Monday, June 15, 2009

Film Review: WHITE DOG (1982, Sam Fuller)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Kristy McNichol, Jameson Parker (SIMON AND SIMON, PRINCE OF DARKNESS), Paul Winfield (THE TERMINATOR, STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, ORIGINAL GANGSTAS), Burl Ives, Paul Bartel cameo, cameo by Joe Dante-fav Dick Miller, music by Ennio Morricone, co-writer Curtis Hanson.
Tag-line: "When man's best friend becomes his fiercest enemy!"
Best one-liner(s): "Sour it!"

Alexander Pope's poem, 'On the Collar of a Dog': "I am his highness's dog at Kew/ Pray, tell me, sir, whose dog are you?" And indeed Sam Fuller's film, WHITE DOG, leaves you thinking that Sam believes there are many members of the human species more deserving of collars than dogs, and many forms of bigotry more vicious than the amorality of the animal world. I must say that I'm inclined to agree with him.

Long suppressed and unavailable to the masses, I'm happy to say that WHITE DOG lives up to the hype. At once wild entertainment and a serious statement on race, its sometimes restrained, sometimes over-the-top acting modes and masterfully emotive Ennio Morricone soundtrack make it feel very much like the work of crazed (but skilled) Europeans.

Much of its success is due to the likability of it's characters- the waifish Kristy McNichol (the same year as THE PIRATE MOVIE!) exudes cheerful grace; Jameson Parker (sans moustache) is a fleeting friend/love interest; Burl Ives is a hilarious, R2-D2 hating (he flings syringes at what he sees as the death of animal stunts!), jolly, roly-poly old man ("Sour cream... Love it!");

Paul Winfield is the determined, black Ahab out to cure the elusive 'white dog;'

and we even get cameos from the likes of Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, and a cigar-chomping Mr. Fuller himself! The script, loosely adapted by Fuller and Curtis Hanson (THE RIVER WILD, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) is at times ridiculous (in the best way possible), but always packs a punch. This tale of trying to "cure" racism (instead of ignoring it or trying to destroy it) is a touch nihilistic, but it is so well-structured and directed that it never rings false. Fuller takes you into the dog's world in a much more visceral way than say, AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (and I'm not talking merely about attack sequences), and the result is a primeval melancholy that's quite unlike anything I've ever seen. Five stars, and one of Fuller's best.

-Sean Gill

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