Napoleon and Samantha DVD cover

The Disney movie “Napoleon and Samantha” was filmed in Grant County in 1971 and released 50 years ago, on July 5, 1972.

As a child of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, I was certain there wasn’t a Disney movie I hadn’t seen.

And then I moved to Grant County.

I soon learned about “Napoleon and Samantha,” and realized I needed to check out this flick — and fast!

This charming, adventurous tale of childhood innocence and determination celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Filmed entirely in Grant County in the summer of 1971, it was released on July 5, 1972.

The cast includes Michael Douglas, Will Geer and Ellen Corby, along with young Johnny Whitaker and Jodie Foster in the title roles.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s the movie’s wild and furry star — Major the lion.

Napoleon is a young boy being raised by his grandfather (Geer), a mild-mannered dreamer and teller of tall tales. The two enjoy an eclectic lifestyle that includes a menagerie of animals, the latest of which is a lion — an actual, full-sized lion.

After his beloved grandfather’s death, Napoleon hires Danny (Douglas), a college student, to help bury him. Soon after, facing an uncertain future and no one to care for him, Napoleon and his tagalong friend Samantha pack up a few belongings and set out to find Danny, who by now is working on a remote sheep ranch in the mountains.

It’s a perilous journey, with cliffs, river crossings and encounters with a bear and a cougar. (Thankfully they are accompanied and protected by Major.)

They finally reach Danny, who’s glad to see them but is concerned their families are searching for them. So, he leaves the kids in the care of another ranch hand while he goes to seek help.

Unfortunately, the ranch hand is a bad guy. And even more unfortunately, when Danny goes to the police, he’s accused of kidnapping the kids — a claim sparked by Samantha’s cranky caregiver (Corby). He’s arrested and flees on a motorcycle, inciting a chase scene through city streets and on into the mountains.

Filming took about a month and included the towns of Mount Vernon, John Day, Canyon City and Prairie City, as well as outlying areas. Several local landmarks are featured too, such as the Rebel Hill schoolhouse and Grant County Courthouse in Canyon City. The present-day Grantville Theater in Canyon City even got its name from the movie. Watch for a scene early on where Napoleon and his grandfather exit the building after a movie outing; there’s a nearby sign stating “Grantville Theatre.”

Douglas was not yet a major film star, and in fact, was then known mostly as actor Kirk Douglas’ son. He went on to trade the streets of Grant County for “The Streets of San Francisco,” a TV show that started later that year and ran for several seasons.

Also later in 1972, Geer and Corby would both kick off successful careers as the grandparents in the long-running TV show “The Waltons.”

When the movie was made, Whitaker already had many TV roles under his acting belt, most notably and recently the TV show “Family Affair.” This was Foster’s film debut, although she had been acting since age 3 when she appeared in a Coppertone ad.

This movie seems not to be well-known outside Grant County, which is a shame. It’s a good story, with a bit of something for everyone, and suitable for all ages. The grandfather’s death early on is tastefully done, though Whitaker’s courageous yet heartbroken face tears me up every time.

So, plan a family movie night and celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Napoleon and Samantha” — the summer Hollywood (and a lion) came to little old Grant County.

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