Savage Sam

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Savage Sam Movie Poster Image
Old Yeller sequel has Native American stereotypes.
  • NR
  • 1963
  • 103 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids might pick up on dated conceptions about Native Americans, though that's not the aim of the film.

Positive Messages

Though the movie relies on dated stereotypes about Native Americans and a one-dimensional portrayal, there is some subtle messaging about the plight of the Native American and the encroachment of white settlers on their land.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Uncle Beck is a wise and prudent leader of the cowboys, and shows deep understanding and empathy for those around him -- be they cowboys or his nephews. The Native Americans get a one-dimensional, stereotypical portrayal.

Violence & Scariness

Many scenes of rifleplay and fistfights between cowboys and Native Americans. The younger brother defends himself against his older brother by throwing rocks at his brother's chest. As a fearless dog, Savage Sam gets into many fights with wolves, the Native Americans, and a bobcat. In frustration, the younger brother punches a horse in the face. Children are kidnapped by Native Americans.

Sexy Stuff
Language

At the peak of a heated exchange, one of the cowboys calls another cowboy a "jackass." Several times throughout the film, cowboys call the Native Americans "injuns" and "dirty red devils." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two of the cowboys share and consume chewing tobacco. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this sequel to Old Yeller, while certainly not the tearjerker of that well-known title, is filled with dated portrayals of Native Americans, including name calling ("injuns" and "dirty red devils"). Children are kidnapped. Also, expect extended rifle battles, brotherly rock fights, and scrappy conflicts between the titular dog and a feisty bobcat as well as a pack of wolves. 

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What's the story?

Left to take care of the ranch while his parents are doing business in San Antonio, Travis (Tommy Kirk) must contend with the stubbornness of his headstrong little brother Arliss. Fortunately, he has the faithful dog Savage Sam on the prowl, as well as his Uncle Beck (Brian Keith) to provide avuncular cowboy wisdom and assistance. But when Arliss ventures out to a cave to help Savage Sam fight a bobcat, Travis pursues him (with the help of neighbor and love interest Lizbeth) and the three are taken captive by a band of Native Americans. It is up to Savage Sam to lead Uncle Beck's posse to the Native Americans' hideout and to help rescue the children.

Is it any good?

While it's enjoyable to see Brian Keith put on his best John Wayne imitation, this sequel to Old Yeller has not aged well, especially in terms of its one-dimensional portrayal of Native Americans. It's a straightforward adventure story of the "cowboys and Indians" variety, with the added inclusion of Yeller's son, the loyal and ever-determined SAVAGE SAM. 

While certainly not the notorious tearjerker Old Yeller is known for, Savage Sam could be seen as the embodiment of the kinds of children's films made in the 1950s and early 1960s where dogs are gifted with both supernatural sensory abilities and remarkable understanding of human speech, where the lines between "good guys" and "bad guys" are clearly delineated, where archetypes and stereotypes don't go far enough to break their predicted patterns. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Native Americans are portrayed in this film. How does this reflect the culture of the time in which the film was made, and how does this contrast with how Native Americans are depicted in later films?

  • The characters are relatively in sync with the animals around them, and the climate and environment in which they work. Why do you think this is, and how would it be different if they spent less time outside? 

  • Remarking on the encroachment of cowboys and pioneers on land where Native Americans had lived for thousands of years, one of the cowboys says that "sometimes it's hard to tell who the savages are." What do you think the character means when he says this? 

Movie details

For kids who love adventure

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