May 26, 2016

The Animals in Film Blogathon - Smoky (1946)

Thanks to Crystal for hosting the blogathon and inviting me to participate. I love animals of all kinds and am a sucker for classic films with animal stars. Please visit Crystal's fine blog, In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

I'll be focusing on one of the best horse flicks ever, the 1946 film Smoky. It was adapted from the novel Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James. The film starred Fred MacMurray, Anne Baxter, Bruce Cabot, Esther Dale, Roy Roberts, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Burl Ives.

Will James, born Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault on June 6, 1892 in Saint-Nazaire-d'Acton, Quebec, Canada, was an artist and writer of the American West.

He worked as a cowboy in Canada until he was accused of cattle theft. He left Canada in 1913 and traveled to the United States with a new name, William Roderick James.

He wrote his most famous book, Smoky the Cowhorse, while living on a small ranch in Washoe Valley, Nevada. It was published in 1926 and won the Newbery Medal for children's literature in 1927. Three film adaptations were made of the book, with James narrating the 1933 film, which starred Victor Jory, Irene Bentley, Frank Campeau, Hank Mann, and LeRoy Mason. The other film adaptations were made in 1946 (the version I'm focusing on) and 1966, which starred Fess Parker, Diana Hyland, Katy Jurado, Hoyt Axton, and Robert J. Wilke. The 1966 film used archive footage from Smoky (1946) extensively.

Will James died of alcoholism in Hollywood, California on September 3, 1942.

The largest public collection of James' writings, artwork, and personal effects is at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana.

James was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in 1991, and into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1992, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Read Smoky the Cowhorse


Read/download the book by clicking here.

Smoky (1946)
Alternate Title: Will James' Smoky
Release Date: July 1946
Premiere Information: World premiere in Denver, Colorado: June 18, 1946
Production Date: July 12 to September 25, 1945
Duration (in minutes): 87
Color: Technicolor
Sound: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Directors: Louis King (Director)
Jasper Blystone (Assistant director)
James Tinling (2nd unit director)
Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck (Executive producer)
Robert Bassler (Producer)
Writers: Lillie Hayward (Screenplay)
Dwight Cummins (Screenplay)
Dorothy Yost (Screenplay)
Martin Berkeley (Contributor to screenplay)
Jack Andrews (Contributor to screenplay)
Jo Graham (Contributor to screenplay)
Based on the novel Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James (New York, 1926).
Photography: Charles G. Clarke (Director of photography)
Lou Kunkel (Camera operator)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art director)
Chester Gore (Art director)
Film Editor: Nick DeMaggio
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set decorator)
Harold Cramp (Associate set decorator)
Costumes: Bonnie Cashin
Music: David Raksin (Music)
Emil Newman (Musical director)
Arthur Morton (orchestral arrangements)
Sound: George Leverett
Harry M. Leonard
Paul Neal (Music mixer)
Murray Spivack (Music mixer)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Special photographic effects)
Edwin Hammeras (Transparencies)
Edward Snyder (Transparencies)
Make Up: Ben Nye (Makeup artist)
Albert Greenway (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Jack Lindell (Equine supervisor)
Paul MacPherson (Technical advisor)
Robert E. Goux (Unit manager)
Frances C. Richardson (Research director)
Ruth Fox (Research assistant)
Color Personnel: Natalie Kalmus (Technicolor color consultant)
Richard Mueller (Associate Technicolor color consultant)

Top L: Fred MacMurray -- Center: Esther Dale -- Top R: Anne Baxter
Center L: Bruce Cabot -- Center R: Roy Roberts
Bottom L: J. Farrell MacDonald -- Center R: Burl Ives

Cast (in credits order):
Fred MacMurray as Clint Barkley
Anne Baxter as Julie Richards
Bruce Cabot as Frank Denton
Esther Dale as "Gram" Richards
Roy Roberts as Jeff Nix
J. Farrell MacDonald as Jim
Burl Ives (as The Singing Troubadour Burl Ives) as Willie

Rest of cast listed alphabetically (uncredited):
Robert Adler as Scrubby
Stanley Andrews as Fred Kramer (Rancher)
Guy Beach as Sheriff
Harry Carter as Bud
Heinie Conklin as Man Watching Parade
Frank Darien as Junk Yard Owner
Bud Geary as Peters
Herbert Heywood as Livery Stable Proprietor
Victor Kilian as J.P. Mingo (Junkman)
Mae Marsh as Woman Watching Parade
Howard Negley as Nelson
Slim Pickens as Rodeo Cowboy
Douglas Spencer as Mack Gordon (Gambler)
Max Wagner as Bart

Did You Know?

The opening title reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Will James' Smoky."

Orchestral arranger Arthur Morton's name is misspelled "Morten" in the opening credits.

Burl Ives made his film debut in Smoky.

Smoky was filmed around Kanab, Utah and in the Paiute Indian country of Northern Arizona, as well as at rodeos in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Ogden, Utah, and Flagstaff, Arizona.

According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Library Special Collections Performing Arts, the studio bought the rights to Will James's novel in 1933 for the sum of $15,000.

The novel first appeared serially in Scribner's Magazine (April through July 1926).

A radio adaptation was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on March 24, 1947 and starred Joel McCrea and Constance Moore.


Drifter Clint Barkley (Fred MacMurray) is riding through Utah's back country when he sees a group of cowboys chasing after a herd of wild horses, which is being led led by a magnificent black stallion whom he names Smoky. The cowboys catch some of the horses but give up the chase for the stallion.

Clint goes after Smoky by himself, then appears a short time later at the Rocking R Ranch, which is run by Julie Richards (Anne Baxter) and her grandmother (Esther Dale), with the horse. After the cowhands help him herd Smoky into captivity, Clint asks Julie for a job as a wrangler, and she assigns him to break in some of the wild horses. Clint tries to break in Smoky gently, on his own time, and tells Julie that she should keep Smoky as a cow horse.

Jeff Nix (Roy Roberts), Julie's foreman who expressed doubts about hiring the stranger, and ranch hand Willie (Burl Ives) try to pry some information out of Clint about his past, but he is not forthcoming. Jeff tells Julie that he has heard a rumor in town that Clint was involved in a nasty scrape in Texas in which some money disappeared.

One day when Julie goes to swim in a nearby river and encounters Clint working with Smoky, Julie tells him that she has known Smoky since he was only a few weeks old and has followed his development with interest and affection. She tells Clint about the rumor regarding his past, but he declines to explain himself.

Soon after, a stranger named Frank (Bruce Cabot) comes to the Rocking R looking for Clint. Frank asks Clint, who took the blame for a crime Frank committed and has just completed an eight-month jail sentence, to get him a job on the ranch, and Clint reluctantly does.

Later, Clint manages to get a saddle on Smoky and continues to train him as a cow horse. Willie thinks that Smoky will go back to the wild the first chance he gets, but the horse shows obvious affection for Clint.

When Smoky chases Frank from the corral after he tries to move him, Jeff, who wants to sell Smoky, warns Clint that he will have to take the fight out of the horse or he will be turned loose.

While the cowboys are out on a cattle drive, Smoky trips and Clint is thrown off and knocked temporarily unconscious. Smoky has an opportunity to leave but stays by Clint. Later, when Clint is unable to get up, he ties himself to Smoky's stirrup and has the horse drag him back to the ranch. While Clint is being nursed by Julie, Frank mistreats Smoky.

After he is fully recovered, Clint is visited by a gambler who has an I.O.U. for $225, signed by someone using Clint's name. The gambler leaves after Clint tells him that he thinks he knows who signed his name and that he will try to get him the money. Clint extracts a confession from Frank and tells him to leave, but Frank threatens to tell Julie about Clint's past. After Clint socks him, however, Frank agrees to go.

Clint and Julie, who are becoming romantically involved, are about to bring Smoky in from pasture when news arrives that he has been stolen along with several prime cattle. They suspect Frank, but Jeff insists that Clint might also be involved. This forces Clint to admit to Jeff and Julie that Frank is his brother and that he has always had to cover up for him and even went to jail for him. Frank, meanwhile, gets his payoff for the rustled cattle but holds on to Smoky. He continues to mistreat the horse, but stumbles and is killed by Smoky, who escapes.

Clint sets out to track Smoky over many miles. Others have heard about the horse and succeed in capturing him, planning to use him in rodeos. Winter comes and Clint has to abandon his search temporarily and returns to the Rocking R. In the meantime, Smoky becomes "Cougar" the Bucking Bronco on the rodeo circuit, but is hurt and has to be retired.

Clint keeps tracking Smoky and discovers that he has been given to a riding academy, but the owner has passed him on to someone whose name he can not recall.

Sometime later in Cheyenne, Smoky is working as a junk cart horse when he sees a poster for a rival bucking bronco, hears the sounds of a rodeo parade and takes off to join the parade, junk cart and all. Clint is in the crowd, and while Smoky recognizes him and nudges him, Clint does not realize the horse might be Smoky until later. Clint tracks him to a junk yard and the weary, skinny old horse responds with heartfelt snorts and a whinny when Clint speaks his name.

Back at the Rocking R, Smoky makes a speedy recovery, and Clint and Julie turn him loose in the pasture where the woods and canyons await him.

Burl Ives - American Folk Songs - Soundtrack to Smoky (1946)

All the music that Burl Ives performs in Smoky (1946). Note: These are songs as they appear in the film, some of which are incomplete. There is no official film soundtrack.

"Smoky" - music traditional, new lyrics and arrangement by Burl Ives.
"Streets of Laredo (The Cowboy's Lament)" - traditional.
"Woolly Boogie Bee" based on "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" - traditional, arrangement by Burl Ives.
"There Was an Old Man" music and lyrics by Burl Ives.
"Jimmy Crack Corn (The Blue Tail Fly)" - music and lyrics attributed to Daniel Decatur Emmett.
"The Foggy Dew" and "Down in the Valley" traditional, arrangements by Burl Ives.

Watch Smoky (1946)


Caftan Woman said...

Wonderful reading all of the information and your thoughts on "Smoky".

Funny how the mind plays tricks. I read the book when I was young and thought I had seen this film, but realized it was the 60s remake that I saw at the theatre. This version of the story has definitely been moved up to the top of my must-see list. Thank you.

Silver Screenings said...

How is it I've never heard of this film – or the book? I've been missing out!

Judy said...

I'd never heard of this, but am increasingly becoming a fan of Fred MacMurray, so must look out for it. Very interesting!

Anonymous said...

This is another movie to add to my "Must Watch List". I've heard of it, but I've never seen it. Thanks for your great post on it, and thanks so much for participating in the blogathon.

The idea was suggested to me the other day, so I've announced another blogathon. Anyway I would love to invite you to join in. Here is the link below.