This very low-budget film didn't do justice to the masterful novel it came from, but perhaps no film could have captured this great book's magic. Stanley Kramer was a much better producer than a director, too, and he had to go back and rework the script himself to get it closer to the novel. The book's major theme excoriated man's inhumanity to these captive animals, and posits that by looking after them better, more humanely, maybe we will be kinder to one another. Glendon draws a strong parallel between a group of misfit campers, disturbed kids from uncaring, wealthy families whom nobody else wants to bunk with, teaming up to go free another group of disturbed captives, a small herd of buffalo, who await slaughter in Arizona's annual state-sponsored buffalo hunt. By freeing them, the boys also free themselves.
The camera tricks and editing are arresting, the buffalo hunt ghastly (from stock footage of real killings) and the stampede exciting, and some of the boys were good actors, particularly TV veteran Mumy and stage-trained Robbins (who sadly died quite prematurely some years later). The Carpenters' Oscar-nominated theme song was fine and the famous score by Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin is truly memorable. In fact one musical cue, "Cotton's Dream," became the much-played "Nadia's Theme" from the 1976 summer Olympics and later the theme song from CBS's hit soap opera, The Young and the Restless. You'll recognize it instantly from elevators the world over!
This little film still plays pretty well on TV as "family" programming, and really ought to be updated in a remake, for Arizona's annual buffalo hunt still goes on today, although with its rules much changed, almost solely due to the outcry from animal activists stirred-up by this great novel and film. Indeed, in 1994 the Ark Trust, a Hollywood animal rights' organization, voted Stanley Kramer a Genesis Award for best "classic film," for what Bless the Beasts & Children had meant over the years to furthering the cause of animal rights with America's youth. These great beasts and unforgettable boys will live on in our memories forever . . .
Is Thelma and Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in 1991, a total rip-off of Glendon Swarthout's best-selling novel? Did Callie Khouri really deserve her Oscar for Best Original Screenplay?
Check out Pamela Sharp's website and decide for yourself!
"With Bless the Beasts & Children, Stanley Kramer, in a sense, returns to the kind of filmmaking that first marked him as a director of distinction, and with which he had such great initial success. The Columbia presentation is a swift and evenly paced story of suspense, but one in which the events mean considerably more than their surface value. It is an allegory -- and that word should not scare anyone off -- about the decline in values, about why young people do not trust their elders, about the lapse and perhaps disintegration of social frameworks. All these elements are implicit. Bless the Beasts & Children is foremost a very successful film, tense, gripping and very moving. It should be a strong box office movie, and considering is very economical cost, a profitable one . . . Kramer has cast his boys -- the most important players in the film -- consummately. They respond to his sensitive direction. They are natural and completely convincing . . . Michel Hugo's color photography is poignant and bitter, capturing the conflicting moods of the film. The score by Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr. gives a useful counterpoint to the visuals, and there is a fine title song they have written that is sung by the Carpenters." James Powers, Hollywood Reporter
"Scratch a Stanley Kramer film, so they say, and a theme or symbol is bound to show through the surface gloss and enjoyment. Producer/director's latest, based on the Glendon Swarthout book, is no exception. But it is fortunately also a powerfully engrossing, frequently entertaining entry on most audience levels, and one which can -- and will be -- read and enjoyed in various ways, thus upping its potential." Variety
"Don't be put off by a title that oozes with sanctimony; this is a movie about being young. Young enough to care about the world around you, to believe that there is a beautiful bond among living things whether you're a fifteen-year-old or an aging buffalo Stanley Kramer's movie isn't perfect. It won't win any prizes for stylish direction, esthetics or impeccable taste, but it is a vastly affecting movie with heart and conscience, two things in very short supply. It will touch you deep and make you cry and be glad you are there." Picture of the Month, Seventeen Magazine
"Bless the Beasts & Children is moving, humorous, realistic and above all inspiring. Most audiences of almost any age will find this film an unforgettable experience." Frances Taylor, Long Island Press
"In Bless the Beasts & Children, his filming of Glendon Swarthout's tight, concise novel about six misfit teenagers trying to save a herd of buffalo from slaughter, Stanley Kramer has again used the screen to make a social point, or points. This time it's that children have a way of surviving no matter how hard we adults try to louse them up, that people working together can work miracles (if only in helping themselves) and that adults who play with guns ought to be shot.
This time the results are well north of R.P.M., although they are still well south of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. Swarthout generated a crackling and suspenseful story and Kramer preserves the excitement of it. It's an eventful movie and an honorable one which makes an eloquent case against the no-skill hunt which becomes slaughter for its own sake." Charles Champlin, the Los Angeles Times
"One of our contemporary mythologies -- of our dedication to the destruction of the innocent -- is dealt with in Stanley Kramer's Bless the Beasts & Children, a tense and engrossing version of Glendon Swarthout's novel. So professionally is the film done that it is only retrospectively that one regrets that it is a film somehow after its time, somehow simplistic in its equation of man's inhumanity to man and animal alike, its truths harangued into truisms, its characters clarified into stereotypes. Must professionalism become slickery?" Judith Crist, New Yorker
"The flashbacks are outrageously funny and pathetically sad, as is the film itself. It makes you laugh and cry, feel exhilaration and fury. Kramer has also produced and directed a graphically stunning motion picture, with liberal use of the scenic wonders of the Prescott and Jerome areas of Arizona. He has created a moving kaleidoscope of sight and sound which indelibly stamps an impression on the viewer's mind. You may love Bless the Beasts & Children, or you may hate it. But you won't forget it." Margot Erickson, Arizona Republic
"Exciting and well-intentioned, if repetitious, story of six young misfit boys, campers at a ranch, who attempt to free a captive herd of buffalo scheduled for slaughter." (3 stars) Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide