Savannah Smiles is a 1982 family film written and produced by Mark Miller. Miller also played one of the male leads in the movie. The film was directed by Pierre De Moro, and starred Bridgette Andersen as the title character, with Mark Miller and Donovan Scott as the two vagabonds who befriend her.
|Directed by||Pierre De Moro|
|Written by||Mark Miller|
|Produced by||Clark L. Paylow|
|Cinematography||Stephen W. Gray|
|Edited by||Eva Ruggiero|
|Music by||Ken Sutherland|
|Distributed by||Embassy Pictures|
Six-year-old Savannah's father (A wealthy Salt Lake City businessman.) is running for the United States Senate. Savannah has become part of the background in the lives of her mother and father. Feeling neglected, she decides to run away, packs her things and writes a note to her parents. Her aunt comes by to pick her up for a planned trip to the park, and Savannah manages to place her suitcase into the car unnoticed. At the park Savannah slips away and sneaks into the back seat of the car of Alvie and Boots, two escaped, down on their luck convicts. Savannah's father finds her note, but fearing that news of her running away due to his emotinal neglect would damage his chances of winning the election, he burns the note and admonishes the maid not to tell anyone. The convicts reluctantly take her with them, but soon discover her parents have posted a $100,000 reward for her safe return. Alvie and Boots wonder how they could return Savannah to her parents and collect the reward without drawing attention to themselves and being sent back to prison. While trying to work it out they unexpectedly become attached to Savannah, and Savannah finds the love and attention she always wanted. The convicts arrange to return her, with the help of the family priest, but she becomes lost in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah. Refusing the opportunity to escape, the convicts search for Savannah and bring her back to safety, ultimately surrendering their freedom.
Mark Miller was the creative force behind the project. He conceived the story, wrote the screenplay, starred in and produced the movie. Miller got the idea for the movie when his daughter Savannah was a toddler. Her unruly curly blonde hair and smiling face struck Miller as so appealing that he came to believe he could make a successful movie around that alone. He had to build a story for the little girl, and borrowed from the 1937 French movie La Grande Illusion, where an escaped hardened prisoner hides out in the home of a young widow, and is softened by the kindness of her daughter. Miller titled the story after his daughter Savannah. To finance the production he went to Texas oil man Hal Clifford. Though many thought the movie would have no audience, Miller believed the project would appeal to young women. He was proved right.
Sixty child actresses tried out for the part of Savannah. This was narrowed down to twelve who were asked to audition before Miller, including Drew Barrymore. Auditioning Bridgette Andersen, he asked her to tell him any bedtime story she knew. Bridgette told Miller the story of Br'er Rabbit. He liked her telling of the story so well he included it in the movie.
He asked Donovan Scott to play the role of Boots McGaffey, Alvie's friend, and relied upon him for the slapstick comedy that he used to lighten the story. Miller played Alvie Gibbs, the other male lead and the central character in the movie. He asked his wife, Barbara Stanger, to play the role of Savannah's mother, Joan Driscoll, and called upon friends Peter Graves and Pat Morita to take roles in the film. Miller relied upon his Texas upbringing to help him create the character of Alvie Gibbs. He gave his daughter Savannah a small speaking role as Savannah's cousin Beth. By the time of filming, she had grown into an eleven-year-old. Miller's older daughter Marissa also had a small role in the film.
Short on funds to promote the movie, Miller teamed with Eunice Shriver of Special Olympics, a charity he supported. Miller committed the gross revenue from the opening weekend of the film to the Special Olympics for their aid in promoting the release. Shriver agreed. The movie opened 10 December 1982 in time for the Christmas season. The movie's soundtrack, titled Savannah Smiles (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), was released six months before the movie, on 1 June 1982.
After a short theater run, the movie received extensive play on cable television, and was featured on such channels as HBO. The film was released to DVD by Anchor Bay on 26 September 2006. The copyright and underlying rights to Savannah Smiles are held by Embassy Pictures corporate successor, StudioCanal.
Reception and influenceEdit
Commentator Lacey Worrell notes "Written by Mark Miller (father of actress Penelope Ann Miller), who plays Alvie, it is less about Savannah and more about Alvie, who, after a lifetime of neglect himself, finally learns to love, thanks to Savannah."
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