DirectorPierre de Moro
Release Date(s)1982 (May 22, 2018)
Studio(s)Savannah Smiles Productions/Gold Coast Productions/Embassy Pictures (MVD Rewind Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: C-
- Audio Grade: C-
- Extras Grade: C-
Savannah Smiles is a somewhat forgotten family film from 1982 that seemed to come and go with little to no fanfare. The story concerns the young Savannah, the daughter of a driven politician and his supportive wife, both of whom give their child very little attention. Running away from home, she accidentally winds up in the hands of a pair of low grade criminals. Realizing that there’s a reward for her safe return, they hatch a plan to hole up and hide with Savannah until they get the money. In doing so, they mark themselves as potential kidnappers, but meanwhile, Savannah slowly melts their thieving hearts along the way.
Schmaltz to the nth degree, Savannah Smiles is the equivalent of a TV movie you might have seen on ABC or the Lifetime channel in the late 80s or early 90s. Savannah (played by Bridgette Andersen) is just too cute for words, and her relationship with the two crooks, Alvie and Boots, is the heart of the film. The two even bicker like a married couple at times, something that’s taken full advantage of more than once for comedic effect. However, the film feels lopsided when it comes to everything happening outside of those three people. The scenes involving the parents are flat and uninteresting, despite a couple of attempts at mild plot twists along the way. The film is also fairly leisurely, clocking in at around 105 minutes, and those extra minutes are definitely felt. Fifteen of those minutes could have easily been lifted out to iron out the pace a bit more.
The cast and crew behind Savannah Smiles is interesting. Mark Miller, who stars as Alvie, was not only an actor, but he also wrote and produced the film. The director, Pierre de Moro, had directed Miller’s previous screenplay Christmas Mountain, and followed Savannah Smiles up later with the “women in prison” venture Hellhole, which was his last film. Bridgette Andersen, sadly, did not have a long, fruitful career afterwards. Later appearing in Fever Pitch, The Golden Girls, and various TV projects, she died tragically in the late 90s. Horror fans might also recognize her from the anthology film Nightmares as well. Other familiar faces include Pat Morita, Michael Parks, and Peter Graves.
MVD Rewind Collection’s Blu-ray debut of the film includes a new 2K high definition transfer from an original 35mm release print, which was provided by the Library of Congress. Going into one of these types of presentations, you have to expect a few things: crushed blacks, chunky grain, and soft detail, all of which are present in this transfer. Unfortunately, this may be the best the film can ever look if there are no original elements to salvage (outside of a full-blown restoration of the source print, that is). That all being said, it’s still quite watchable. Colors are slightly washed out at times, but there are some instances, such as the scene that takes place at a park, that shows off more verdant shades of green than usual. The presentation is also bright with good contrast and stability. Leftover damage includes enough scratches, speckling, dirt, and other types of debris to go around. Unfortunately, there are also some missing frames in a couple of spots as well, but the bulk of the film is still present to be enjoyed. The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono LPCM with no subtitle options. Besides the obvious deficiencies that come along with the quality of the print itself, including thumps, crackle, dropouts, distortion, and hiss, it’s not really that bad. Everything is fairly flat, including the score and sound effects which are pretty thin, but dialogue is discernible, which for a film like this, is important.
The extras include The Making of Savannah Smiles, a 29-minute featurette that offers up several of the film’s key players, including actor/writer/producer Mark Miller and Bridgette Andersen’s mother; Memories of Bridgette, a 21-minute look at Bridgette’s short career; Songs & Music, a 16-minute featurette on the film’s composer Ken Sutherland; a set of trailers for the film itself, Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God... Be Back by Five, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes; a DVD copy; and a fold-out poster of the film’s artwork.
It’s charming in its obvious low budget nature and has a few effective moments, but Savannah Smiles is a really tame affair. It likely won’t warrant much attention from modern audiences, but for those fans of live action Disney films from the late 70s and early 80s, notably The Apple Dumpling Gang, they’re likely to get more out of this than most. A better release of the film is likely if a full restoration can be carried out, but at this juncture, it’s not likely.
- Tim Salmons