Action / Adventure / Animal / Drama / Family / Western
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Dorothy McGuire as Katie Coates
Fess Parker as Jim Coates
Jeff York as Bud Searcy
Chuck Connors as Burn Sanderson
Beverly Washburn as Lisbeth Searcy
Tommy Kirk as Travis Coates
Kevin Corcoran as Arliss Coates
Spike as Old Yeller
Doug as The bear
In 1860's post-Civil War Texas, a family settles down in a community called Salt Licks. Father Jim Coates departs from home to work on a cattle drive, leaving behind his wife Katie, older son Travis, and younger son Arliss. The family is left to fend for themselves with nothing but worthless Confederate dollars, while the father is off trying to make money for them. Travis is assigned to take over as head of the household while his father is away for the next three to four months. He promises to bring his son back a horse for his hard work.
One day while working in the cornfields, Travis comes across “Old Yeller”, a Blackmouth Cur. He tries to shoo the dog away, who spooked the mule, causing it to run around with the plow and knock down a long section of fence. He is so enraged that he threatens to shoot the dog if it comes around again.
However, when animal loving younger brother Arliss hears what has happened with the dog, he defends it. Immediately he wants to adopt the dog, and his mother approves, telling Travis he should learn to love Old Yeller as his little brother does. Travis becomes further annoyed though when the dog begins stealing meat from smokehouses. One night he purposefully hangs venison down low and within Old Yeller’s reach, hoping to catch him in the act and give him a reason to get rid of the dog. He is surprised when instead he spends the entire night guarding the meat. This makes a good impression on Travis. Later, when Arliss captures a baby cub and the mother bear starts to charge the boy, Old Yeller comes to his rescue and fights off the much larger animal. Travis finally accepts the dog, even allowing him to sleep in his bed.
Soon after, neighbor Bud Searcy and his daughter Elizabeth, who has a crush on Travis, visit the family. Katie tolerates Bud, despite his laziness and arrogance. She prepares him dinner when he refuses to leave. Elizabeth meanwhile warns Travis that she has seen Old Yeller stealing food from neighboring farms, but will never tell her father since he is going to be the dad of their dog Miss Priss’ puppies. Travis’ plan to keep his dog from stealing is to set him on guard in the cornfield, where his duty is to watch out for the racoons that have been eating the corn. Old Yeller successfully chases the racoons away.
Burn Sanderson, Old Yeller’s owner, comes looking for his dog one day. Once he sees how much the family needs him, he agrees to trade the dog for a desert horned lizard and a nice home cooked meal.
Another day, as Travis sits in a tree waiting to trap wild boars, he falls into the pack of boars below. One of them injures him, and Old Yeller attacks that boar and rescues Travis. Yeller is also wounded, but thankfully neither of them develops the hydrophobia (rabies) that Bud warned them was popping up around town.
Some days after, Rose, the Searcy’s cow, becomes infected by hydrophobia and goes crazy. Travis shoots the animal. As his mother and Elizabeth burn the carcass in a large fire, a rabid wolf attacks. Old Yeller defends the family, getting into a fight with the wolf. Travis manages to shoot the rabid animal, but not before it bites the dog. They keep Old Yeller penned up in a crib for several weeks to chart his progress, hoping that he will not develop any symptoms. After nearly four weeks of no symptoms, the dog begins to turn mean – first to Travis, and then to Arliss. However, Old Yeller soon becomes so vicious that the disheartened Travis has no option but to pull the trigger on him. When he is offered a puppy of the now dead dog’s, he refuses.
The next day, Jim returns home to his family as they are burying the dog. He brings home new shoes and a dress for his wife, a hatchet and Indian head bonnet for Arliss, and a horse for Travis. Travis is not excited as his father had hoped, but he understands and offers advice to his son. He explains the facts about life and death, though his son remains a bit skeptical. However, when Travis sees the puppy exhibiting traits his father had, he decides to adopt it after all, naming him “Young Yeller”.