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"The Journey Of Natty Gann" (1985)

Back when I wrote the review for Romancing the Stone, I mentioned there were a glut of movies that were trying to cash in on the Raiders of the Lost Ark success. I also mentioned that there were few that were as memorable. The same still goes for this review, a movie that I had forgotten and rediscovered by accident this past Thanksgiving.

I rediscovered Natty Gann this past holiday season craving a classic. I wanted a movie that had a plot that had depth, some witty dialog, and maybe a high body count on the Nazi’s side. Going through the movie isle at the nearest mega-shopping plaza, I grabbed Natty Gann on a whim- I admit openly and freely that I was seduced by another pretty fedora on the front and back cover.

Natty Gann is a road movie; it’s a chick’s road movie but not to the extent of "Thelma and Louise" or "Crossroads." The title character played by Meredith Salenger isn’t almost raped in the parking lot of a honky-tonk resulting in a countrywide shooting spree. Nor are you going to see Miss Salenger thrusting and gyrating while wearing nothing but a mid-drift T-shirt and hot pants singing her own version of the ragtime equivalent to Joan Jett’s “I love Rock and Roll”. Thankfully this movie has something called a plot and 99.9% of anything that didn’t have something to do with this plot- but would only serve to titillate the male audience- was left out.

Natty Gann opens in depression era Chicago, not the Chicago of the musical of the same name, nor the Chicago as portrayed in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables”. These are the mean streets of Chicago, gritty and dirty with folks suffering from the elements as they wander the sidewalks... some are homeless and many are jobless.

The McGuffen of the movie is introduced when Natty’s father, Saul Gann (Ray Wise) is given a job in Washington state. With only an hour or so to get on the bus, he strikes a bargain with Connie, the proprietor of the rooming house where he and Natty were living, to look after Natty until he can send for her. Connie quickly goes back on her word in typical Disney fashion and becomes “Cruella De Vil” before the smoke clears from Saul’s bus.

Once Natty escapes the rooming house (reminiscent of the Tanis map room and other prison breakouts) Natty hits the rails cross-country looking for her father. Miss Salenger is able to convey the emotions of trepidation and fear yet with subtle courage sells Natty’s determination of getting to her father.

Much as you would expect from a movie that might be aspiring to be a Raiders knock-off there are some of the usual thrills you would expect. There are many scenes when the heroine barely makes it through her scrapes as she rides in rail-road cars, backs of trucks, and hikes her way through the woods trying to find her way to Seattle. She's an inspiration to younger girls who may think seat-of-your-pants adventures are only for men and boys.

As you could guess from the VHS or DVD cover-art, along the way Natty meets her traveling companions, the wolf and Harry. John Cusack's roll as Harry in this movie is just a bit frustrating. Granted, his roll is well acted and richly developed with depth from both the bitterness over the loss of his own father years earlier and the where-with-all on how to survive the harsh world of a drifter.

The frustration comes from the misleading cover art and posters. The viewer would think that he's in almost every scene and carries the film with Miss Salenger. I wish that was the case. Harry is half of the nerve and guts of this movie but still doesn't have enough screen time to warrant second billing above Natty's father or even the wolf. Still, Cusack's Harry pretty much makes this film for Raider fans, keeping his fedora firmly in place with his small share of running, jumping and falling off of water towers.

An enjoyable aspect of the movie that was the score, even though it did seem familiar. If the movie seemed recognizable to “Steven Spielberg Presents An American Tail” beyond the plot similarities, James Horner also wrote the music for Natty Gann using some of his signature themes mixed as well as a few original pieces.

it's a movie that sucks you in and continues to have the ability to do so after first viewing. Granted, it follows the Disney formula but it has the cuts and scrapes from playing too close to the razor’s edge. It's rough around the edges and yet isn't a movie that you would be embarrassed to see with your kids. If any thing, Natty Gann might be the only movie I've reviewed so far for this column that is suitable for all audiences, if you can just get past the Disney Stigma.