The horrors of racism.
Hollywood has for the past 40 years done a bang up job reminding
us that African-Americans have had a hard row to hoe in the good
ol' land of the free. We've seen Atticus Finch, The Black Klansman
and Chicken George all try to show us the error of our ways. This
NOT just in
Racism is bad. But white folks spewing "Nigger!"
sure makes for a great plotline, just ask Oprah, Singleton, Whoopie
and Samuel Fuller. Sam who? You say. Well Mr. Fuller loads up
his camera and sets out to show us that, hey, not only are white
people hate-mongering assholes, their dogs are too. With heavy
hitters like Kristy McNichol, Burl Ives and Paul Winfield, WHITE
DOG has the smooth façade of made-for-TV pablum, but under
this veneer, pass me a Newport , this fucker is all about the
blacks man's troubles, the problem with "new" films
and Kristy McNichol's unruly couiff. Fuller is nothing if not
direct in his lambasting of racists, George Lucas and the lack
of animals in films. With a smart bit of writing from Fuller and
his co-hort Curtis Hanson (yep, that Curtis Hanson, who wrote
and directed L.A. Confidential and The Arousers) WHITE DOG feels
bigger than it actually ever was commerically or critically. But
you know, size doesn't matter, right ladies
McNichol's character, Julie, is a young, starving actress with
a tortured haricut on her way home when she hits a dog in her
tasty '64 Mustang convertible. She stops, gathers up the bloodied
animal and heads to the Vets office. Julie finds out the dog will
be fine but she won't, because she is responsible for the dog's
medical bills. Classic Sam Fuller unfolds for the first time in
this scene, as the Vet stands firm on the fact that he needs to
be paid for his services and his unsympathetic nurse is no better.
Veterinarians, for the most part, are treated in movies as angelic
Shamen who either fix animals or begrudgingly send them to Heaven
via euthanasia, rarely have we seen a money grubbing representative
of the Vet Squad portrayed on the screen. Fuller gives us an early
glimpse that humans who care for animals aren't necessarily good
humans. This Vet only uses animals as a way to make a living.
Fuller, as I said earlier is that sort of director, within the
Hollywood studio system he pumped out 24 films from 1940 to 1960.
In 1963, he made the film that most genre fans identify him with,
SHOCK CORRIDOR. Fuller always chose to scream his beliefs at you,
rarely hidden within layers of sensitivity and film device. His
war films previous to and after SHOCK CORRIDOR always showed the
more human side of war, but not in the sappy, patriotism for patriotism
sake-way, more times than not you were left with the numbing sensation
that war is useless, but not until Fuller fetishized while chastising
everything from Nazi Germany to the Klu Klux Klan.
Julie takes the dog home with her to nurse him back to health
and change her hair to the wet and curly look. The dog is a beautiful,
white German Shepherd. Julie never calls him by any name, but
the 2 of them bond, hanging out at her pad, eating snacks, doing
Julie's hair and watching old war movies, undoubtably, the films
of Sam Fuller. When an aging rapist breaks in and attacks Julie
one night as the dog nods off during when of these war epics,
it only takes "White Dog" hearing the horny asshole's
voice to set him in motion. He tears the guy (white guy) off of
Julie and when the old perv runs out of the house, the dog jumps
through the 2nd story window to apprehend him in the yard while
Julie phones 911. The dog holds the would-be rapist until the
cops arrive. At this point ol' "White Dog" seems like
the best damn dog since RinTinTin. But remember, we're just 15
minutes in. It's time for the introduction of a little subplot
which involves Julie's wannabe director love interest in the form
of TV's A.J. Simon, better known to you as one of the Simons in
"Simon and Simon," Jameson Parker. Parker's character
allows Fuller to gum on about the "system" of making
movies and shit. He has some great lines including one of my favorites
"What's in the middle of a bagel?" "Nothing."
"Then why are we talking about nothing." Indeed. Mr.
Parker. Indeed. But if you like this character, I hope you don't
get too attached because he doesn't show up in the second reel
at all, and there's no explanation as to why. But he senses that
"White Dog" is quite a bit protective of Julie and gets
a little antsy about the thought of Julie using him as a chew
toy while "White Dog" looks on.
One morning "White Dog" shows up missing much to Julie's
dismay and she begins the typical stroll through her neighborhood
whistling and asking residents if they have seen a gigantic white
German Shepherd. No one has of course, but when nighttime comes
and the Streetsweeper (what ever happened to Godflesh BTW?) begins
his cleaning duties, "White Dog" watches from the sidewalk
as he lights his cigar. The Streetsweeper is actually driving
one of those big Streetsweepers not just out on the curb with
a broom. This guy looks like some sort of pimp character who just
happens to be cleaning the city's dirty asphalt. Big glasses,
big cigar and of course, big and black. Well, as the scrubbing
Zamboni approaches the curb near "White Dog" he begins
to snarl and bark and ultimately jumps through the open window
of the slow-moving machine to rip "Streetsucker Slim"
to bits. Unprovoked, I add. Of course after his attack "White
Dog" shows back up a Julie's for a "bad dog, you had
me worried to death" speech, all the while covered in African-American
,Streets and Roads, Civil Servant blood. But Julie has no idea
about the attack and her hair needs rinsing so no big deal.
I should add that the "White Dog" performance is pretty
good. I believe 4 or 5 different "White Dogs" were used
to bring the character into being. You have "White Dog"
whose expertise is no doubt "wookin' cute, yeah, wookin'
cute, like a big boy." You have "White Dog" who
can jump through glass. "White Dog" who hates sex. And
of course, no Affirmative Action "White Dog." Well the
latter "White Dog" comes into play again during a shoot
that Julie is on. She takes the dog to the set of something that
involves a Gondola, Paul Bartel, Sam Fuller and a black female
friend. Well, once Julie and her friend Molly begin to "act"
the dog sees Molly (the very tasty Lynne Moody) and realizes she's
black and attacks her in the Gondola while Paul Bartel (seriously,
he has a cameo as a cameraman) and Sam Fuller (he's the director
or producer or something) watch in horror. Thank God, the Gondolier
(stunt superstar George Fisher) is there to pull "White Dog"
off or Molly would be cocoa-colored Kibbles and Bits.
Well, it is quite apparent to everyone "White Dog"
is a loose cannon and the one Simon tells Julie that he needs
to be put to sleep while she ponders "helping" the dog
overcome his attacking problem. Compassion I think is her emotion.
Part of the problem with these scenes is McNichol, she does very
little to convince me of her love of "White Dog" McNichol
never tells the dog she loves him, or hugs or pets him really
which I think must have been overlooked by Fuller. A small point
but ultimately you must create your own sympathies here. Julie
dressed as Mike Reno from Loverboy, sets out to visit a animal
training facility. It is a place that looks as if it is sitting
in the middle of a crater, with a giant "Thunderdome"
cage. There are animals of all types here, big exotic cats like
Tigers, Camels, Llamas, Chimps and the like. The proprietor is
the fat, folksy Burl Ives. That's right, best remembered as an
animated Snowman in RUDOLPH, THE RED NOSED REINDEER, Ives actually
worked on pictures for over 40 years and had an Oscar to his credit
for Best Supporting Actor in 1958's THE BIG COUNTRY. Ives plays
the crusty Carruthers, who loves animals, trains animals and has
a history of providing big time Hollywood movies with their supply
of these animals. To say Carruthers is bitter about this new form
of movie making that includes special effects and tin can robots
is quite an understatement. He rails on about the fucking Duke
and how his hands were the hands that braved the rattlers in TRUE
GRIT. How he helped John Wayne get the Oscar. He bitches about
STAR WARS and goes as far as throwing darts into a cardboard stand-up
of R2D2. Ives character is no-doubt a mouthpiece for Samuel Fuller.
Between the years of 1974 and 1982 when "WHITE DOG"
was released Fuller only had one credit, a big credit with THE
BIG RED ONE but for a man who pumped out at least a picture a
year, mostly character driven stories that were visual mainly
in the sense that interesting cinematography was used, but the
budgets were relatively meger. Fuller must have felt some bitterness
towards the "new" business of movie-making which denied
entry to old school folks who were being left behind by this new
way of doing things. Who needs animal handlers when you can use
a metal wastebasket with blinking lights as man's best friend?
Julie tells her tale of "White Dog" and Carruthers
believes there is no helping a attack dog gone bad and truthfully
tells her to have the dog put down. Not insulted, but you know,
killed. It is not until Julie begins to head back to her car and
one of Carruther's men is attacked that he realizes that "White
Dog" is something called a "White Dog," a dog that
has specifically been trained to attack black people! He has been
trained to hate black skin! How? Well according to Carruthers,
white folks go out and hire black junkies and winos to beat their
pups. This makes the dogs fear black folks. This theory has some
holes to me though. I mean these black junkies and winos just
aren't that dependable. I've tried countless times to hire them
to mow my yard, paint my shed, etc. and they show up once and
you never see them again. Carruthers, really thinks "White
Dog" should be put down. Not insulted, you know, killed.
That is until Keys shows up. Keys is Carruther's big animal trainer,
the big cats, bears, etc. He's a had a run in or two with "White
Dogs." Keys is black naturally, Paul Winfield, more specifically.
Winfield whose fish-like face has graced the big screen in everything
from important roles like SOUNDER to total shit like DENNIS THE
MENACE is in decent shape and fairly believable as an animal psychologist
turned trainer. Keys sees this "White Dog" as a challenge,
the ultimate high, to get inside this racist dog's head. Of course,
Keys knows the dog isn't naturally racist and tells Julie to hate
the people who did it to "White Dog" not "White
Dog." Carruthers hates the idea and reminds Keys how he has
failed before. Keys agrees to take a five week vacation to untrain
"White Dog" if it doesn't work, hey, no biggie, he'll
just shoot him.
And so that is our conflict, Keys vs. White Dog. Carruthers vs.
Keys, Julie vs
.oh Julie is really battling anything except
the fact that white folks apparently don't like black folks, she
has just learned.
WHITE DOG not surprisingly, did not gain mass popularity upon
release and has long been buried by those who find the content
less than, politically correct. WHITE DOG did get a cable run
in the heyday of HBO scaring kids to death on Saturday afternoons.
WHITE DOG is effective, the viewer is asked to look a racism as
a learned experience, definitely factual. In what I believe is
the strongest moment in the film, when Julie is confronted by
the former owner of the dog, who shows up with his 2 beautiful
grandchildren to reclaim his lost pet, we are forced to look at
a racist who defies stereotypes. He is a loving old grandfather
in a trout fishing hat who just wants to find his lost dog. Julie's
voice cracks as she screams at him and at the children to "never
listen to a God damned thing he says." When he threatens
to call the police, she dares him to, threatens to reveal him
as the hate-filled fuckhead that he is. She provides the ultimate
slap when he rejoices in the fact that the dog is "the best
White Dog of the all" by screaming from her moving car that
he is being untrained by "A Black Man!"
I recommend WHITE DOG both as a testament to Samuel Fuller's
artistry as a outsider filmmaker and heavy handed politico. I
can't deny the hilarity of the premise of racist animals either,
if only from the very personal standpoint of being raised with
2 black guys as my best friends as a child. They were completely
frightened of dogs but it didn't stop there, they thought our
cat was out to get them too. I guess there are fears us Crackers
will never be able to identify with. Of course they never could
get why I was scared to death of chitterlings and Gherri Curl
Activator either. Go figure.
|A tight-assed Veteranarian.
|White Dog goes for
|I don't know this
is just cute!
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White Dog Racists
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Times Five Sean MacGregor's Titantic!
at the Red Wolf Inn Burp!
Eyes See It
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Baby! Goo Goo!
Camp Nightmare Viva the Revolution!
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People Across The Lake Good TV!
Woman Hunt Load Up Gents.
Devil At You Heels Daring Devil.
Are The Damned Dammit!
Farm TV movie Classic!