Filmed in Georgia by Anasazi Prods. in association with the Walt Disney Co. Executive producer, Robert Benedetti; producer, Cleve Landsberg; co-producer, Peter Stelzer; director, Joan Tewkesbury; writer, Ken Sagoes; Joan Plowright portrays a genteel Georgia matriarch who forms an unexpected bond with young black boy Jimmy (Jim Jam) Ween (Norman D. Golden II) in “On Promised Land.” Disney telepic has “quality” writ large all over it.
Carl Lumbly and Juanita Jennings play Jimmy’s parents, Floyd and Martha Ree, living on Appletree family land and working in the lumberyard of Albert Appletree (John Jackson), where it appears they will stay forever.
On his walks to school, Jim Jam is terrorized by T-Top, a small but ferocious dog who is the only companion of Albert’s mother (Plowright).
All of this takes place in 1959, with Albert’s wife, Olivia (Judith Ivey), strongly resisting rumblings of the civil rights movement and looking at the Ween family as chattel.
The smart, semi-autobiographical script was written by Ken Sagoes, who appears to good effect as Floyd’s brother, attempting to lure the Weenses to Detroit.
Plowright plays the eldest Appletree as a variation on Miss Daisy (whom she portrayed in a series pilot), but longtime TV fans will find it hard not to be reminded of Sheriff Andy Taylor’s Aunt Bee.
Highest acting honors go to Lumbly, Jennings, Sagoes, Patty Mack (as Sagoes’ character’s wife), Jackson and Ivey.
Ivey — pregnant in real life, a highly visible condition not explained here — is a particularly delicious villain. In one memorable scene, she bursts into the kitchen where the Weens’ cook (Elizabeth Omilami) is listening to a Martin Luther King speech, and forcefully shuts off the radio. T-Top doesn’t like Olivia either.
The unbilled star is Shiner, a 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier, trained by Cindy James and Chuck Coulter, who plays the selectively vicious T-Top.
Show, from Ted Danson’s production company, looks as good as it plays, with extensive use of Georgia locations under Joan Tewkesbury’s sensitive direction. Mason Daring’s stately music adds considerably to the atmosphere.