WHITE DOG

Dir. Samuel Fuller. U.S.A. 1982.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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White Dog is a controversial film from the director Samuel Fuller, the same visual source as Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor and penned by the same hand which brought us 8 Mile and LA Confidential, Curtis Hanson.  It is a works that follows the tradition of bringing social conscience drama into the modern world. Here, in the hilly and superficial world of Los Angeles, a dog lands in the life of an actress, but with a mind set: it has been trained to attack black people.


The issues raised by the film - those of breaking the patterns of learned behaviours are put across well, especially in the second and third acts of the film but seem dated for the early 1980s and this is the major flaw in the film: it feels it could and should have been presented to us fifteen years earlier - though it is adapted from an earlier work by Romain Gary.  It also feels silly for the first half and misses the seriousness of what it is the film has to say.


Kirsty McNichol plays Julie, an intermittently in work actress that can find the $200+ vet bill for the dog she accidently hits whilst backing her car. She also lives in an apartment in the hills. No claim is made on the dog and there is bonding between them when the dog sees off an attacker in Julie's home.  After the nameless German shepherd then attacks without provocation a co-actor of Julie's during a shoot, Julie's boyfriend takes a dislike to the dog and it becomes apparent that there is a new master in the house. The struggle for the loyalties of the lady of the house is thankfully not played out - but Julie's man disappears for the rest of the drama - so keeping the dog would imply that the dog wins.


The Ham continues when Julie takes White Dog (still nameless, though he is referred to as Mr. Hyde when Julie feeds him when she shouldn't - the dog throughout is given the most inappropriate food), and is taken to a Hollywood Animal Training centre which has with it a gladiatorial arena (impressive set piece) but with 'cages' that have ceilings made of easily chewed mesh and not hard wire.


The film is at a turning point when introducing 'Keys'  (Paul Winfield) - the black trainer who see the philosophical importance of sticking with the challenge of unlearning  the learned, though the part when all three of the now 'de-programme the dog' team ignore the fact that a man has died, is unbelievably unfeasible.  The battle of wills between man and dog/racism and liberalism is compelling and well delivered. The dog - or dogs, as there were five stunt dogs, are/is incredible with a snarling monstrosity which is truly fierce and frightening giving over the emotional impact of racism as felt by the victim.


The ending is both surprising and powerful, for a while we are led to believe that the project would either succeed or fail: the animal would either remain damaged and utterly biased, or would be tamed at the hand of Keys - a guy with social anthropology in his own learned behaviours. The lead up to the crushing finale is a confrontation between Julie and the owner/trainer/programmer of the dog whereupon Julie gives his 'young pup' grandchildren a forewarning of not listening to a word he says. The children as disturbed and innocent as we are all before the programming begins.  In the end though, the dog literally does bite the hand that has fed him, which seems just if not at the time a tad confusing and shocking.


A very worthy social commentary and would stand repeated viewing.


On general release through the DVD Masters of Cinema Series, Eureka Video.


Gail Spencer





 
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