Savannah Smiles (1982)

PG | 104 mins | Comedy-drama | 9 April 1982

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HISTORY

End credits include the following statements: “Various promotional vehicles supplied by Studio Services, Inc.”; “The Little Rascals film clip courtesy of King World Productions, Inc.”; “The producers wish to thank the following: Utah Governor Scott M. Matheson; Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson; Salt Lake City Police Chief Bud Willoughby; Utah Film Commission; Salt Lake City Police Department; Utah County Sheriff’s S.W.A.T team; Utah Forest Rangers; Grantsville Police Department; LaCaille at Quail Run; Robert L. Kovoloff & Associates, Associated Film Promotion; Maxine’s Bridal-Tux Town; Utah State Prison.”
       On 27 Jan 1975, Box heralded actor-filmmaker Mark Miller’s planned second production, Savannah Smiles, a “bizarre comedy love story” starring his daughter Savannah Miller in the title role, with Leigh Taylor-Young, Slim Pickens and Ed Asner. Miller described it as a family picture with “a strong moral theme,” reminiscent of The Champ and Skippy (1931, see entries). Principal photography was scheduled for spring 1975. However, the project remained in limbo until 1981.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the idea for the film was suggested to Miller while he was in the process of writing a “big budget Western.” Because his daughter had outgrown the title role, Miller and his team auditioned 120 girls in Salt Lake City, UT, and Los Angeles, CA. They selected Bridgette Andersen, who, by coincidence, lived a short distance from Miller’s Malibu, CA, home. Miller considered his screenplay to be “a blueprint,” and revised the action and dialogue to suit the actors, particularly in the case of Andersen. Following a chance meeting with Ken Sutherland on an airliner, Miller hired ... More Less

End credits include the following statements: “Various promotional vehicles supplied by Studio Services, Inc.”; “The Little Rascals film clip courtesy of King World Productions, Inc.”; “The producers wish to thank the following: Utah Governor Scott M. Matheson; Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson; Salt Lake City Police Chief Bud Willoughby; Utah Film Commission; Salt Lake City Police Department; Utah County Sheriff’s S.W.A.T team; Utah Forest Rangers; Grantsville Police Department; LaCaille at Quail Run; Robert L. Kovoloff & Associates, Associated Film Promotion; Maxine’s Bridal-Tux Town; Utah State Prison.”
       On 27 Jan 1975, Box heralded actor-filmmaker Mark Miller’s planned second production, Savannah Smiles, a “bizarre comedy love story” starring his daughter Savannah Miller in the title role, with Leigh Taylor-Young, Slim Pickens and Ed Asner. Miller described it as a family picture with “a strong moral theme,” reminiscent of The Champ and Skippy (1931, see entries). Principal photography was scheduled for spring 1975. However, the project remained in limbo until 1981.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the idea for the film was suggested to Miller while he was in the process of writing a “big budget Western.” Because his daughter had outgrown the title role, Miller and his team auditioned 120 girls in Salt Lake City, UT, and Los Angeles, CA. They selected Bridgette Andersen, who, by coincidence, lived a short distance from Miller’s Malibu, CA, home. Miller considered his screenplay to be “a blueprint,” and revised the action and dialogue to suit the actors, particularly in the case of Andersen. Following a chance meeting with Ken Sutherland on an airliner, Miller hired the songwriter to score the entire film. Principal photography took place on location throughout Utah, including American Fork Canyon, Brighton, Grantsville, Bridal Veil Falls, and in Salt Lake City at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the Hall of Justice, Liberty Park, and LaCaille.
       The film opened 9 Apr 1982 on twenty-seven screens throughout Utah and earned approximately $125,000 during its first weekend, as noted in the 16 Apr 1982 HR. Several theater owners estimated that twenty-five percent of their towns’ citizenry saw the film over the weekend. The 20 Apr 1982 HR reported on the early Apr 1982 premiere of Savannah Smiles in Salt Lake City, UT. Net proceeds from the event, totaling $16,500, benefited Westminster College. A wider release of 100 prints, planned for 26 May 1982, was postponed until the following month, when 300 prints would gradually be circulated across the country over the next several weeks. Engagements in UT, MT, and ID were extended because of public demand.
       A news item in the 18 May 1982 HR stated that Alfie Jarratt and Denise Leigh of AJ Film Distributors, Ltd., would represent the picture at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. The 7 Jun 1982 DV reported that approximately 200 total prints were circulating in the Oklahoma City, OK, Seattle, WA, and Denver, CO, metropolitan areas. Miller explained that the risks involved in a larger release were too great, and considered his current plan to be the only practical option. On 8 Sep 1982, a full-page advertisement in Var announced gross earnings of $2,391,000, from engagements “in only 7% of the U.S. market.”
       According to the 1 Oct 1982 HR, Savannah Smiles was selected as a fundraising tool for the national Special Olympics organization. Following a screening in New Orleans, LA, the organization’s executive committee assigned two national coordinators to arrange benefit performances “in each city where the film opens and the foundation has offices.”
       The 18 Mar 1983 HR announced 350 to 400 upcoming engagements in Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, CA, Chicago, IL, Detroit, MI, Cleveland, OH, and Pittsburgh, PA. Earnings over the previous eleven months were estimated at $7.5 million. According to Miller, the production’s $3 million budget was supplied by oil magnate Hal Clifford. Following the picture’s limited release in eleven percent of the U.S., Miller made a deal for distribution and ancillary rights with Embassy Pictures, which opened the film in Minneapolis, MN, at a benefit screening for the Special Olympics. “An independent producer’s representative” was in charge of foreign sales, following deals with AJ Film Distributors and Handmade Films. At the time of the article, Embassy had spent approximately $2 million on promotional expenses, with plans to reissue the film in “its original markets” during summer 1983. A news item in the 22 Mar 1983 LAHExam mentioned that Embassy had the option to create a television series based on the film.
       Savannah Smiles opened to mixed reviews. When the 26 Mar 1983 LAT criticized the filmmakers for trivializing child endangerment, Miller responded with a letter citing the accolades his picture received from “religious and parent-teacher groups,” in addition to “a multitude of awards,” though no specific organizations were mentioned. Director Pierre De Moro published a letter in the 15 Jun 1983 HR, demanding credit for his contributions, and noting the absence of his name from the many articles written on the film’s success. According to De Moro, he aided Miller in many aspects of the production, including financing, scouting locations, and casting.
       The 21 Aug 1986 DV reported that Michigan National Bank and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) brought suit against Embassy Pictures and its successor, AEP Corporation, for inadequately promoting the film, as enforcement of the distributor’s contract with Savannah Smiles Productions, a limited partnership. Embassy acquired distribution rights in Dec 1982, and allegedly released the picture in “several markets without effective promotion.” Plaintiffs claimed damages exceeding $2.2 million, plus damages of $168,549 for failure to “accurately account for the film’s revenues,” and $5 million in punitive damages. The outcome has not been determined as of this writing.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
27 Jan 1975.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jun 1982.
---
Daily Variety
21 Aug 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 1982
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Apr 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 1983
p. 1, 36.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Aug 1986.
---
LAHExam
22 Mar 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Mar 1983
Section E, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
10 Apr 1983.
---
Variety
19 May 1982
p. 23.
Variety
11 Aug 1982.
---
Variety
8 Sep 1982
p. 33.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Gold Coast Film Release
Hal Clifford Presents
A Mark Miller and Donald J. Williams Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
WRITER
Story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy-elec
Elec
Generator-elec
Key grip
Best boy-grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst props
Set dec
Asst set dec
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Ward-men
Ward for Ms. Stanger and Ms. Borden
MUSIC
Orch
Mus rec at
Rec eng, Goodnight Audio
Addl rec at
Rec eng, Larrabee Studio
SOUND
Prod sd
Sd boom
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Dial ed
Asst ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Sd ed services by
Sd re-rec at
Sd re-rec, Goldwyn Sound Facility
Sd re-rec, Goldwyn Sound Facility
Sd re-rec, Goldwyn Sound Facility
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Asst spec eff
Col titles and opticals by
MAKEUP
Hair-makeup
Hair-makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Asst prod coord
Scr supv
Utah auditor
Asst to the prod
Extras casting
Wrangler
Prod asst, Los Angeles
Prod asst
Spec transportation consultant
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Welfare worker
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt man
Stunt man
SOURCES
SONGS
"Another Dusty Road," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Mountain Smoke
"My White Knight," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Ginger Brown
"Out Of The Shadow," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Larry Pinion
+
SONGS
"Another Dusty Road," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Mountain Smoke
"My White Knight," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Ginger Brown
"Out Of The Shadow," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Larry Pinion
"When Savannah Smiles," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Brian Champion
"Pretty Girl," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Red Steagall
"Love Will Never Be The Same Again," words and music by Ken Sutherland, vocals by Dave Garner.
+
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 April 1982
Premiere Information:
premiered in Salt Lake City, UT: early April 1982
Los Angeles opening: 25 March 1983
Production Date:
1981
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® Cameras by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
104
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26615
SYNOPSIS

Ex-convict Boots McGaffey executes a daring prison plan to free his friend, Alvie Gibbs from prison. Afterward, Alvie informs Boots that he was due for parole the following Friday. Unable to steal food, the two men spend the night under a bridge eating road kill. Meanwhile, senatorial candidate Richard Driscoll and his wife, Joan, host a dinner party for prominent citizens, in an effort to garner political support. Upstairs, their six-year-old daughter, Savannah, is angry with her neglectful parents, and decides to run away from home. The next morning, Alvie and Boots steal a dilapidated car, and rob a store of $18.42 and a bag of groceries. Savannah leaves a note to her parents on their nightstand, but it falls underneath the bed as she closes the door. The Driscolls’ neighbor, Carol, drives Savannah and several other children to the park. Savannah hides inside Alvie and Boots’s car while they steal purses. After the criminals drive away with Savannah, Carol notifies the Driscolls of their daughter’s disappearance, and they contact police. Boots buys ice cream cones for himself and his friend, but Alvie throws his out the car window and onto Patrolman Jamison, a passing motorcycle policeman. As the men apologize to Jamison, he informs them of Savannah’s presence in the back seat. The policeman accepts Boots’s claim that the child is his niece, and leaves them with a warning. Savannah thanks the fugitives for not turning her in, but refuses to give her name. Worried that they may be charged with kidnapping, Alvie and Boots attempt to return Savannah to the park, but ... +


Ex-convict Boots McGaffey executes a daring prison plan to free his friend, Alvie Gibbs from prison. Afterward, Alvie informs Boots that he was due for parole the following Friday. Unable to steal food, the two men spend the night under a bridge eating road kill. Meanwhile, senatorial candidate Richard Driscoll and his wife, Joan, host a dinner party for prominent citizens, in an effort to garner political support. Upstairs, their six-year-old daughter, Savannah, is angry with her neglectful parents, and decides to run away from home. The next morning, Alvie and Boots steal a dilapidated car, and rob a store of $18.42 and a bag of groceries. Savannah leaves a note to her parents on their nightstand, but it falls underneath the bed as she closes the door. The Driscolls’ neighbor, Carol, drives Savannah and several other children to the park. Savannah hides inside Alvie and Boots’s car while they steal purses. After the criminals drive away with Savannah, Carol notifies the Driscolls of their daughter’s disappearance, and they contact police. Boots buys ice cream cones for himself and his friend, but Alvie throws his out the car window and onto Patrolman Jamison, a passing motorcycle policeman. As the men apologize to Jamison, he informs them of Savannah’s presence in the back seat. The policeman accepts Boots’s claim that the child is his niece, and leaves them with a warning. Savannah thanks the fugitives for not turning her in, but refuses to give her name. Worried that they may be charged with kidnapping, Alvie and Boots attempt to return Savannah to the park, but she follows them as they drive away. While watching Savannah in the rearview mirror, Alvie crashes into a cluster of garbage cans, giving the girl an opportunity to get back into the car. Later, Jamison describes his encounter with Savannah to Police Chief Pruitt, Lieutenant Savage, and the Driscolls, and mentions that both men seemed surprised by her presence. Regardless, Richard believes his daughter was kidnapped, and hires famed investigator Harland Dobbs of Dallas, Texas, to find her. The convicts hide in an abandoned house and try to make Savannah comfortable. Through a newspaper story, Alvie discovers Savannah’s identity and learns that her wealthy father is offering a $100,000 reward for her return. Determined to get the reward money while avoiding arrest, Alvie offers a portion to local country singer Doreen Loomis in exchange for returning the child, but she refuses, fearing possible criminal charges. The next day, Boots calls the Driscolls to explain the situation, then hands the receiver to Savannah, who assures her parents that she is in no danger, although her father refuses to believe her. While Boots shoplifts supplies at a drugstore, Alvie hurts Savannah’s feelings by revealing that he has no interest in her beyond the reward. However, Boots becomes the child’s playmate and showers her with gifts. As Chief Pruitt and Lt. Savage proceed with their investigation, Dobbs, the private detective, proves himself to be redundant and obtuse. The Driscolls enlist Father Ohara, a Catholic priest, as their spokesman, and Ohara makes a televised plea to the alleged kidnappers. Alvie insists they waste no time collecting the reward, so Boots and Savannah compose a letter from pieces of newsprint and mail it to the Driscolls. Pt. Jamison identifies the two convicts from mug shots, and Dobbs concludes they are desperate criminals, capable of murder. When Boots’s letter arrives, Dobbs mistakes it for a ransom note, though Lt. Savage argues that nothing in the letter indicates a kidnapping. Boots takes a job at a carwash, and during his lunch break, he telephones Richard Driscoll, promising to return Savannah without compensation. Richard and Dobbs, however, suspect an ulterior motive. Meanwhile, Alvie empathizes with Savannah’s resentment toward her parents, and recalls his childhood, living on a farm with an abusive uncle. Following a particularly severe beating, Alvie left home at age ten. The next day, Alvie and Boots take Savannah on a picnic and give her a puppy. A police car follows them to their hideout, and the officer reports the location to Pruitt and Dobbs. That night, Boots infuriates Alvie when he admits to refusing the reward money, explaining that he no longer wants to be criminal. They awake the next morning to find the house surrounded by armed policemen, along with the Driscolls and Father Ohara. Lt. Savage watches through binoculars as Alvie comforts Savannah, but Pruitt believes he is dangerous and orders his men fire on the house. Angered by the gunshots, Alvie retrieves his pistol and leads Boots and Savannah to the car. When Father Ohara offers to mediate, Alvie takes him hostage. As police follow in an unmarked car, Alvie honors the priest’s request to be taken to a church, where he is to officiate a wedding. After the ceremony, the four leave the church in a different car and elude their pursuers. They stop at a ski lodge and telephone Richard to arrange Savannah’s return. Upon meeting the Driscolls, Alvie refuses the reward on condition that neither he nor Boots will be charged with a crime, and no police be involved. He also demands they take better care of their daughter. Richard accepts the deal, then reneges by arranging for police to surround the area. When Savannah wanders off with her puppy, Alvie and Boots risk their own safety to search for her. After Boots is arrested, Alvie returns Savannah to her mother and surrenders. Savannah says goodbye to both men, and Joan, appalled by her husband’s treachery, says goodbye to Richard. When Boots expresses concern that Savannah may learn of their criminal past, Alvie assures him that it will make no difference to her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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