The film centers around a 6-year-old girl named Savannah, whose father is running for the United States Senate. Because Savannah’s parents pay no attention to her, she decides to run away, leaving a note before she flees. Unfortunately, her father, fearing the note may hurt his chances of winning the election, burns it and admonishes the maid not to tell anyone. When her aunt picks her up and they go to the park, Savannah switches cars and ends up with two escaped (and incompetent) convicts. The convicts take her in and soon discover that her father has posted a reward of $100,000 for her safe return. Unexpectedly, they grow close to her, and Savannah finds the love and attention she always wanted. The convicts arrange to return her, with the help of the family priest, but she becomes lost in the mountains. The convicts refuse the opportunity to escape in order to search for her and bring her back safely, ultimately surrendering to the priest and the police.
Savannah Smiles is comedic, sad and endearing. On a relatively infrequent basis, its bungling bad guys say words that don’t need to be said—words that really seem to clash with the whole vibe of the movie—but, hey, if you’re trying to emphasize the badness of the bad guys, potty mouth is as good a way to do it as any. Once you clear that hurdle, it’s a nice film.
A preternaturally adorable little girl named Savannah, whose parents ignore her amid their political aspirations, gets the idea to run away from home after watching a Little Rascals rerun. She happens into two fugitive convicts named Alvie and Boots, who are so staggeringly incompetent you wonder how they escaped in the first place. And why did Alvie, only days from a certain parole, jeopardize it by risking an escape? So now everybody’s on the run. Savannah’s father, presuming that she has been abducted, turns his attention from his U.S. Senate candidacy long enough to establish a $100,000 reward for her safe return. Later, he comes across the note she left when she ran away, but fearing it will hurt his chances of getting elected, he orders that it be covered up. “It would only complicate things at this point,” he tells the nanny who found it.
When Alvie and Boots learn there’s a six-figure reward for Savannah’s return, they try to claim it. But there are two overriding concerns: they’re fugitives and the little girl has attached herself to their hearts. She gets more attention from them than she does from her mom and dad. Bootsie—as Savannah affectionately calls one of the convicts—even got her a puppy and tells Alvin, “I ain’t gonna steal anymore,” after putting the toddler to bed.
When Savannah wanders off in the Utah woods while taking the pup for a bathroom break, the convicts give up their aspirations for a reward—and for freedom—and enlist her family’s help to find her. A Japanese priest with a thoroughly Irish name (Father O’Hara, played by the culturally elastic late actor Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, of Happy Days and The Karate Kid fame) pitches in. The guy who wrote the movie, Mark Miller, also played Alvie.
Bridgette Andersen, bringing Shirley Temple-esque charm to the role of Savannah, will steal your heart the way she did the fugitives’. It’s too bad the actress died of a heroin overdose in 1997 at the age of 21. I’d imagine her portrayal of Savannah is much more the way she’d like to be remembered.
The Dove Take:
Heart-warming. If you can be convinced to overlook the mild profanities, you’ll likely agree.