Brian Champion’s “When Savannah Smiles” is used as the theme song over the closing credits. It’s some type of love ballad to a child’s smile, so it’s either really creepy or really sweet, depending on how you feel about children.
There are a few other songs in the film, the best of which is “Another Dusty Road” by Mountain Smoke. It’s a country rambler that plays over the opening credits.
Interesting Dated References: A missing child being returned to its parents with no mental or physical scarring whatsoever; Using a 1920’s-style Chicago gangster voice to try to seriously sound like a criminal.
Best Line: You’ll think anything Savannah says is pretty cute, at least that’s what the filmmakers were banking on.
Social Context: Savannah Smiles has absolutely no realistic social context. There has never been a time when escaped convicts came into possession of a white female child, learned to care about her, and in the process learned valuable life lessons. This has never happened. Ever. They especially would not return said child with her head still connected to a torso. But for all it’s deluded misgivings and unrealistic plot contrivances, Savannah Smiles does have good moments of emotion and drama that just may tug at your callused and bitter heart strings.
Summary: Alvie (Mark Miller, who is also the scriptwriter and father of Penelope Ann Miller) and Boots are two recently escaped convicts. They do things that escaped convicts do, such as steal purses, hold up mom and pop convenience stores, steal chickens, and drive around in shitty, beat-up cars.
On the other side of town, young Savannah is tired of her parents neglecting her. Dad is running for Governor and he and the wife are all-consumed with that. So Savannah packs her Snoopy suitcase, heads to the nearest park, and jumps into the closest, most beat-up car. As luck would have it, Alvie and Boots are at the same park stealing purses.
Oblivious to the child in the back seat, the convicts leave the park and stop for ice cream. After a cop reprimands them about throwing ice cream, they discover the little girl and try to get rid of her. Unfortunately the park is abuzz with police activity looking for the missing Savannah, so they decide the better option is to take her to an abandoned house.
Savannah proceeds to melt their hearts with her excessive monologue about Br’er Rabbit. The filmmakers seriously give her like five minutes of uncut screen time to ramble on and on about her rabbit story. Apparently the escaped convicts have never been around a child because neither of them seems concerned about catching a cold. Handing out colds with reckless abandon to semi-strangers is a task children can actually complete in a timely manner, and any person of moderate intelligence knows to avoid them at all costs.
After seeing a news story about Savannah, the convicts decide to call her parents and announce they have Savannah and want to return her safely for a full reward of $100,000.00. Later that night Savannah’s mother says she’s terrorized by thoughts of what’s happening to Savannah. This is the only moment in the movie where reality seeps in.
But since Savannah Smiles has no place in the real world, we see that Savannah is knee deep in new (albeit stolen) toys, free food, and utilities like heat and electricity. They seriously never even address how they got the utilities on. They fix the place up and the group becomes a comfortable family (composed of two ex-cons and a small white girl). The convicts each grow to love Savannah and her cute little girlisms.
There are also several sub-plots, one of which is about a power struggle between the local police (including Tarantino favorite Michael Parks) and the Private Detective (Peter Graves of Airplane! fame) hired by Savannah’s dad.
Then there’s the whole thing with Pat Morita playing a Catholic priest who sort of serves as a liaison between the ex-convicts, the media, and Savannah’s parents. It all gets a little ridiculous and drawn out, but manages to keep one foot in sincerity.
After taking Savannah on an awesome fun-day that her parents could never top (including a picnic with beer, a bunch of ice cream, and a puppy), Alvie and Boots decide they’ve learned enough about life and love and should give Savannah back without claiming the reward.
But, after figuring out the location of the trio, the cops decide it’s time for a full-on siege complete with gunshots at or very near the child. This drives the men into the mountains of Salt Lake with Savannah and Morita the Priest in tow.
As Alvie and Morita are negotiating the return of Savannah, she happens to wander off with her puppy. Then the cops show up and try to botch the exchange. After Alvie finds Savannah and tells her the vacation is over, the cops surround him with guns. They don’t shoot, though, and instead allow him to hand Savannah off to her mother.
Then the cops handcuff Alvie and Boots. Instead of defending the men and explaining that they didn’t abduct or sexually assault her, Savannah just drives off with her parents, allowing the men to be taken back into police custody. But she smiles at them as she drives away which makes the fact that they are going back to jail okay.
Bridgette Anderson, who played Savannah, appeared in minor television and movie roles throughout the 80s. In the 90s she dropped out of sight (at least in Hollywood terms) and eventually died of a heroin/alcohol overdose in 1997 at the age of 21.
This picture is an unconfirmed high school yearbook photo from 1990.
Poster and Box Art: There’s good comical illustration on both posters. The theatrical release poster (above) features a photo of Savannah and an illustration of Alvie and Boots. Whereas the alternate version below has an illustration of all three. It should be noted that this illustration looks nothing like Savannah, so maybe they scrapped this one and went with the photo treatment of the theatrical poster.
Availability: Available for instant streaming and on DVD over at Amazon. It is not restored in any way.