A group of teenagers leave camp to pull off the impossible in this adaptation of the Glendon Swarthout novel.
At the Box Canyon Camp, groups of kids arrive and get their names known and become popular. However, for Cotton, Teft, Goodenow, Shecker, and the Lally Brothers, they are popular as outcasts. As a matter of fact, they are known as the Bedwetters. They are ridiculed and bullied on a daily basis, despite their efforts to stand up to everyone, including their own counselor, Wheaties. One fateful day, the kids go to a festival where they are in for a shock when they discover Wheaties is part of a group who kill buffalo for sport.
The boys decide to do the impossible. They decide to trek out of camp one night with the sole intention of finding the buffalo and freeing them. Along the way, the teens’ various backstories are revealed and how they ultimately came together. However, they run into a few obstacles along the journey. When they finally reach their destination, will they succeed in freeing the buffalo from being hunted for sport?
Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout, producer-director Stanley Kramer does an excellent job at meshing present day with flashbacks that gives us a look at not only the protagonists’ backstories, but how they came up with the idea of freeing the buffalo. This is a film that’s full of a range of emotions, from rejection to heartbreak to triumph and friendship. The film is mostly faithful to the novel with one key exception. However, the film and novel still get their points across despite the major change between the two forms.
The cast of young stars are the highlights of the film. Led by Lost in Space alum Bill Mumy as the tough talkin’ lock-pickin’ hotwire expert Teft, this is a wonderful cast who bring out their characters to life in such a great way that it makes the film want to be seen more and more. Barry Robins’ Cotton is the leader of the group, a wannabe military officer who feels rejected by his mother, who uses her looks and fakes her age to get suitors. Darel Glaser is the shyest of the bunch in Goodenow. Miles Chapin, who would later appear in the underrated French Postcards and even more later in Howard the Duck, is hilarious as Shecker, who churns out impressions galore and revels in following in his famous dad’s footsteps. Bob Kramer and Mark Vahanian round out the cast as the bickering Lally Brothers, or as depicted in both novel and film, Lally 1 and Lally 2.
The events that lead up to the story begins are well done and Kramer does a great job in juxtaposing the present day in terms of certain events with the flashbacks of the kids’ backstories. This just shows that the present day can trigger some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder on the part of the kids, thus the use of their backstories in flashback form. For instance, when Teft is confronted by a duo of redneck cowboys and he stays silent, we see Teft getting reamed out by his stockbroker father about stealing a car and causing an accident. We see Goodenow’s backstory more akin to his first day at camp, when he meets Cotton and ultimately becomes part of the group. We see the Lally Brothers in therapy and Lally 1 admits he grows tired of his little brother being babied all the time. We also see Shecker messing up his Bar Mitzvah and getting a talking to by his father, who felt he could have ad-libbed if he was too nervous.
The scenes involving Ken Swofford’s Wheaties are both shocking and at times, actually funny. The shock comes in the part when it is Wheaties’ trip with the boys that triggers the film’s core plot as seen in a flashback. There are two funny parts though that brings a sense of comic relief with the seriousness of the film, alongside Shecker’s comic rousing. They are when Shecker offers his headphones to Wheaties and while he is trying them on, decides to lead the group in bad-mouthing him to his face. The other is when Teft reveals Wheaties’ secret stash after the group is talked down upon and uses words in such a way that it makes Cotton, the usually stone-faced leader of the group, nearly crack up.
Bless the Beasts and Children is a riveting classic that is almost completely faithful to the novel with a major scene change, but nevertheless makes its point known and the young cast provide excellent performances.
WFG RATING: A
A Columbia Pictures production. Director: Stanley Kramer. Producer: Stanley Kramer. Writer: Mac Benoff; based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout. Cinematography: Michel Hugo. Editing: William A. Lyon.
Cast: Bill Mumy, Barry Robins, Miles Chapin, Darel Glaser, Bob Kramer, Marc Vahanian, Elaine DeVry, Ken Swofford, Jesse White, David Ketchum, Wayne Sutherlin, Bruce Glover, William Bramley, Vanessa Browne, Vincent Van Lynn, Charles Gray.