A Dog Movie With a Powerful Anti-Racist Message

 |  Jan 17th 2011  |   0 Contributions


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Romping in the snow with dogs is a lot of fun. But when the weather outside is frightful, few things are more delightful than stayingin andcurling up with a dog or three to watchmovies on DVD. The special-treat factor increases exponentially when thedouble featurehas a dog theme - and you've prepareda batch of popcorn with coconut oil and sea salt.

A national holiday is always a goodopportunity to catch up on movie viewing. Otherwise, to justify this guilty pleasure on a "school night," it helps to program thought-provoking video fare. Approach your Netflix queue as if you were a moviecurator. And on this day thatour countryremembers Martin Luther King, consider meditating on a serious dog movie that honors his legacy by bravelyconfronting thedifficult subject of racism.

With White Dog, legendary writer-director Samuel Fuller tells the story of a tragicallyexploitedK9. We first meet the dog, a gorgeous white German Shepherd, as a stray; a young actress named Julie (Kristy McNichol) finds him and brings him home with her, and the dog returns the favor by heroically rescuing her from a sexual predator.

It could have ended there: a girl, a dog,a happy ending. But that would be a different movie.

We soon learn, through a series of gruesomely bloody incidents,that this dog has been trained by white supremacists to attack and kill black people; he's a "white dog."Julie has witnessed how society callouslylets down man's best friend; a visit to the poundreveals - briefly but impactfully - the gas chamber where unwanted dogs are killed. Our heroine has seen the good side of her beloved dog. So rather than give up on him, she seeks the help ofa professional animal trainer.

Two great actors -Paul Winfield and Burl Ives- playtrainers who aredetermined to rehabilitate this terribly damaged dog.Winfield's character, Keys,who is black, believes that doing sowill provesymbolically that even deep-seated racist hatredcan be reversed. In one memorable scene, he tells the dog, "I'm going to make you learn that it's useless to attack black skin." Would that he couldre-program the real culprits: the vicious people who cruelly trained this good dog to act out their ownbad impulses.

I won't spoil the shocking ending, but be warned it's a tough one - this movie is not for the faint of heart. Yet it's very well worth watching, and cinephiles will be impressed to learn that the screenplay was co-written by Curtis Hanson (ofL.A. Confidentialfame) and themusicwas composed by Ennio Morricone, who also scored The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, among many other masterworks.

If you're unbearably depressed after watching this film, consider following it with some lighter fare for comic relief. What do White Dog and El Perro have in common? Only this: Both center on a white dog. After that, the similarities end - but that's enough to make this afine double feature.

El Perro is set in Patagonia and tells the story of Juan "Coco" Villegas, a gas station mechanic who's been laid off from his 20-year job.When hehelps a woman fix her car, he gets paid not with money but with canine currency: he's givena purebred, pure white Dogo Argentino named "Bombon Le Chien," Franco-Latino for "Sweetie the dog."That handlemay seem ironic considering the dog's intimidating physique, but it's an accurate description of his gentle disposition.

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Juan's life is turned upside downbythe acquisition of Bombon; he's kicked out of his daughter's home, where he'd been staying, so he decides to launch a new career: showing, and rentingout the stud services of,his new best friend. Starring a splendid specimen of a Dogo named Gregorio, El Perro proves that, with a good dog by one's side,one is never totally down or out.

What are your favorite dog movies? Please share DVD recommendations in the comments.

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