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Shep's Race with Death1914

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If you thought Lassie had little to draw on in way of predecessors, there's a revelation in store in this silent 1914 melodrama and its titular star, a fun-loving collie who appeared in several Thanhouser films in 1914 and 1915 and who here proves fully capable of outwitting a horse, a speeding train and a disagreeable old lady. Shep plays the much-adored companion of a bourgeois couple's adolescent twin daughters. When the children's grandmother arrives one day showing a clear preference for one twin over the other (rather arbitrarily, one can't help feeling, but then, "The mother-in-law is an unpleasant member of the family," as a title card puts it squarely), she provokes a mischievous response from the spurned child that gets Shep in trouble, too. The grandmother leaves the house with her daughter and favored granddaughter in tow, resulting in an unhappy separation for the three playmates until a runaway horse-and-buggy spurs Shep to action. He saves the day and the family reunites in prayerful thanks. - Robert Avila

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