MOVIE REVIEW: “NEVER CRY WOLF” November 1983

From 1981 to 1984 I provided weekly film reviews for the CBC Radio programme “Sunday Morning”. During much of that time the Executive Producer was Stuart McLean, bound for later glory. My Producer was the heroic Suanne Kelman, who steered me through many gasping, spluttering takes.

Here (with family names added) is one example:

Since “Never Cry Wolf” is that rare and wonderful thing, a family movie, I took along the Gibson Girls, aged 6 (Katie), 8 (Meg), and 37 (Sally). Happily, the outing was a success, marred only by the loud enquiry addressed to your discreet reviewer , “Daddy , why are you writing things down?” And despite my notes , my critical thunder was stolen by the 8-year old, who really enjoyed it, especially the mountains and the wolves, but felt that it didn’t add up to a real movie.

Like The Right Stuff, the other Wolfe movie around, the film suffers from the lack of a traditional plot. It’s based, of course, on Farley Mowat’s non-fiction classic, although the period has shifted from the late Forties to more modern times. And the setting has gone West — from the Barren Lands way north of Churchill, Manitoba, to the well-treed country on the B.C. border just south of Whitehorse, where the scenery is glorious. In fact the camera lingers so lovingly on the lakes and lichen  and lonely Lawren Harris hills that I kept expecting John and Janet Foster to appear.

It’s a beautiful film — and it catches the spirit, and the humour, of Farley’s book. The voice-over by the Mowat character reveals the same terror when he’s dumped by bush plane in the snowy middle of nowhere — encircled by crates of Ottawa requisition forms, and equally useless lightbulbs — with instructions to follow wolves. This hero is hilariously unheroic, whether he’s hiding under a canoe to escape from what he thinks are wolves, or cowering in his tent as a real wolf prowls around ready to huff and puff and blow his house down.

And the theme of both book and film, of course, is that our nursery rhyme view of wolves is wrong. So we watch our boy timidly learning to co-exist with his wolf neighbours, even marking out his territory, wolf-style, fuelled by 27 cups of tea. In time he becomes very fond of the wolves, playing the buffoon (as well as the bassoon) for them, giving them names, and watching with pleasure as the romping cubs discover that Dad has a tail for the pulling.

There are other scenes certain to delight young audiences, including the famous mice-eating incident, whereby hangs a tale…… of happy shrieks of “Oooh, that’s gross!” Other crowd-pleasers have our boy showing his “bare bum” — presumably an in-joke of which the famously kilted Mr. Mowat is the butt. Add a death-defying flight through the mountains and a scary fall through lake ice and you’ve got lots of the right stuff.

That being so, it’s too bad that the film drags a bit towards the end as it tries to show not just a change of seasons but a change of mind, as the hero comes to love the North, and despise so-called “civilisation” — a process that’s not so easy to show on film. But thanks to wonderful camera work and a witty performance by Charles Martin Smith as Mowat, all of the Gibsons can promise you — if you’ll excuse the gallant pun —  a Farley good time.

In Toronto this is Doug Gibson for Sunday Morning.

2 comments on “MOVIE REVIEW: “NEVER CRY WOLF” November 1983

  1. GOSSAGE says:

    A truly memorable film, Doug ! Couldn’t agree more and include Greetings to you and Jane for the new decade . Cheers!, Carolyn

  2. Douglas Gibson says:

    Many thanks, Carolyn. I gather that lots of CBC radio listeners enjoyed being reminded of my unusual movie reviews (the alliteration, the puns, the jokes!). My daughters, however, were very casual about this version of their introduction to the life of a child celebrity.

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