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"Unstoppable" by Mike Smith
Forgotten Films: Bless the Beasts & Children by ED Tucker
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Midnight Video: The Gateway to Horror Movie Imports by Chris Woods
|THE ASIAN APERTURE|
Female Prisoner: #701: Scorpion by Jason Fetters
Remembering .... Passing On .... .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf by Mike Smith
The original one sheet movie poster for Bless the Beasts & Children.
- Wheaties, Box Canyon Counselor, Cabin Four – “The Bedwetters”
Stanley Kramer’s 1971 film was an adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s (The Shootist) novel of the same name published one year earlier. The book, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, told the story of six misfit youths who are sent to an Arizona boy’s camp, presumably to overcome their inadequacies and become men. Deemed, “emotionally disturbed” by the camp directors, the boys end up in the same cabin together with a counselor who probably has no business around children to begin with. The misfits band together against a society that has cast them aside and embark on a self imposed mission to free a group of buffalo they recognize as kindred spirits.
John Cotton – the victim of a broken marriage between a career military father he idolizes and a social climbing mother who views him more as a hindrance than a son. Cotton is plagued by fits of uncontrollable rage but still rises to become the self proclaimed leader of this band of outcasts.
Lawrence Teft – a juvenile delinquent with a hatred of the authority his successful investment broker father represents. Teft is shrewd and resourceful when the results suit his purpose.
Sammy Shecker – the overweight son of a popular Jewish comedian who lives in his father’s shadow while trying to follow in his footsteps. Shecker is outgoing and loyal to the only group left that will tolerate him.
Gerald Goodenow – a slight and effeminate boy raised from a young age by a widowed mother. Perhaps the most unbalanced of the entire group but his traumas have manifested in non-hostile ways that draw less attention.
Stephen & Billy Lally – two brothers from a wealthy family whose parents care more about social standing than raising children. Billy, the younger brother, is emotionally withdrawn while Stephen blames most of his problems on the unfair attention he believes is lavished on his brother.
Cotton accepts The Bedwetter's symbol of "encouragement".
Box Canyon Boys Camp is the type of rugged outdoors environment that six kids from the city would feel completely lost in even if they weren’t already dealing with a basket full of emotional issues. The cabin arrangements are not assigned so that the boys can segregate into groups of their own choosing and, of course, this means the rejects all end up together after a few weeks. The cabin names are a designation of social standing that can be won or lost based on athletic and artistic achievement and even cunning if one cabin successfully steals the mascot of another. The mascots are the taxidermy heads of various animals with the buffalo, ironically, representing the highest order. Failing at every turn, the misfits of cabin four end up at the bottom of the heap and are given an old fashioned chamber pot and the nickname of “The Bedwetters” to supposedly encourage improvement.
The Bedwetters receive the "Ding" speech from Wheaties.
Liberating horses from the camp, the boys ride them to the highway and then walk into the next town. There, thanks to Teft’s shady skills, they hotwire an old exterminator truck and continue on their way. After stopping for lunch in another town, they attract the attention of a pair of local slackers who corner them outside town and attempt to harass them. Teft once again comes through with a .22 rifle he brought along and sends the cow punks off on foot after shooting one of their tires.
An original promotional photo shows Teft dealing with the slackers.
The boys finally reach the pen at the end of the day and this is where they real tests begin. They arrive on foot after their truck runs out of gas and are faced with a gate lock even Teft can’t pick. After bickering through most of the night and threatening to backslide on the tenacious progress they have made, Teft finally manages to hotwire another truck and they use it to pull the chain off the gate. By throwing their transistor radios set on full volume into the herd and causing as much ruckus as they can muster, they manage to stampede the buffalo but, being the dings that they are, the animals stop only a few hundred yards away to graze. The morning sun begins to rise and the sound of the hunters trucks can be heard in the distance.
Cotton's final fit of rage sets the tragic conclusion in motion.
Kramer’s film follows Glendon Swarthout’s book very closely except for the ending. Both end on the same downbeat note but Swarthout chose a more sublime method rooted in youthful foolhardiness. Kramer went with a more topical approach drawing parallels between the Vietnam War that was currently underway. This may tend to date the film slightly but it makes the ending no less tragic. The final scene as the remaining misfits silently stare down the shocked hunters is a chilling classic.
The paperback movie tie-in of the original novel.
The soundtrack to the film also deserves a mention. The title track was contributed by The Carpenters and compliments the film perfectly with its haunting melody and pleading lyrics. The remaining tracks are mostly instrumentals with similarly melancholy tunes. The stand out among these is a beautiful piece called Cotton’s Dream by Barry De Vorzon. Several years after the film’s release, De Vorzon would rework this tune slightly and re-title it Nadia’s Theme. Since 1973, this has served as the theme music to the popular daytime soap opera The Young and the Restless.
Bless the Beasts and Children was a staple on television for many years following its theatrical release but it was almost always presented in a truncated form that eliminated much of the ordeal the boys were put through at camp and some of the more violent footage of the buffalo kills. It received only a very limited home video release from Columbia Tristar on VHS cassette and has never had a legal DVD release in the United States. While the film is probably too strong for younger children, anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or had to overcome adversity just to reach the status quo can relate and appreciate its story.
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