White Dog (5/21/12)

White DogMovie One Hundred Twenty Six

White Dog is a film about racism  told through the story of a white German Shepard that has been trained to attack black people.

On her way home one night, Julie (Kristy McNichol) hits a stray dog. She takes the dog to the vet and takes him home with her. The dog and Julie share a strong connection, one that grows even stronger when the dog attacks an intruder trying to rape Julie. When the dog gets out, it attacks a black street cleaner. When Julie realizes things are not all right with her new friend, she takes him to a seasoned trainer, who tells her to have the dog put down. Instead, a black trainer decides to help rehabilitate the animal to see if the dog is capable of unlearning this behavior.

The racial themes of White Dog are almost driven to the point of beating the viewer over the head with them but some interesting points are raised. Is racism purely a learned behavior? Can it be “fixed”? Do animals perceive race on their own or do they need to be trained? The film doesn’t give direct answers to these questions, allowing the viewer to form their own opinions. The ending of the film is striking, however, and without giving anything away, shows that racism may just be misplaced anger towards something else.

Samuel Fuller had long and varied film career as both a writer and director before he made White Dog and the backlash from the film all but ended his career. I find this terribly sad because the film itself isn’t racist, or at least I didn’t see it that way. It’s not a fantastic movie or anything, in fact, the first half hour seems incredibly low budget and even a bit cheesy, but the message is strong and will likely stay with you long after the credits roll. Oddly enough, the best actor in White Dog is the white dog (or white dogs, more likely). There are some scenes when I was genuinely afraid that the dog would kill the human actors. While White Dog is not a film I would outwardly recommend, there is a lot to like about it and it would be a great film for a roundtable discussion.

I give it 3 muzzled white dogs out of 5.

Links:

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IMDB

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17 responses to “White Dog (5/21/12)

  1. From what you’ve said, it sounds like a story of overcoming racism through the eyes of a dog. I’m a little confused how that will work and why they couldn’t use people instead. It doesn’t seem like a film overall I’d want to watch (I’d probably see Do The Right Thing again). Good review.

    • Do the Right Thing is a much better vehicle to tackle the subject of racism, but White Dog is interesting in that dogs have no moral compass of their own so they must be trained to be racist (or trained to be anything other than feral creatures). I wouldn’t recommend it, but I wouldn’t recommend avoiding it either. Thanks!

  2. the unfair label of the film being racist reminds me of “american history x” with edward norton. it was a film trying to expose and criticize racism, but you can’t do that without portraying racism within the film. people watched and saw racist things and did not take the time to realize what norton’s character was doing, so they assumed the film was promoting racism. shame.

    • It really is a shame considering a film like Crash was so highly regarded and I thought handled racism in a fairly ham-handed manner whereas White Dog and American History X are a bit more blunt, but somehow more protective of the theme.

      • haven’t seen ‘crash” but everyone seemed to enjoy it. maybe i’ll have to check that out too. i like movies that bring disagreement simply so i can cast my opinion.

          • I was so disappointed by Crash. After all the hype and build-up, the result was so safe and shallow it was almost laughable. I remember reading about this a few years ago but never got the chance to watch it. I do like what other movies of Fuller’s that I’ve seen.

    • Mark, for the first half or so of the film I was scoffing and rolling my eyes at some of the production values and acting but by the end had forgiven Fuller. I have a hunch no studio wanted to touch this one and it was done on a shoe-string.

      • That’s a good point Andy. I’d imagine studios wouldn’t want any part of the subject matter. I’ll keep that in mind, if I ever come across it again.

  3. Pingback: May Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

  4. Just watched this last night. I do think the production quality of the film lets the film down, though I think it is more interesting as a comment on racism in theory than in practice.

    I do like your line about racism as misplaced anger. It is true that social intolerance tends to be heightened in times of economic hardship. One starts to look around for someone to blame for things going wrong.

    • “I think it is more interesting as a comment on racism in theory than in practice.” Totally agreed on that one. This is actually a film that I think could be handled well with a remake. I really do think the message is strong, but it would take a talented writer to avoid all the missteps of the original.

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