“Follow Me, Boys,” a beautiful 1966 adaptation of MacKinlay Kantor’s novel, “God and My Country,” is to the Boy Scouts of America what “Field of Dreams” is to baseball. In fact, the film’s affectionate portrayal of the Scouts is worthy of comparison to illustrations Norman Rockwell created for the Boy Scouts’ calendars and magazine.
Playing the lovable hero Lem Siddons, Fred MacMurray delivers another one of the trademark performances that established him as one of the greatest television and film dads of all time. The cast also boasts a most lovely Vera Miles, Lillian Gish, and 15-year-old Kurt Russell in the first of his 10 Disney film appearances.
The film’s theme song, written by the Sherman Brothers, was so widely popular that the Boy Scouts of America considered making it their official anthem. That never happened, but it’s pretty safe to say they liked this movie.
Walt Disney himself was a long-time supporter of the Boy Scouts. He was briefly a boy scout as a child, but much later, as a film producer, he received Scouting’s highest commendation, the Silver Buffalo Award, for furthering “the joy of youth in every land.”
It’s particularly poignant that this would be Walt’s last film, released just two weeks before his death. It represents so many of his strengths as a producer. Superb performances by child actors, a role-model father figure, gentle humor, gorgeous music, flawless cinematography — these elements are pure Walt, and we recognize them as hallmarks of his distinctive genius.
The film’s easygoing sentimentality is one of its chief strengths, mainly because of MacMurray’s simple, honest, and utterly convincing way of playing these kinds of roles. Is “Follow Me, Boys!” a bit old-fashioned? Sure. Like a lot of Walt’s movies, this one was considered old-fashioned the day it was released. But the acting in it is so good, and the story rings so true, that it’s easy to get swept up in the atmosphere of it all. And when you do, this movie will take you on an emotional journey of laughter and tears. Because there’s just something innocent and sweet about it that’s hard to resist.
From start to finish, this film is a pleasure to watch, whether you’re a little kid or an adult kid. (The ending reminds me of my favorite movie scene of all time, from “White Christmas.”) When you reach the end of “Follow Me, Boys!” it will surely have you standing and cheering.