I watched The Snowgoose this past Saturday. It is a movie that touched me, oh so many years ago, when movies were made to play at such strings within each heart. But this attachment started even before my viewing of that movie.I already hungered to read (I suppose since my mother read my now-long-dead brother and me the story of Rascal from Reader’s Digest), and each month I had found stories from the back pages—and one month, a December—for that was the month that heart-feelings were then still allowed—for the first and the last time, the Digest chose to publish fiction, The Small One and The Snowgoose—and Paul Gallico.
I already knew this author, although I did not recognize it at the time: I had grown with Walt Disney and his own complement, which included The Three Lives of Thomasina. Soon Gallico would go on to mega-stardom in Hollywood with The Poseidon Adventure, which I did watch, then read—unmoved, disappointed. But that was later; for now, at this long-ago Christmas, I read about a small boy and his donkey—more detail escapes me—and about a man who chose to die so that he might be made whole and about a tangle-hair orphan who understood that need—and that man’s love—at last. I wept, as I wept now. I torn out and kept the illustration of the girl, Frith, with me for many years. Someday, perhaps a son or a grandchild shall happen across it and wonder. Perhaps he will have read this and smile with tears as I do now.
But there is more: there is the movie. I must have been sixteen, and my father, who shared my love of sweet and sentimental, watched it with me. (How sentimental? Once he had played the theme music from “The Vikings” for a Seattle uncle-by-law—a "man of the world" because of money and company held—and I could see that uncle raise his eyebrows and turn from the spectacle. But I knew; I understood. The eight-track tape was mine, after all.) We both appreciated the movie: Richard Harris had already reached our isolated farmstead via his impassioned poetry reading on The Tonight Show. I only wished then that Philip’s portrait of Frith and Fritha was more like the by-then-tattered clipping I cherished. We both waited with anticipation for the rerun.
My father and I shared little else than this ability to live inside a well-crafted story, to experience it. Once toward the end of his life and when I was full of myself, with self-righteous indignation about a topic he held dear, he turned on me and said, “You are the most critical person I have ever known.” Those words stopped me, and incensed me, and wounded me. My father and I kept uneasy guard against each other from that point.
Then I did not understand what connections my father had to speak so harshly to his only daughter. I do not know everything now, but I do understand why he connected with The Snow Goose. While I only saw a sad ending, and a death of a man and a girl’s releasing a snow goose to the wilds at that end, my father saw the isolation, the need for love and empathy, the need for acceptance. These were also my father's needs.
When the Internet made available so much—that which had been only a wistful, passing thought—along with other favorites, I looked for The Snow Goose—and cursed Richard Harris that he held this movie captive within his lifetime—looking to others to forget such tripe, such motley, hackneyed work (if I had within me the powers to quote Shakespeare at this time, I would—to curse Harris by his own presumed standard). I knew that a California university housed it in its archives—and that for me to indulge my desire I would have to go there and be permissioned a private viewing.
Even I recognize the impossible. But I never stopped searching, hoping that one day and by protest, the barriers would break.
And protest there has been for a number of years (if Harris were alive, I would say, “You do understand protest, I believe, Mr. Harris? Wasn’t it your own Irish indignation that brought you your following in our own war-torn country? And what about your own supposed scorn of sentimentality? Why did you and Jenny Aguiter accept that cameo in another sentimental children’s movie, even after you had moved on to sophistication—and Miss Aguiter to . . . well, I wouldn’t mention what; let it suffice that you can find much in today’s “cloud” of information). There are others who have desired this movie—perhaps, I should say, have needed this movie. I have signed petitions and made comments with these others.
And the wall began to show chinks falling, breaks appearing. Two years ago, a man in Utah offering an obviously pirated edition at an outrageous price—I almost caved, but I thought of the theft and resulting profit and steeled myself. And then, this week, the break: I went to fill my queue at Netflicks (sometimes I forget and go weeks and months without movies—until I catch the charge on my bank statement) and on a whim, searched for “Harris, Richard” and “Snowgoose.” No Snowgoose, but then I took a chance and Googled the same. And there it was, so here I am—with two purposes.
First, and this for those of you still as “unconnected” as I, yet with a similar childhood experience, go to YouTube and search fruitfully (if you don’t mind the grainy quality: perhaps quality will replace unconditional re-viewing of this movie on my “bucket list”). And second for my father, who would have been one hundred years old today, I understand; I accept your criticism; and I wish I could share this movie with you again.