1928, b&w, silent, 9 reels, First National
Reviews: Certainly the critics from the New
York Times and Variety didn't find much good in this version of The
Shepherd of the Hills, but they did find some. Variety says
"'Shepherd' registers as a mild western which will need all the
publicity it can get. . . ." "Not 'smash' box
office but likely to figure moderately through whatever strength the
title possesses and the performances of Francis, Boles, and Betz.
Scenic qualities also an asset."
The New York Times is a bit more positive--I
think. "While the picturization of Harold Bell Wright's
story, 'The Shepherd of the Hills' has its flourishes, its
extravagancies, its unlikely villains and, in some sequences, its
disregard for human psychology, this film is far more diverting than
other screen conceptions of the same author's widely read works."
The Motion Picture Almanac (MPA) of 1929 suggests,
however, that the film was viewed with more enthusiasm by the public
than by the critics. The Shepherd of the Hills was one of 820
feature films released in 1928. The MPA polled theater owners
across the country to learn which films they considered the best films
of 1928. The Shepherd of the Hills did not appear in that
list. But according to those same theater owners "The
Shepherd of the Hills" was the seventh highest money-maker of the
year, behind only Ben Hur, The Big Parade, Seventh Heaven, Romona,
Speedy, and What Price Glory. (Though The Winning of Barbara Worth
had been released in 1926, it was still ranked number 52 among the
"Top 104 Money Makers of 1928.")
The Motion Picture Almanac was an annual
publication of a weekly theatre owners trade journal whose name in 1928
was Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World. That paper always
included comments from theatre owners. One owner shared these
views with his colleagues in the August 18, 1928 issue: "Shepherd
of the Hills--special cast--July 29-30. Well boys, this is a
natural. Holds my house record for the year and a few of the big
ones played this year include 'What Price Glory,' 'Seventh Heaven,' 'Ben
Hur,' 'and 'The Big Parade.' I have never played a Harold Bell
Wright picture that wasn't a bell ringer. Eight reels. --Wm.
E. Tragsdorf, Trags Theatre, Neillsville, Wis. --small town
From the descriptions of the two critics, the story
is about a terrible drought that threatens to ruin all the farmers in
the area. The Shepherd, a wise old man recently arrived in the
area, seems to become their spiritual leader, the one who encourages
them to keep believing that rain will come. Eventually, when rain
does not come they turn on him and abuse him. But just at that
moment, after he prays, rain comes and the sheep, the farms, the
farmers, and the Shepherd, are saved. As the rain falls, Young
Matt finally defeats Wash Gibbs in a ferocious fight, which helps him to
win the hand of Sammy Lane. Incidentally, the Variety critic says
Molly O'Day has very little to do in this film, doesn't do it that well,
and looks "more than pudgy." I guess they is why they
are called "critics."
Meanwhile, back in the rain and the celebrating,
the familiar story emerges. The Shepherd admits that he is the
grandfather of Little Pete. In fact, in a flashback, the film
shows that the Shepherd had actually encouraged his son to abandon
Little Pete's mother, the daughter of Old Matt and Aunt Molly, leading
to her death. In the end, the rain foils the plans of a big city
swindler to grab all the land when the farmers couldn't make their
It would seem that the idea for a 1950's dog show
was born here. "In this production. . . ," says the New
York Times critic, "there is one episode where Lassie, an
intelligent dog, stops the sheep from drinking poisoned water.
Lassie has a good noodle on her shaggy body, for she even restrains
herself when squirrels are around. She almost ignores one of the
little animals when it is sitting on Howitt's shoulders."
Release: First National
Production: First National
Director: Albert Rogell
Writing/Screenplay: From Harold Bell
Wright's novel by same name.
Availability: This is considered to be one of thousands of
movies forever lost. No copy is known to exist.