Follow Me, Boys! (1966)
Follow Me, Boys! is a 1966 family film produced by Walt Disney Productions. It is an adaptation of the 1954 novel God and My Country by MacKinlay Kantor and is notable for being the final live action film produced by Walt Disney, which was released two weeks before his death.
The film stars Fred MacMurray, Vera Miles, Lillian Gish, Charles Ruggles and Kurt Russell, and is co-produced by Walt Disney and Winston Hibler, directed by Norman Tokar and written by Louis Pelletier.
The film is notable for being one of the few movies that features the Boy Scouts of America and is Disney’s paean to the Boy Scouts. The title song “Follow Me, Boys!” was written by studio favorites Robert and Richard Sherman. For a time, after the film was released, the Boy Scouts of America was considering using the song as their anthem, but efforts toward this end were eventually dropped. Boys’ Life for December 1966 included a teaser article on the film.
Lem Siddons is part of a traveling band who has a dream of becoming a lawyer. Deciding to settle down, he finds a job as a stockboy in the general store of a small town. Trying to fit in, he volunteers to become scoutmaster of the newly formed Troop 1. Becoming more and more involved with the scout troop, he finds his plans to become a lawyer being put on the back burner, until he realizes that his life has been fulfilled helping the youth of the small town. (Wiki)
- Fred MacMurray — Lemuel “Lem” Siddons
- Vera Miles — Vida Downey
- Lillian Gish — Hetty Seibert
- Charlie Ruggles — John Everett Hughes
- Sean McClory — Edward White, Sr.
- Kurt Russell — Edward “Whitey” White, Jr.
- Donald May — Edward “Whitey” White, Jr., as an adult
- Luana Patten — Nora White
- Elliott Reid — Ralph Hastings
- John Zaremba — Ralph Hasting’s lawyer
- Ken Murray — Melody Murphy
- Parley Baer — Mayor Hi Plommer
- Steve Franken — P.O.W. Lieutenant
This was Ruggles’ last feature film. He has a small but critical role in the film. He was age 80 when this picture was made, and did only television work afterwards, until his death in 1970.
- This is a movie which needs to come around again. The USA is hurting for stories such as this. In a nutshell, an outsider named Lemuel Siddons wants so badly to become part of the community he volunteers to become the scoutmaster of a new Boy Scout troop…and over 40 years watches his scouts, their kids and grandkids all follow the path he blazed. He and the community come to realize he is part of them, and that he has become far more important in the grand scheme of life by guiding others to be good citizens/neighbors than he ever might have done by being a famous attorney.
- December 2 1966 NY Times Archive:
ON my honor, I will do my best to keep a trust-worthy head, a loyal hand on my typewriter and a helpful, friendly spirit in my heart while writing this review of Walt Disney’s latest pep picture, “Follow Me, Boys!” But I must warn, it’s going to take some doing, and my best may not be quite enough. So be prepared.For Mr. Disney’s contribution to the incoming Christmas show, which includes the traditional Nativity Pageant, at the Radio City Music Hall is such a clutter of sentimental blubberings about the brotherhood of the Boy Scouts and indiscriminate ladling of cornball folksy comedy that it taxes the loyalty and patience of even a one-time ardent member of the Beaver Patrol. One wonders what sort of horror it may course current 12-year-olds.The strain of it isn’t just in seeing Fred MacMurray playing the role of a tirelessly gung-ho scoutmaster in a small town as though he himself were a self-elected victim of arrested development. That’s a conventional discomfort for which the viewer should be prepared by the introduction of Mr. MacMurray as a member of a band of allegedly over-aged collegiate musicians touring the provinces in a bus, with Ken Murray, looking all of 60, as the leading collegian.What is most painful and embarrassing is the picture this film gives of the American small town as a haven for television-type comedians having themselves a fine time with a routine of rancid clichés.Who is the country-store keeper who gives Mr. MacMurray a job but Charles Ruggles, gentle old codger with a fine stock of licorice sticks. Who is the rich old lady with the eccentric ways but Lillian Gish, offering her valuable land for a Boy Scout camp because that’s where her two deceased sons used to play. And who is the nasty nephew who wants to declare her incompetent but Elliott Reid, popular heavy from several of Mr. Disney’s picture and television shows.Mixed up in their smalltown environment is a mess of parental types who are only a shade less hackneyed than their improbable sons. Considering my oath above, it grieves me to have to report that one is a drunk—a thick-tongued, maudlin widower—who dies along the way and leaves a stouthearted son who is adopted by Mr. MacMurray and his childless wife, Vera Miles.
And it also grieves me to have to tell you that this lad, valiant though he is, has to undergo extreme community censure for a minor accident caused by another boy.But so it is in this splashy, sprawling picture, which is as artificial as its brightly colored sets and every bit as superficial as its lump-in-the-throat sentiments. That said, it’s only fair to inform you that the first audience yesterday morning at the Music Hall (made up largely, it appeared, of older people) was chuckling and sniffling all through the film. Maybe that bit of information will testify to the sincerity, if not the fulfillment, of my oath.The glitter of Christmas decorations is dominant in the stage show that completes the program. The highlights are a “Snowflake”‘ ballet, featuring the solo dancers Lawrence and Carroll, and a colorful dancing-dolls number by the lively Rockettes. The Brandt Brothers do a conventional teeterboard turn, and the finale is a dazzling jack-in-the box spectacle.