Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Midweek Matinee: White Dog



Back in the 80's, everyone who loved movies knew Samuel Fuller, and everyone who knew Sam Fuller knew about White Dog. In theory. The film was so notorious, some studio, Paramount, maybe, ducked the controversy, swallowed the loss, and refused to release it in the US. I saw it in France. Loosely based on a true story, it's a movie about both a white dog and a White Dog -- a german shepherd trained from puppyhood, in a tradition dating back to the 1800s, to be a loving family pet for white people and attack and kill black people.

The film was shot for $7 mil, and often looks like it. So I won't defend some of the bad dialog, wardrobe, sound, and editing choices inherent to a budget production.

In spite of all that, it's a powerful film, and succeeds because of Fuller, the score by Ennio Morricone, and the four lead actors (Burl Ives, most definitely included, but Paul Winfield runs the show, breaks the heart). And yes, the movie is a metaphor, but Fuller dealt in slap-in-the-face metaphors -- think Hawthorne and Melville. Nothing coy; no digging required.

The film doesn't stream, but you can get the DVD at various sources. It's painful to watch, and maybe you won't. In which case, I've got a clip of the ending. To set this up: A young actress rescues a dog and they bond. But it's a white White Dog, and once she finds out, she takes it to an animal training center. Both men who run the center recognize the problem, immediately; Ives says kill him, Winfield, well, it's his Moby Dick.

The movie rarely strays from one note, one powerful note, pretty much the whole time. When you learn to hate at an early age, can such damage be reversed. Can you reprogram a mind?

Can hatred be removed, erased; or, once learned, is it just in transit? Always searching for a target.

White Dog

19 comments:

  1. Great piece. The Moby Dick analogy is right on. I have seen the ending. Devastating with its immediacy, implications and perhaps inevitability.

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  2. I checked and it's on Amazon for free if you have Amazon Prime. I remember it was so controversial that Kristy McNichol's career suffered for it, she was really hot back then. I think Morricone can do no wrong so I think I'll probably give it a go...

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  3. Teaching a dog to hate people because they're Black? Cruel to everyone concerned.

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  4. Your Altadena NeighborAugust 19, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    This makes me cry. I had the great pleasure of working on a movie with Paul and he was a great actor and a gentleman.

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  5. Sounds like another case of the devil being in the details--so often true in history. I'm finding some good lessons in some unlikely current TV shows: "The Knick," "Masters of Sex," even the Cynthia Nixon and Jesse Tyler Ferguson episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are." And "Downton Abbey," I suppose, but I feel I've heard all its history before, whereas the others offer some revelations.

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  6. Strong post. Good questions. I am sure the movie is worth watching but I can't. Too close to too many actual current events. I believe people can change, but they have to want to.

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  7. I understand, Sharon; it is close to the bone these days. But movie-wise -- Paul Winfield, oh, how brilliant he was, in everything, always.

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  8. Good Lord, I had no idea such things happened. I live a very sheltered life, obviously. I can't watch this either.

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  9. I saw this film at the old Fox Venice a long long time ago. It's a movie I've never forgotten, but I'm also relatively certain I could never watch it again.

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  10. For those who are shocked that such things happen, believe. As a kid growing up in New Jersey in the 40's-50's, in a fully integrated school system, I had heard of White Dogs and what they were about, although I never witnessed such a thing. Our vet, Dr. Robinson, was a Black man and what a wonderful human being he was. Now I wonder if he ever had to deal with such an animal. All of this was well before the movie and the novel [based on real situations] by Romain Gary, from which it was drawn.

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  11. I've heard of it, but never seen it. That was quite a sad ending.

    Speaking of people, it seems that things learned at the family dinner table, are hard to deprogram.

    Great post...

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  12. Excellent piece.
    But it's devastating to watch.

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  13. Great post, Karin!
    Just cruel and terrible raise a dog to attack and kill black people. I've heard about this film, but I never seen it. I google and read that it was recently released on DVD in Brazil, but I don't know if I have the courage to watch it...

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  14. Ja, it's a hard watch. And I don't know if this will sway anyone or not, but from a purely cinematic point of view, Fuller was a favorite director of Truffaut, Godard, Wim Wenders, Scorsese, and Tarantino.

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  15. I had a seriously racist next-door neighbor for a short time in the '70s who went out of her way to make cutting remarks about people who didn't look like her. I stopped talking to her for good when she told me, "My dog hates black people." Sicko. It was a great day when she moved.

    When I was a teenager in the '60s we had a white German Shepherd named Dana. She was a loving and obedient dog. Thankfully she wasn't trained to attack anyone. One day Dana got outside the yard and couldn't be found for about 48 hours. In no time she had a litter of brown-and-white pups, one of which we kept and named Fella. The son was always very protective of his mother. My parents had Dana spayed.

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  16. I never miss one of your film tips-- and the same question you pose, Tobias Wolfe discussed in the New Yorker--

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  17. Well now, that's some excellent company, D.

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  18. I'm going to have to investigate this movie now. And after reading your last post, I must agree. What do WE believe? Where is the truth?

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