WHITE DOG is the story of a racist German sheperd. Fuckin Germans. (Just kidding.) The story here is about Julie (Kristy McNicol) a small time actress who runs over a white German sheperd in the Hollywood Hills one night. She brings the dog (who never gets a name, so we’ll call him White Dog) to the vet and pays for his treatment, then takes him in while she tries to find the owner.
Before long, some Ernest Borgnine looking rapist breaks in and attacks her. White Dog not only takes care of the fucker, he does it in style. He even manages to jump right through a closed window to catch him. Everybody’s making a big deal about the guy in ONG BAK being the next big action hero, well what about White Dog. This dog jumps and climbs over all kinds of crap. This is a great dog.
Okay so now Julie’s real attached to White Dog. You could say well she saved his life and he saved her, now they’re even. But remember, she’s the one ran over him, that means she’s still in debt to White Dog. So that explains why she doesn’t turn on him when she finds out that he is an attack dog. The way this comes out, he viciously attacks one of her co-stars for no apparent reason while they’re filming a bit part for a movie. An uncomfortable day on the set to say the least.
So she takes White Dog to a Hollywood animal trainer (Burl Ives) who has a personal vendetta against R2-D2 (long story). She wants Burl Ives to undo the dog’s attack dog training, which he says is impossible. And then she finds out that it’s worse. He’s not just an attack dog, but a “white dog” – a dog trained by sicko bigots to attack and kill black people. That’s where Paul Winfield comes in. In one of his most badass roles, he plays a trainer driven by obsession to try to cure white dogs. He doesn’t even know if it’s possible but, “If I don’t break him, I’ll shoot him.”
So the movie works on a couple different levels. First is the CUJO dog thriller type level. There are many tense scenes where this scary looking fucker runs in slow motion, flapping his huge Gene Simmons tongue left and right, opening his freako jowls like those weird monsters in BLADE II. But more tense than the scenes where he attacks people are the scenes where Paul Winfield is trying to train him not to attack. He slowly puts his hand in front of White Dog’s whailing choppers, and you really don’t know what’s gonna happen. In fact, you gotta wonder how they even knew for sure they could film these scenes safely. Sometimes he’s in there wearing the protective gear and you assume it’s a stunt double, but then he takes the fencing mask off in the same shot and it’s really him. (I read on IMDb that Paul Winfield bred pugs, but somehow I don’t think that’s as hard as taming vicious German sheperds).
To add more tension, you got the guilt aspect. The dog gets out and kills a guy, but they bring him back and keep training him secretly. So Julie, Paul Winfield and Burl Ives are stuck with the knowledge that they could get busted, the guilt that maybe they should’ve put the dog down before he got out, and the uncertainty of whether this thing will ever even work.
Then the other level of course is a story about racism. About how hard it is to erase our racist past. People and dogs learn racism from the time they are young, from their parents or trainers or from bad experiences. And even if they learn how to eat a hamburger out of Paul Winfield’s hand does that really mean it won’t come out again? It’s also about guilt, with a great uncomfortable scene where Julie visits her black friend who was attacked by the dog, and pretends she doesn’t know what set him off. Because we don’t even want to talk about that shit.
This movie is top fucking notch as both a b-movie thriller and grade-A allegory. It’s a great mix of pulpy exploitation coating and high minded serious movie center. In fact one of the producers is a guy called Jon Davison who later produced ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS, so this seems to be his kind of thing. Representing exploitation you got Paul Bartel and Dick Miller in bit parts, representing high class you got an eerie, tense score by Ennio Morricone. And of course it’s all very well constructed by the daring director Mr. Sam Fuller.
Not long ago, I’d heard enough about Sam Fuller to know it was time to take a look. I started with his three movies with Criterion Editions: SHOCK CORRIDOR, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and NAKED KISS. I liked all three of these, especially NAKED KISS which is probaly the least political/satirical and the most pulpy. The opening scene alone makes this one a keeper (it starts with a hooker and a john in a knock down drag out fight in an apartment; the woman gets her wig ripped off, then pours a big swig of perfrume down the fucker’s throat). But of the ones I’ve seen so far I’ve got to say WHITE DOG is my favorite. Completely absorbing, horrifying, thought provoking and original.
This is the best movie I’ve seen in a long god damn time. So it’s not surprising that it was shelved for years by the studio and has little or no video release in this country. Apparently there’s no legit DVD and the VHS I watched was an old Japanese tape with a FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 trailer on the beginning. Hopefully somebody well get a clue and put this one out. (Wouldn’t you know just a couple days after they anounce POINT BLANK is coming on DVD, I gotta discover another one to yearn for.)
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.