11-year-old Marty Preston has a predicament. Since his family has
had to mortgage the house to pay the doctor bills of his recently
deceased grandmother, his dad does not look kindly on the idea of
adding a canine member to the family. ("No dog, no way.") Even if
Marty could come up with the money to buy one, his dad complains that
there are still the food, the shots, and the doctor visits that the dog
To further complicate matters, Marty has set his heart on the
unobtainable. He knows a local redneck hunter, Judd Travers, who
abuses his friendly beagle for not responding quick enough. This
nameless dog -- Judd only gives his dogs numbers -- has been christened
Shiloh by Marty, and the animal has won Marty's heart. Judd believes
the dog will be a great hunting dog so he refuses to part with him for
First-time writer and director Dale Rosenbloom's film SHILOH
garnered rave reviews when it was released earlier this year. As a
film critic, I understand the marketing of non-family films -- I can't
say adult films since the pornography industry has absconded with that
moniker -- but the marketing and distribution of family films continues
to baffle me. After these sterling reviews, Warner Brothers chose to
give the movie only a limited release. After missing such major
markets as California's Silicon Valley, they gave up on the film and
sent it to video. With mediocre products such as THAT DARN CAT, A
SIMPLE WISH and GONE FISHIN' getting a wide distribution, why couldn't
they have promoted an intelligent family film? Doesn't quality count
SHILOH is a richly textured film populated with completely
believable family and friends. It even has a villain worth hating and
yet sympathetic too. And then there is the dog. Shiloh has a
metronome for a tail, a sweet, slobbery tongue, big soulful eyes,
playfully floppy ears and an intense loyalty.
Judd, played with crusty demeanor by Scott Wilson, was whipped by
his father from age four. Judd makes his living by hunting, mainly
illegally, and views his dogs as little more that the tools of his
trade. Since he is single, he abuses them as his father abused him.
In the backwoods town of West Virginia where the story takes place,
this rings true.
After a wounded Shiloh shows up again at his house, Marty, played
with touching sincerity by Blake Heron, devises a scheme whereby he
will hide Shiloh and find enough odd jobs to secure the money for his
purchase. The fatal flaw, of course, is that Judd has no intention of
ever parting with the dog, regardless of the price.
In less capable hands than Rosenbloom's the film could easily have
dissolved into maudlin cliches. The smartly written script makes for a
warm hearted and realistic tale. Typical of the film's strengths are
the depths of the supporting cast. Michael Moriarty plays Marty's
father as a stubborn and controlling parent, but one with a sweetness
just below the surface. His mother, played by Ann Dowd, works hard to
earn extra money. The battles between the parents, both on and off
screen, avoids the overacting usually found in disagreements among
parents in films.
Easily the biggest surprise in the picture is Rod Steiger's
heartwarming role as Doc Wallace, the local doctor and general store
owner. Doc is the grandfather and guardian of Marty's girlfriend Sam,
played by J. Madison Wright. Sam has a big crush on Marty but manages
to hide it most of the time as they pal around. When she steals the
inevitable kiss, he acts like he hates it.
The script is full of homilies inserted so naturally that you
don't realize they are present. "Don't ever run away from a problem,"
advises the father. "Sometimes the biggest test of love is how much
you're willing to fight for it," says the Doc.
Cinematographer Frank Byers shot the film in warm nostalgic shades
of browns and golds. Amy B. Ancona's sets are evocative without ever
being overloaded with gaudy country nicknacks. And Joel Goldsmith's
music has a wonderful dreaminess to it.
The film has a long and completely plausible resolution of the
conflict, but it seems at first to lack the tension needed to make it
compelling. A twist towards the end changes everything. The result is
a completely satisfying picture with a touching little story, nicely
SHILOH runs just 1:33. It is rated PG for mild violence. The
show would be excellent for kids six and up. Younger ones might have
trouble with the couple of scenes of a dog being kicked. My son
Jeffrey, age 8, liked the film "very much," but added that it would not
make his best of the year list. I recommend this fine film to your
family and give it ***.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes