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The Light in the Forest is a 1958 film based on a novel of the same name first published in 1953 by U.S. author Conrad Richter. The film was produced by Walt Disney Productions and starred Fess Parker, Joanne Dru, James MacArthur, and Wendell Corey. Though it is a work of fiction and primarily features fictional characters, the novel incorporates several real people and facts from U.S. history.

The Light in the Forest
The Light in the Forest 1958.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHerschel Daugherty
Produced byWalt Disney
Written byLawrence Edward Watkin
Based onnovel by Conrad Richter
StarringFess Parker
Wendell Corey
Joanne Dru
James MacArthur
Jessica Tandy
Music byPaul J. Smith
Franklyn Marks (orchestration)
CinematographyEllsworth Fredericks
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • July 9, 1958 (1958-07-09)
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States



In 1764 Pennsylvania, a young white boy, raised by Native Americans, is forced to return to white society following the signing of a peace treaty.



The movie was based on a novel by Conrad Richter which was published in 1953.[1] A sequel, A Country of Strangers, was published in 1966.

Disney bought the film rights in June 1953 but announced they would not make it until 1957.[2]

In October 1955 the film was in "preparation".[3] In March 1956 Fess Parker - who played Davy Crockett for Disney - was announced as star, and a search was underway to find someone to play the young male lead. Filming was to begin in July.[4]

Filming was delayed. In May 1957 it was announced the lead role would be played by James MacArthur, the son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur, who had recently appeared in The Young Stranger. MacArthur was under a five year contract to RKO and was a college student at Harvard. He made the film over his summer vacation.[5] MacArthur signed a three picture deal with Disney as part of his casting. On Light in the Forest he was paid $2500 a week. This went up to $3,000 a week for the second film and $3,500 for the third, although he could not be forced to work other than during his summer vacation..[6]

Herschel Doughtery was signed to direct. He was best known at the time for directing The Road that Led Afar for Revue. Filming started in July 1957.[7]

Its song title was written by Lawrence Edward Watkin, Paul J. Smith and his main collaborator, Hazel "Gil" George.

It expands the role of Del Hardy, portrayed by the popular Fess Parker, who remains with the Butler family much longer than in the novel. True Son’s blood brother, Gordon (Gordie) does not appear in the film. The character of Shenandoe, Uncle Wilse’s indentured servant, was added as a love interest for True Son. In the film the antagonism between True Son and Wilse culminates in a fist fight (with True Son the victor) rather than Wilse's scalping.

While the novel ends on a note of uncertainty, with True Son alone on a remote road and unsure where his future lies, the film has him return to his family, to Shenandoe, and, presumably, to a life on a plot of wild land his father has had deeded to him.

The film was shot in Lookout Valley, Chattanooga, Tennessee and California.


The film premiered in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 9 July 1958[8] at Senate Theater with actor Wendell Corey and his wife and some Mouseketeers like Jimmie Dodd, Annette Funicello, Tommy Cole, and Doreen Tracey.[9]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that the film was "talky (much of which is quite hard to understand) and the dramatic incidents are less vivid than they ordinarily are in Disney films. However, the whole thing is wholesome, in a nice, simple, outdoor way, and the scenery is pretty in color. It should entertain the kids."[10] Variety reported that the film had "the same wholesome adventure qualities that distinguished 'Old Yeller.' Like most Disney productions, it is pastoral in quality, almost fable-like in its gentle approach to some basically bitter situations, but it is well-paced, has capable acting and a brace of marquee names, plus wide screen and Technicolor."[11] Geoffrey Warren of the Los Angeles Times wrote that James MacArthur and Carol Lynley were "real charmers with more than their share of talent." He found Herschel Daugherty's direction "outstanding" and Lawrence Edward Watkin's screenplay "quite good."[12] The Monthly Film Bulletin observed, "Dramatically, its action is limited and uneventful. But the scenes in the forest are shot with a fresh eye for natural beauty, and children might well find the film enjoyable. The acting, in spite of the presence of skilful players Wendell Corey and Jessica Tandy, is seldom more than competent."[13]


  1. ^ Unwanted Rescue: THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST. By Conrad Richter. 179 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2.50, By JAMES MacBRIDE. New York Times 17 May 1953: BR5.
  2. ^ BY WAY OF REPORT: Gauguin Feature on Tap -- On Crosby's Agenda By A. H. WEILER. New York Times 21 June 1953: X5.
  3. ^ Disney Announces Plan to Release 10 Pictures Los Angeles Times 25 Oct 1955: 20.
  4. ^ Walt Disney to Make Film of 'The Light in the Forest' Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 26 Mar 1956: b8.
  5. ^ TWO ROLES FILLED IN 'PEYTON PLACE': New York Times 6 May 1957: 24.
  6. ^ Helen Hayes' Adopted Son Gets Pact OK Los Angeles Times 16 Nov 1957: 2.
  7. ^ Disney Selects Guide for Young MacArthur; Jaeckel Ford Partner Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 10 June 1957: C13.
  8. ^ Gevinson, Alan (1997). American Film Institute catalog. University of California Press. p. 594. ISBN 978-0-520-20964-0.
  9. ^ Ries, Linda A. (2000). Harrisburg. Arcadia Publishing. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-7385-0483-4.
  10. ^ Crowther, Bosley (July 11, 1958). "Screen: Homespun Tale". [{The New York Times]]. p. 15.
  11. ^ "Film Reviews: The Light In the Forest". Variety. April 30, 1958. 6.
  12. ^ Warren, Geoffrey (July 24, 1958). "'Light in the Forest' Good Historical Film". Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 5.
  13. ^ "The Light in the Forest". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 26 (300): 6. January 1959.

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