Cast & Crew
Bernard Mceveety [jr.]
In the small northwest town of Grantville, ten-year-old Napoleon Wilson lives with his grandfather Seth, who encourages the boy's love of animals and flights of imagination. When not in school, Napoleon and his best friend Samantha play games, which include selling general store owner Amos Gutteridge his own empty soda bottles that they have pilfered from his backyard storage area. As Samantha's parents are away, she is looked after by a stern, older neighbor, Gertrude, who frowns upon Napoleon's mischievous behavior, dirty appearance and what she perceives as bad influence on the younger Samantha. One evening after seeing a movie, Napoleon and Seth are surprised to come upon a small caravan driven by retiring circus clown Dimitri and his elderly lion Major. Dimitri confesses that he is returning to his home country of Italy and must find his long-time circus companion Major a good home. When Napoleon excitedly reveals that Seth is a former lion tamer, his grandfather sputters a clarification, but Dimitri is convinced that fate has brought them together. The clown assures the Wilsons that Major is extremely docile and consumes mostly milk due to having few remaining teeth. Although Seth says they have no place to keep Major, Napoleon suggests the chicken coop and soon they are guiding the lion home to live with Doodle the rooster and his hens. The next day, Napoleon promises Seth not to reveal Major's presence to anyone, but confides in Samantha, who is awed. When Amos questions Seth about the quantity of milk he is suddenly purchasing, Seth claims that he is using it for baths. Realizing that his health is growing steadily worse, Seth writes a letter to Napoleon's only other living relative, then speaks frankly with his grandson. Explaining that his body is wearing out, Seth reassures Napoleon that the essence of people never dies, but goes on forever. Relating that he has written to Napoleon's uncle in New York about him, Seth also declares that as his happiest hours have been spent on the nearby hill daydreaming with Napoleon, he wants to be buried there. A few days later, Napoleon and Samantha return to the Wilsons' from school to discover Seth dead. Recalling that Seth wrote to his uncle, Napoleon checks the postbox, but finds the letter returned as unclaimed. When Samantha reflects that Napoleon will likely end up in an orphanage, the boy stoutly rejects the idea and declares he will hide Seth's death and live alone with Major. Observing that Napoleon cannot bury Seth on his own, Samantha suggests that he seek help at the town employment office. Arriving there just before closing, Napoleon overhears university graduate student Daniel Arlington Williams III pleading for a brief position that would pay enough for him to purchase a textbook. Napoleon offers Danny the four dollars for the text book and although taken aback by the job description, Danny agrees. That evening at sunset, Danny, accompanied by Napoleon and Samantha, says a few words over Seth's gravesite on the hill. The next morning, Danny insists that he will remain with Napoleon until his uncle arrives. On her way to school, Samantha stops by and indicates that Napoleon can stay at her house, allowing Danny to return to his small cabin two valleys away. Vowing to be back in town in two weeks, Danny departs but Napoleon insists he must stay at the house to care for Major. After only two days, however, Napoleon, fearing that Amos will discover Seth's death, decides to take Major and search for Danny. When Samantha learns Napoleon's plans, she insists on accompanying him and leaves a note for Gertrude stating that she is staying at the Wilson house. After Samantha promises not to cry for any reason on the journey, Napoleon agrees and the two children, Doodle the rooster and Major set off over the hill. Mid-afternoon on the first day, a hungry mountain lion spots Doodle in Samantha's pack and stalks the pair until Major confronts the smaller, younger animal. As dusk approaches, Samantha admits to growing exhaustion and the pair spends the night in a barn. The next morning, the children set off with only Major, deciding that Doodle would be happier with a new harem of hens in the barn. That afternoon a bear comes upon Napoleon in a stream and Major attacks the bear who finally runs away. Later, the children and Major climb high into the mountains and soon are hiking on perilous cliffs. When Major abruptly grows tired and lays down, Napoleon struggles to push him on, but tumbles off the steep cliffs, only just catching onto a ledge. Samantha throws him the end of Major's lead rope and the lion pulls Napoleon to safety. Back in Grantville, Gertrude discovers that Samantha has not been staying at the Wilsons' and, alarmed, contacts the police. Recalling that the last time she saw Napoleon, he was walking with Danny, a "hippie" stranger, Gertrude suggests the children have been kidnapped. Upon exploring the Wilsons' property and finding Seth's grave, the police agree. Back in the mountains, exhausted Samantha presses Napoleon to admit that they are lost, but just then they spot a herd of goats and Danny in the next valley. Surprised by the arrival of the children and Major, Danny immediately inquires about the adults back in Grantville. After introducing the children to Mark Pierson, a hiker who recently stopped in the area, Danny discovers that Napoleon and Samantha have run away. As he has no telephone, Danny asks Mark to look after the children while he goes to town to inform Gertrude that Samantha is safe. Gertrude refuses to speak with Danny, however, and summons the police, who arrest him. At the station, Danny is compliant until he spots a wanted-sign for Mark. When the police refuse to listen to his warnings, Danny breaks out, steals a motorcycle and leads the police on a wild chase back to his cabin. Upon arriving there, Danny overpowers Mark and finds Napoleon and Samantha tied to chairs, believing they are playing a game with Mark. After the police subdue Mark, they reveal he is a recent escapee from a nearby mental hospital. Once Danny is cleared and Samantha's parents contacted, Danny is startled when Samantha reveals that Napoleon, still frightened of ending up in an orphanage, has departed with Major. Danny follows and asking Napoleon to trust him, convinces the boy and his lion to return home with him.
Bernard Mceveety [jr.]
Monroe P. Askins
John B. Mansbridge
Robert J. Schiffer
Walter M. Simonds
Napoleon and Samantha
Napoleon and Samantha stars Johnny Whitaker, already a big time child star from the TV show Family Affair, and Jodie Foster, a minor level child actress known mainly to astute viewers of My Three Sons and The Courtship of Eddie's Father. The two play the titular characters who open the film with a rather devilish act of theft. They sneak up behind the general store ran by that wonderful character actor Henry Jones, steal the empty bottles he will be returning for reimbursement and brings them into the store for redemption. Jones quips that he seems to pay for more bottles than he sells and proceeds to give Napoleon and Samantha their newly acquired candy from redeeming their stolen bottles. They spend a few seconds when leaving justifying it ("We gave him the bottles back, didn't we?") and that's that. This pair is cunning and we have to accept that if anything else in the movie is to make sense. What else is in the movie?
Napoleon asks his grandpa (Will Geer) to take him to the movies after coming home from his adventure with Samantha. The whereabouts of Napoleon's parents are never mentioned and only an uncle is floated as a possible living relative. Anyway, Napoleon and Grandpa head to the theater and catch another Disney movie, Treasure Island. When walking back they happen upon an aging clown and his lion. Begin wadding up disbelief now.
The clown explains he is retiring and heading back to Europe but can't take his lion, Major, with him because... well, just because. Dimitri, the clown, explains that the lion has no teeth, doesn't attack and, oh by the way, mind if he lives with you? Napoleon takes the lion, his grandpa dies, he secretly hires a young man, Danny (Michael Douglas), to bury him, and Danny readily agrees, no questions asked. Dip disbelief in kerosene.
Napoleon and Samantha take Major and run away since Napoleon no longer has anywhere to live and no one to take care of him. They end up at Danny's mountain cabin and he leaves them there with a man named Mark that he just met while he goes to get the authorities. Mark, it just so happens, turns out to be a homicidal maniac escaped from a mental institution. Disbelief, meet incinerator.
Napoleon and Samantha works because it is indeed so outlandish in almost every story respect yet so grounded in its acting and sentiment. Johnny Whitaker, one year before playing his most famous role in Tom Sawyer, gives one of the better child performances you're likely to see. He projects a real range of emotion quite uncommon for a child of his age and has no problem carrying the movie on his shoulders. While his two co-stars would go on to greater, more rewarding careers (literally, they both Oscars), Whitaker really does own this movie hands down. Even sharing the screen with a lion doesn't diminish his presence.
Jodie Foster, four years prior to her breakout role in Taxi Driver, and years before her Oscar-winning roles in The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs, was a talented child actress that seemed to fit the bill for best friend in almost every TV show and movie being made with a male child lead. She did fine work but, unfortunately for her, the most memorable part of the production was getting mauled by a stand-in lion for Major, who was pretty old and listless at the time. She was scarred badly but kept on going and completed the movie.
Michael Douglas was mainly known as the son of Kirk Douglas at the time. He hadn't begun his successful run yet on The Streets of San Francisco, which would start later that same year, and his first Oscar, as producer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was still three years off, but his appearance on the screen confirmed he had the same onscreen charisma as his dad and no one should be surprised at the career that followed.
Johnny Whitaker, sadly, would not go on to a great career despite his obvious talents. He got involved with drugs and substance abuse took over his life. He pulled himself out of it, though, and used his experience to help others. To this day, he helps out other victims of substance abuse as a drug counselor.
Napoleon and Samantha is a movie about a young boy having to face reality in an unexpected and unwelcome way. That it does so by ignoring the existence of the parents, creating a fantastical "you have to take this lion, kid" situation, and wraps it all up with a homicidal maniac, just means it's a kids movie doing its best to keep everyone's attention from straying. For the most part it succeeds. Partly because there's a lion in the middle of it but mostly because Johnny Whitaker knew how to hold his own.
Director: Bernard McEveety
Writer: Stewart Raffill
Producer: Winston Hibler
Music: Buddy Baker
Cinematography: Monroe Askins
Editor: Robert Stafford
Art Directors: John B. Mansbridge, Walter M. Simonds
Set Decorator: Emile Kuri
Costume Designers: Chuck Keehne, Emily Sundby
Cast: Michael Douglas (Danny), Will Geer (Grandpa), Arch Johnson (Chief of Police), Johnny Whitaker (Napoleon), Jodie Foster (Samantha), Henry Jones (Mr. Gutteridge), Zamba (Major the Lion), Vito Scotti (The Clown), John Crawford (Desk Sergeant), Mary Wickes (Clerk)
by Greg Ferrara
Napoleon and Samantha
Jodie Foster was attacked by one of the lions during the filming of this movie, and still has the scars from the attack.
According to a Variety news item, Napoleon and Samantha originally was slated as a two-part television film, but due to the participation of Michael Douglas, the studio decided to release it theatrically. Napoleon and Samantha marked the feature film debut of Jodie Foster (1962-), who previously had been a child model and TV actress. Foster also appeared in M-G-M's production Kansas City Bomber, which was filmed just before Napoleon and Samantha, but released after, in August 1972. Modern sources indicate that Foster suffered an attack from one of the lions on the set during filming. Johnny Whitaker and Foster were teamed again in the 1973 Walt Disney production Tom Sawyer (see below). Napoleon and Samantha was shot on location in central Oregon. Buddy Baker received an Academy Award nomination for the film's music score.
Released in United States Summer July 1972
Feature film acting debut for Jodie Foster.
Released in United States Summer July 1972