Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

Year: 1967

Source materials: based on the novel By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman.

Box office: $1,900,000

Plot:  In 1848, after Arabella Flagg is orphaned in Boston, her young brother Jack and the family’s former butler Eric “Bullwhip” Griffin stow away aboard a ship bound for San Francisco, where the gold rush has begun. Griffin gets work as the ship’s cook.

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A swindler and thief, Judge Higgins, steals a map to a gold mine belonging to Quentin Bartlett, an actor who is among the ship’s passengers. Griffin, Jack and Bartlett all pursue the crooked judge while Arabella arrives in town and takes a job as a dancehall girl to make ends meet.

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Griffin encounters a beefy bully, Mountain Ox, and lashes out a punch that flattens him. “Bullwhip” becomes his new nickname. He is offered a prize to fight against the Mountain Ox, but declines. In pursuit of the judge, they are robbed  by bandits. When they catch up the the judge he is about to be hanged. They convince the townspeople to  wait. The townspeople insist that Griffin and Jack dig the judge’s grave. Doing so, the discover gold. In the chaos, the judge escapes.

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On their way back to San Francisco,  they lose their gold, so Griffin enters a prizefighting match and wins the money. He also wins Arabella’s affection, while Judge Higgins, caught trying to steal the fight’s receipts, quivers behind bars as a lynch mob for him forms outside.

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Changes from the Source Material: The butler in the novel is named Praiseworthy and Arabella is Jack’s aunt

Cast: Roddy McDowall, Suzanne Pleshette, Karl Malden, Hermione Baddeley, Richard Hayden, Mike Mazurki, Alan Carney, Cecil Kellaway, Parley Baer. John Qualen, and Jimmy MacDonald all return.

Harry Guardino as Sam Trimble. His Broadway theatre credits included A Hatful of Rain, One More River (earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance), Anyone Can Whistle, The Rose Tattoo, The Seven Descents of Myrtle, and Woman of the Year. Guardino’s film credits include Houseboat, Pork Chop Hill, The Five Pennies, King of Kings, Madigan, Lovers and Other Strangers, Dirty Harry and The Enforcer. Liam Redmond as Captain Swain. He appeared in films such as I See a Dark Stranger, Captain Boycott, High Treason, The Cruel Sea, Playboy of the Western World, Kid Galahad, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Tobruk, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,and Barry Lyndon.

Joby Baker as Bandido Leader. He appeared in The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Girl Happy, Gidget, Blackbeard’s Ghost, and Superdad. Arthur Hunnicutt as Referee. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Big Sky. Hunnicutt’s first film was Wildcat. He appeared in a number of films such as The Red Badge of Courage, The Lusty Men, The Kettles in the Ozarks, The Last Command, The Tall T, Cat Ballou, El Dorado, and Moonrunners.

Dub Taylor as Timekeeper. He appeared in numerous films including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, A Star Is Born, Them!, No Time for Sergeants, Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch, Junior Bonner, The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Bonnie and Clyde, Support Your Local Gunfighter, Back to the Future Part III, and Maverick. Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez as Bandido. His many roles include The High and the Mighty, Rio Bravo, Hellfighters, The Love Bug, and Support Your Local Gunfighter.

Songs: The songs were written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and the theme song was written by Mel Leven and George Bruns.

  • “Cal-i-for-nee Gold”
  • “Girls of San Francisco”

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Critical Reception:

  • Howard Thompson of The New York Times graded the film as “Okay, no more,” adding that “as a Western spoof, the picture is slow, overdrawn and tame to the point of gentility. Surely young Disney fans wouldn’t have cringed at some slambang, Gold Rush vigor, plus a little ‘Ruggles of Red Gap’ flavoring.”
  • Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called the film “a lively, entertaining comedy spoof of the California Gold Rush era. Zesty direction, wild performances, firstrate production values and broad comedy angles make this Walt Disney production particularly strong for all age audiences.”
  • Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Everyone turns in winning performances, but they don’t get much help from Lowell S. Hawley’s routine script, which too often emphasizes dialog at the expense of action, or from James Neilson’s equally pedestrian direction.”
  • The Monthly Film Bulletin stated, “A pity that some scenes are played for more than they are worth, but there’s enough liveliness here to keep all but the most sophisticated youngsters happy.”

 

My take: When this was released on Disney+, the film made the list of films that has been edited for content. Racial slurs were removed, and as that is where I watched it, I have no idea what they were.  Even so, there is still objectionable content.  The Mexican bandits are broad stereotypes, and Malden disguises himself as a Chinese person, speaking nonsense words.

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Available on Disney +?: Yes, in the edited version

Next Week: Blackbeard’s Ghost