"The Shooting," a "CBS Afternoon Playhouse" presentation for young people at 4 today on Channel 9 (24 hours later than most CBS affiliates aired it), endeavors to be more than a cautionary fable about the hazards of toting a gun, and succeeds.
Josef Anderson wrote, and Michael Ray Rhodes directed, this one-hour film set in Depression-era Missouri. Three boys, goaded on by the oldest among them, sneak off with borrowed guns to hunt a wild turkey. They fire, the bird falls, but then it appears a man has fallen with it.
The older boy manages to convince the two younger ones that "We're gonna hang for it" if caught, so they set out on an odyssey as fledgling outlaws, encountering a pair of bums near a campfire and, later, surprising an old woman in her home while they attempt to steal food. Amos, the youngest, deserts the band rather early, preferring the comforts of a home-cooked meal offered by a family of strangers who look like the Waltons.
Children are told by the film that guns are dangerous, but there is also a subtler dramatic story unraveling--how the oldest boy, an orphan being cared for by a tyrannical uncle, is fated to a life, or at least a few years, on the road, and how his rootlessness affects his attitudes and behavior. He is played by that solid pro Lance Kerwin ("James at 15"), while the younger boys are played by Gavin Muir and Wil Wheaton.
Lynn Redgrave makes a superfluous guest appearance as the mother of the younger boys, spouting an incongruous Scottish accent there in America's heartland. The final dramatic twist about the actual outcome of the shooting in the field is much less affecting than the denouement that reveals, in one short scene, the older boy's destiny. Much less preachy than one might expect, "The Shooting" is also considerably, and refreshingly, more sophisticated.