The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

Movie review by
Tom Cassidy, Common Sense Media
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin Movie Poster Image
Disney Old West slapstick adventure has outdated depictions.
  • NR
  • 1967
  • 108 minutes

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

Educational Value

Historical setting of Old West Gold Rush era shows how settlements began and developed, with an early San Francisco depicted.

Positive Messages

Good and bad are clear-cut, with clever and principled hero and dastardly villain. Friendships develop. Positive examples of courage and integrity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Griffin is hardworking, diligent, loyal, smart, unflappable, perceptive. Judge Higgins robs, steals, commits arson to get what he wants. Jack, a teenage boy, runs away from home. Two instances of dated cultural representation: A White actor plays a Mexican bandit, and Judge Higgins disguises himself as Chinese.

Violence & Scariness

Lots of mild slapstick violence, with fistfights and people being thrown around -- this action is sometimes sped up. Characters -- including a child -- are tied up and robbed at gunpoint by bandits with shots fired. A character is twice put in a noose, ready to be hanged. A prolonged boxing match takes place with more slapstick action. A ship and a saloon are set on fire. Confined chickens become distressed when their crate is broken.

Sexy Stuff

Characters perform cancan-style dances. Some kissing.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcohol, and a cigar is smoked in a saloon.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin is a live-action Disney adventure movie that has slapstick violence and outdated cultural depictions. Family butler Eric Griffin (Roddy McDowell) follows cowboy-obsessed teen Jack (Bryan Russell) to the Old West in search of gold where their paths cross with the villainous thief Judge Higgins (Karl Malden). The slapstick action includes fistfights and people being robbed at gunpoint. A man is twice put in a noose, ready to be hanged. A long boxing match ends the movie, with sped-up comic violence that dates it. A passenger ship is set alight, and a saloon burns down. Caged chickens become distressed during a fight scene. The current, most widely available version of the movie starts with a card explaining that the movie has been "edited for content." However, two culturally insensitive moments are integral to the plot, so while trimmed, they are still present. A White Canadian actor plays a Mexican bandit, with dark face paint and a big stick-on mustache. Higgins disguises himself as a Chinese person and makes a culturally insensitive attempt at Cantonese. Some drinking and smoking of cigars is depicted in a saloon, as befitting the time period. The Old West setting provides some historical context as to how early settlements were formed.

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What's the story?

When Jack (Bryan Russell) learns that his family is poor in THE ADVENTURES OF BULLWHIP GRIFFIN, he decides to runs away to find gold. The family's former -- but loyal -- butler, Eric Griffin (Roddy McDowell), follows him. While on their quest, the duo come face-to-face with the dastardly Judge Higgins (Karl Malden), who'll do anything to make his fortune.

Is it any good?

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin is a solid children's Western with inspired comic flourishes that occasionally overreaches with some other aspects of its humor. The sped-up action sequences in particular make the film feel dated. The movie builds on the Western craze from the '50s and '60s that saw cowboys on movie theater and TV screens every week, which sets the stage for the adventure to unfold. McDowell is charming as Griffin, the proud and loyal butler who is devoted to his work, while Malden is devilish as Judge Higgins. There are a few surprises along the way, and the story is for the most part well paced, with animated cutscenes and a narrative song to fill in time gaps. That pace slows toward the end of the movie and the climactic boxing match starts to drag. 

It's a spirited movie, though, and attractive too, with lavish costumes and sets complementing the dedicated cast's enthusiastic performances across the board. Suzanne Pleshette in particular gives a great performance as the headstrong and independent Arabella Flagg. While the movie has, in recent times, been edited to remove some culturally insensitive references, two remain. Although they are integral to the plot, they do the movie no favors in feeling old and out of step with what's acceptable today. While it's not an essential movie -- see our Westerns for Kids and Teens list for the best in the genre -- it is a sturdy, easy-to-watch adventure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the cultural representations in The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin. Why might they be considered problematic? Does the fact that the movie was made in the 1960s excuse them? Tips for battling stereotypes.

  • Discuss the violence in the movie. Did the fact that it was slapstick change how you felt about it? How did the action compare with that in movies today?

  • Griffin is proud to be a butler and gives his all, earning a terrific reputation, despite the role being seen as lowly by Jack. Why is it important to take pride in your work?

  • The Gold Rush in the 1800s helped establish the California of today. What is the history of your own town?

Movie details

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