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Lizards in Movies
 
Old Yeller (1957)
 
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
 
This is a classic Walt Disney boy-and-his-dog film about a family of pioneers in 1869 Texas and Old Yeller, the stray yellow dog they adopt. The famous tear-jerker ending has come to define the film, but until then it was a lot of fun, especially with two scenes with a horned lizard. And, of course, the corny theme song over the opening credits is not to be missed.

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At the beginning, the father goes away on a cattle drive leaving his wife Katie (Dorothy McGuire) and her two sons, Travis, and Arliss. The younger son Arliss is 6 or 7 years old and tends to get in trouble by doing stupid things such as when he tries to catch a bear cub and the mother bear attacks. Fortunately, Old Yeller fights her off, along with several other threats - racoons, wild hogs, and a wolf. Arliss also likes to hunt for lizards and frogs and snakes, which he carries around in his pockets. The two boys and their mother are at home in their log cabin when Katie gets supicious and asks Arliss what he has hin his pocket. He takes out a horned lizard and holds it in her face. She grimaces, asking how he can touch those ugly things. He tells her it has a smooth soft belly and it's pretty. (It's my favorite kind of lizard, too, but they're not for everyone.) She demands that he take it out of the house along with everything else he has. When he pulls out a frog, she digs into one of his pockets and pulls out a snake that startles her as she drops it on the floor. Travis tells her it's just a little garter snake, but she tells Arliss if he doesn't stop catching things and bringing them into the house, she will whip him. (It sounds much less like child abuse the old timey way she says it - "I'm gonna switch you good.") Then she tells him to never pick up a snake again. Travis reminds her that the snake's harmless, but she tells him that if Arliss will pick up one kind of snake, he'll pick up another, and the next time it could be a rattlesnake. Arliss throws the snake out the door, but we don't see him release the frog and lizard.

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A cowboy (Chuck Connors) shows up one day looking for his runaway dog. When he realizes the dog is Old Yeller, Arliss throws a fit screaming that the man can't take his dog. This was the era of cowboy heroes on TV and in the movies. They were like the superheroes of today, but human. (A year after this movie was made, Connors starred in the hit TV series "The Rifleman" for 6 seasons.) So instead of getting angry and demanding his dog, the cowboy is very understanding and devises a lesson-teaching compromise to let Arliss keep the dog. He asks Arliss what he has in his pocket, and Arliss pulls out another horned toad. The man tells him it's the nicest horny toad he's ever seen and offers to swap Old Yeller for it. Arliss agrees, but the man tells him the horny toad is hardly as big as a dog, so he should get a little more in return for the dog. He tells Arliss he will trade the dog for the horny toad if his mother also gives him "one big woman-cooked meal" and Arliss agrees. (Cowboys then could always be paid by a home-cooked meal.) After dinner he tells Arliss to take care of the dog. Arliss tells him to take care of his horny toad. Later we see the cowboy releasing the horned lizard and the camera follows it as it runs away.

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There is one more lizard scene in the movie. Old Yeller and Travis both get cut up by a group wild boars. Travis fetches his mother and Arliss to help him carry the dog home. The mother wants to keep Arliss from seeing Old Yeller's injuries, so she asks him to go catch her a "green-striped lizard." Arliss is happy to do so, and when he brings one back to her, she asks him to keep it so they can play a game. She wants him to pretend that Old Yeller is sick as the mule carries him home on a travois.

The movie is set in Texas, but most of it was filmed in California. The horned lizard we see is a species from California, but there is a very similar species in Texas. The frog we see is a leopard frog, which is common in Texas. The snake that Travis calls a garter snake is actually a species of water snake. Water snakes are also common in Texas, but not California, so it looks like someone who provided the animals knew their snakes. The "green-striped" lizard is a Western Fence Lizard, which is native to California, but it's similar enough to some lizards found in Texas that I'm going to give the film's animal wranglers credit for using animals that look like they might actually be found in Texas, which is rare in any film. Unfortunately, because they were filmed in California, the hills and oak grassland natural surroundings we see in the film are unlike any place in Texas, but that is common. Just watch any of the John Ford movies shot in Monument Valley which is on the Utah/Arizona border but which we are supposed to belive is in Texas.
(Theme song sung by Jerome Courtland)

"Old Yeller
Old Yeller
Old Yeller
Here, Yeller
Come back Yeller
Best doggone dog in the west

Old Yeller was a mongrel
An ugly lop-eared mongrel
Fancy free without a family tree
But he could up and do it
And prove there's nothin' to it
And that's how a good dog should be

Here, Yeller
Come back Yeller
Best doggone dog in the west
Best doggone dog in the west

Old Yeller was a hunter
A rarin', tearin' hunter
And then he chased he knew just how to run
And when he hunted trouble
He always found it double
And that's when Old Yeller had fun

Here, Yeller
Come back Yeller
Best doggone dog in the west
Best doggone dog in the west

Old Yeller was a fighter
A rootin', tootin' fighter
In any scrap he knew just what to do (just what to do)
A rough and ready feller
Although his coat was yeller
His bold Texas heart was true blue (true blue)

Here, Yeller
Come back Yeller
Best doggone dog in the west
Here, Yeller
Come back Yeller
Best doggone dog in the west
Best doggone dog in the west "