships in her quest to return home to Roddy McDowall.

The movie is a typically lush MGM film from the height of the studio system, filmed in Technicolor with no expense spared. It is in the first scenes we were pleasantly surprised to spot some majolica in the poor family's home. Nothing says rustic charm like majolica and the set designers at MGM placed on the mantle three majolica oak leaf and acorn trays.

Later in the story the trays are gone from the mantle along with a number of other things, the presumption being that time has passed and more things have been sold by the household. Fortunately the story has a happy ending with father Donald Crisp finally getting a job to support the family and Lassie returning to her rightful home... and becoming a mother to boot!

I have to admit that I wasn't surprised to see the majolica in the movie. To be honest I looked for it, having seen majolica previously in National Velvet, a later Donald Crisp, Elizabeth Taylor MGM family film.

Lassie Come Home is a wonderful movie and a treat for anyone who may have not seen it, and while you're watching, keep an eye open for the majolica in the background.

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