A hard-working pioneer family suffers severe hardships that can only be resolved with the help of kindly neighbors. Based on a true story. [Dir: Allen Reisner/ Glynis Johns, Cameron Mitchell, Rex Thompson/ 102 min/ Family, Drama/ Individualism, Voluntaryism]
There’s no big lesson here but so many small ones as to constitute a fair example of the “good neighbor” libertarianism espoused by Karl Hess. This is a film about people in a voluntary society — working, paying their debts, and helping each other when genuine help is needed.
Although the fate of the central characters is ultimately tragic, none here wallow in their victimhood. Instead they fight it, calling upon the aid of others only as a last resort. And even then they offer value for value to the degree possible.
The first half of this story depicts the fairly typical experience of an immigrant family in 1850s Wisconsin as they build a life for themselves in the wilderness. But the real drama, which gives the film its title, takes place in the second half. The parents of the family take ill and die, after charging the oldest child with the parental wish that his siblings be placed in good homes. Although only twelve years old, he carries out this wish with great courage and care despite efforts by the authoritarian town dowager to place the children in a state orphanage.
This sort of heroic personal responsibility is rarely seen today in fiction or in real life. And in this world of responsible people, where help is so rarely requested, it is therefore the more readily given.
Although the first half of the film is a little slow at times, the second half is absolutely heart-rending. Production values are unremarkable, but thanks to a superior story and a classic Max Steiner musical score, overall it’s above average.