The story of the dolphin known as "Flipper" became a cottage industry in Hollywood. I remember being in Miami in the early 1970s and seeing two of the dolphins who portrayed "Flipper" at Marine World or whatever it is/was called. Despite all the later reworkings, this is the "Flipper" story you should see.
This is the film that began the whole "Flipper" legend. It's tough to realize that respect for dolphins and their abilities is only a fairly recent phenomenon. This film concludes with a very simple message along those lines, spoken by Chuck Connors, that meant something when it was made.
|Chuck Connors and Luke Halpin|
Chuck Connors is terrific as Porter Ricks, a man protecting himself and his family in a harsh and unforgiving environment. As a simple fisherman enduring a natural and hopefully temporary fish shortage, Connors projects a wonderful blend of empathy and firmness that set the standard for the various sequels, remake and TV series that followed. He certainly looks and acts like a man who lives a hard life and survives by his wits as much as his brawn. Kathleen Maguire is fine as Connors' loving wife, who tempers his hardness while understanding why he has to be that way.
|Luke Halpin and Flipper|
Luke Halpin is great as well playing son Sandy Ricks. It is extremely tough for child actors to come off as sympathetic, but Luke pulls it off. He is in virtually every scene that doesn't include Connors, and he successfully carries the film. Playing it straight as an arrow, he keeps his relationship with "Flipper" believable without going completely overboard with sentimentality, as sometimes happened in later versions.
|Chuck Connors is all man|
Flipper himself is wonderful, portrayed as a very vulnerable yet ultimately heroic sea creature rather than the the all-conquering wonder-beast that emerged later. Washed up on shore and dieing from a harpoon wound, it is impossible not to feel sad about his fate and, by extension, the fate of other defenseless sea creatures. This film did more for ecology than a hundred books by learned academics.
|Chuck Connors and Luke Halpin|
The tale is simple, of men and women against the elements. They live in simple, disposable shacks, and their fishing boats are their lives. Everybody is believable, from the fishermen struggling to find fish to the rules-bound woman who runs the tight community's de facto heart, the local Post Office. That's another nice thing about this original "Flipper": it has touches of authenticity like that. There is a fair share of melodrama, especially early on during the hurricane and at the film's climax, but that is certainly forgivable as being necessary to bring audiences a very different type of film.
|Yes, it's... Flipper!|
The special quality of this film is amply demonstrated by comparing it with the following year's sequel, "Flipper's New Adventures." Besides lacking the irreplaceable Connors, it features Halpin as a Sandy who is much more grown up (he must have grown six inches taller in that one year!) and histrionic and, thus, much less sympathetic (through absolutely no fault of his own, poor kid). The sequel began the rapid "Flipper" decline from a story about a strong family that helps a dolphin who ultimately repays the favor to a story about a cute dolphin who does tricks for the effectively parent less boy he has adopted. I prefer the former.
Recommended above all the subsequent versions. Below is the original classic trailer.