This coming Sunday evening, the83rd Academy Awards willcelebrate the most acclaimed movies of 2010. Movie hounds who enjoy films with K9 players will probably be rooting for “The King’s Speech” to win Oscar gold, because it portrays famous dogs and a family of famous Dogsters:England’s royal family. Corgisare renowned asthe favorite breed of King George, the subject of this movie,and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth, so of course they make an appearance.
Alas, despite the many talented dog actors who have historicallybrought extra luster tothe silver screen and continue to help make millions for the movie industry, there’s no such thing as an Oscar for best performance by a K9. It’s high timedogs got their due.
What are the greatest dog movies of all time? The American Kennel Club (AKC) conducted a poll to find an answer, bestowing “Dogscars” on the winners. And the results reveal that the top dog in the historyof K9 films is “Lassie Come Home.”
The 1943 classicabout a brave Colliewho undertakes a long-distance trek to be reunited with her boy stars Roddy MacDowall and Elizabeth Taylor.The first installment of the Lassie saganarrowly beat out the1974hit”Benji,” about a sweet stray mutt who saves two kidnapped kids,to receive the AKC’s Lifetime Achievement “Dogscar” for best portrayal of a dog and responsible dog ownership.
Other nominees included “Lady and the Tramp,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Man from Hell’s River.” Howzat?
Everybody knows that “Lady and the Tramp” is a sublime masterpiece of Disney animation;it brilliantly combinesromance (between a Cocker and a mutt), comedy, and tragedy with a soundtrack by Miss Peggy Lee, and there simply will never be anothermovie like it.“Lady and the Tramp” ismore thana great dog movie – it’s a great movie, period.
Everybody also knows that the four-footed star of “The Wizard of Oz”is Dorothy’s dog Toto, played by a Cairn named Terry. Subject of thebook “I, Toto:TheAutobiography of Terry, the DogWho Was Toto,”Terry the Cairnsteals every “Oz” scene she’s in. And that wasn’t easy to do, consideringall the star power andspecial effectsthat little doghad to compete with.
“The Man From Hell’s River” is less widely known – and it’s not available on DVD, so it’snot the easiest filmto get acquainted with. It’s a 1922 Western based on the James Oliver Curwood novel, “The God of Her People,” and -as they say in the Coen Brothers’ “Barton Fink” – “a Wally Beery picture.” But more important to us Dogsters, it’s a Rin Tin Tin picture.
Here’s a plot summary: Pretty Maballa (Eva Novak) lives at a small French-Canadian trading post with her father. While herbeau Pierre, a Mountie (Irving Cummings, who also directed), is off capturing bad guys, Maballa finds herself at the mercy of theevilGaspard, a.k.a. “The Wolf” (Wallace Beery).
By the time Pierre returns with his team of dogs, piloted by Rin Tin Tin,hisdamsel is in major distress. Sheis – as they say in the Coens’ “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” – in a tight spot.Don’t want to spoil too much here, but rest assured that the dog saves the day.
How could he not? Rin Tin Tinwasone of the hunkiest hounds ever to grace the silver screen. This real-life legend beganshortly before the end of the first World War, when American serviceman Lee Duncan found a shell-shocked puppy in a bombed-out dog kennel in Lorraine, France.
Duncan named the dark-eyed, sable-coatedfoundling Rin Tin Tin, after a puppet that French children gave to American soldiers for good luck. Nicknamed Rinty, the dog came home to California with his new owner after the war.Rinty’s talent for doing tricks got him discovered by film producer Charles Jones, and his big break came whenhe was cast in “The Man From Hell’s River.”
After that supporting role, Rinty got his first starring role in”Where the North Begins” (1923), co-starring with silent screen star Claire Adams. ThatRinTin Tin vehiclewas a blockbuster, and has often been credited with saving Warner Bros. from bankruptcy. After that, there were many Rin Tin Tin movies and, later, TV shows, starring Rinty and his numerous heirs.
Of course, these results don’t reflect all movie hounds’ tastes.The AKC offers the following “Explanatory Notes”: “The survey was conducted during a two-week period from February 9 22, 2011. Surveyors responded voluntarily. Self-selecting methods were used in recruitment for this study.AKC does not guarantee that these statistics are scalable to the overall population.This data is for anecdotal purposes only.”
Here’s a silent picture that is available on DVD: “A Dog’s Life,” directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin and co-starring Scraps, a four-footed co-star Chaplin discovered at the Los Angeles dog pound, still the go-to placeto adoptgorgeous dogs with star quality. A favorite film of “Benji” director Joe Camp,”A Dog’s Life”is a masterpiece. Wait’ll you see the Little Tramp mobbed by a gang of rough-and-tumble stray dogs – priceless.
So Dogsters, what are your favorite movies featuring K9 actors in starring or walk-on roles? Please tell us in the comments!