Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This is a not-at-all-bad children's film that will hold the interest of adults by virtue of some
rather good cinematography in and around the Grand Canyon. It's tame
in the drama department but has a basically good attitude and doesn't bog things down with
An independent production, it was written and directed by an ex-Disney veteran and makes good use
of star Joseph Cotten.
The DVD is an elaborate but somewhat amateurish job. It lacks polish but compensates with some
interesting extras and a higher level of respect for the audience than one finds in budget family
The south rim of the Grand Canyon, 1906. Hunter Jim Owen (Joseph Cotten) takes time
out from helping out prospector Hezakiah (Dick Foran) to serve as a guide for big-game devotee
Theodore Roosevelt (Karl Swenson). His nephew Homer Hobbs (Dandy Curran) gets to go along as well.
Hezakiah makes friends with an amiable burro he calls Brighty, that has a knack for tangling with
the local cougars. But incorrigible claim-jumper and bad man Jake Irons (Pat Conway) makes
trouble for all of them.
Norman Foster has quite a resumé starting with Mr. Moto movies in the 1930s. He went with
Orson Welles to Brazil and is always dismissed as the director in name only of Journey into
Fear. His other noir was Kiss The Blood off My Hands, still a title with a charge to it.
But in the 1950s he had a solid run of successes with Walt Disney, from the
Davy Crockett and Zorro TV
shows to The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca.
Brighty of the Grand Canyon made use of Foster's experience filming in remote locations
with trained animals. It's a simple story that's fairly well told, with Brighty losing his
prospector pal and undergoing trials various natural threats and a treacherous
claim-jumper. Surpisingly for a independent film, a lot of the burro action is real. Only the
occasional fake burro leg is used here and there. Brighty really does get carted across the raging
Colorado river in a cable bucket, and he does mix with some scary-looking
mountain lions. The cast plays it all broad and simple with nary a tone of condescension.
Top-billed Joseph Cotten (the star of Journey into Fear) takes the entire enterprise quite
seriously, and gets good support from the old Universal contract player Dick Foran
(The Mummy's Hand). Lesser-known actor Pat Conway is okay as the heavy, and non-pro actor
Dandy Curran is fine in the requisite eager kid role.
Not bad at all as Teddy Roosevelt is familiar Western actor Karl Swenson. His impersonation is
excellent, and he adds a touch of enthusiasm to the proceedings. How the ex-president can take a
hunting trip by himself without an entourage is stretching it a bit, but the movie isn't adversely
But this isn't the typical brat-with-an-exotic-pet movie. The burro spends most of its time finding
gold for Foran, escaping the bad guy, getting bitten by big cats, etc. Both Foran and Cotten
appreciate the burro, but Brighty puts some heavy mileage on this beast of burden.
Strangely enough, there are some coincidences here with Bresson's Au Hazard, Balthazar, the
heartbreaking religious allegory about an abused mule used by smugglers to transport contraband.
In Oh Hazard Burro-zar, I mean Brighty of the Grand Canyon, the burro does get used
and abused to haul stolen gold, and there a couple of religious references are thrown into
the script (nothing overbearing). Just like Balthazar, Brighty is shot, but instead of being
abandoned he ends up being towed across the snow on a sled for an upbeat ending.
Foster's doesn't use fancy camerawork but tells his story well. The relaxed pace will be way too
slow for many, but the scenery is too spectacular to dismiss. The show is filmed on a small scale
but makes good use of the Grand Canyon wilderness in all seasons.
The only dated aspect of the film is the role given the cougars. Cotten hunts
them as part of his job, and they're treated as a menace that needs to be rubbed out.
Family Outdoor Adventure Classics' DVD of Brighty of the Grand Canyon is an okay presentation
with far better extras than usual. The original producer of the movie would seem to be in charge,
and the transfer appears to have been made from a prime source element in fine shape. But the disc
itself has the homemade look of pro-sumer software. The main feature is intact and in good physical
but it has pale colors and a lack of contrast, all of which I chalk up to sub-par encoding. The
audio (5.1) is robust, with extremely clear dialogue (probably post-dubbed) and good separation on
Phyllis and Richard Lavsky's lively Grofé-influenced score.
The menus are crude but function well. The many live-action extras are mostly short bits about various
aspects of The Grand Canyon that you might see on a travel video, hosted by an okay fellow named
Matthew Boston. They were nicely shot but may have come from a 3/4" video master and don't impress
on a larger monitor.
The main extra is buried at the bottom of the list - a lengthy interview docu with Stephen F. Booth,
the producer of the original movie and, many years later, this DVD. Accompanied by photos, Booth
relates the entire tale of the production. He discovered the popular book while on vacation,
prepared it for two years, rewrote it with Norman Foster and filmed it in the unique setting of
Canyon. There's far too much detail for the average viewer but not for anyone who's ever thought about
pulling off this kind of production - it's not as easy as it looks. The "main" Brighty burro ended
up being a particularly smart one raised in Illinois by the author of the original book. Helicopters
had to be used for dozens of trips daily in and out of the canyon. Brighty is Booth's one
theatrical adventure and he shares it with great enthusiam.
The packaging has a cluttered cover and text on the back that overstates the extras, with special
notation that the film was shot on "35mm Eastman (TM)" film stock.
Although I could not sample them, the text heralds a number of DVD-Rom text extras for PC or Mac.
They include a coloring book, a Brighty snapshot album, the director's original screenplay with
margin notes, more production photos, and internet links to promotional sites and travel resources.
There are trailers for other Family Outdoor Adventure Classics(TM) but
they tend to be of the "kids on vacation play matchmaker" G-rated variety, that might get regional
theatrical time but look like tame direct-to-video mulch. By contrast, Brighty of the Grand
Canyon is a labor of love and a very good film of its kind. 1
Thanks to Glen Grant of Burbank for help with this review.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Brighty of the Grand Canyon rates:
Video: Good --
Supplements: Seven Grand Canyon featurettes, Docu on making of Brighty of the Grand Canyon
hosted by its producer, DVD Rom features (see above0
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 21, 2004
1. I thought I'd seen
this film until I read the date ... there must be some other children's film about a burro in the
desert made around 1959 or 1960 that I thought was Brighty of the Grand Canyon. Any ideas?
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson