Sunday, March 19, 2023

Guardian of the Wilderness (1976)

          Again demonstrating their propensity for transforming facts into ridiculous fiction, the folks at Sunn Classic Pictures used the real-life story of Galen Clark, credited with spearheading preservation of the Yosemite Valley, as the foundation for this Grizzly Adams-style nature adventure replete with aminal antics and preachy monologues. In some ways, Guardian of the Wilderness is more palatable than the usual Sunn outdoor fare simply because the real Clark’s achievements were historically significant, though any sensible viewer will quickly surmise that the film’s particulars are pure bunk. That said, it’s hard to get to riled up about a movie that celebrates animals, nature, preservation, and the capacity of motivated individuals to change the world for the better.

          As in real life, Clark (Denver Pyle) was a middle-aged prospector who relocated to the California mountains after getting diagnosed with consumption. Generally speaking, that’s when the movie deviates from reality. Per the film, Clark regained his health thanks to assistance from various animals and from people including a friendly Native American, Teneiya (Don Shanks), and naturalist John Muir (John Dehner). Also per the film, Clark almost single-handedly kept loggers at bay long enough for Muir to begin a political process for protecting the Yosemite Valley. Throughout the picture, Clark explains situations for the audience by way of talking to his pet raccoon. At its silliest, Guardian of the Wilderness gets bogged down in tiresome Disney-style critter comedy, as when a stubborn goose keeps plucking laundry off a line. The picture also features several dumb scenes of people stumbling into the right place at the right time—Clark’s wholly fictional encounter with Abraham Lincoln being the most laughable example.

          Yet for those who enjoy the types of beautiful places Clark strove to preserve, Guardian of the Wilderness is harmlessly and even somewhat pleasantly insipid because cowriter/director David O’Malley, Pyle, and their collaborators all understood the assignment. O’Malley and his technical team focus on pretty shots of lakes and trees while Pyle works an amiable-grouch groove, resulting in a fanciful but kid-friendly riff on Americana. Accordingly, even though Guardian of the Wilderness grows more and more absurd as it progresses, the piece moves along at a decent clip, never wavering from its mission. And if the movie has ever compelled one youthful viewer to care a bit more about history or nature, then the endeavor had a worthy outcome.

Guardian of the Wilderness: FUNKY