Sunday, October 31, 2021

White Dog

Wandering around the library on impulse picked up "White Dog"(1982).   Over 50 years ago watched "Roots of Heaven" (1958) also based on a book by the same author and believe I read the book as well.  This led to an awareness of a dog trained to attack blacks, but had no access to book and no awareness of movie.  I thought it was based in Africa, but that was wrong.  "Roots of Heaven" was concerned about poaching elephants for their tusks. Anti racism books and films appeals to me for a disease that needs curing 

It turns out Romain Gary, the author of"Roots of Heaven" for a time lived in California and had married Jean Seberg, famous French actress making films in Hollywood.   She saved a white dog which she found very friendly, except gradually learned the dog had been trained to attack blacks.  

One of the underlying themes is that racism can be (and very often is) taught.  The dog was gentle and protective of his rescuer.  The viewer is shown sudden change of demeanor and viciously attacks a black driver causing a spectacular crash.  Later we see the dog attack a black actress.  Another scene shows the dog chasing a black man to a church.  

The rescuer realizes there is a problem and although some are suggesting the dog be put down she seeks out a dog trainer to help reset the dog's automatic attacks on blacks.  She had seen a dog being killed at a dog pound and was repulsed.

 Eventually they found a dog trainer who was black.  Quickly understood the challenge.  One of his strategies was to insist that he be the only one who would feed the dog.  Eventually the dog responded in a friendly manner, but the trainer realized it was only him that had overcome the trained response.  He worked with other black people.  In the end the dog was put down as he was attacking a white person and had seemed to have gone insane with the confusing messages he had been sent.

The dog trainer explained that at one time dogs had been trained to  to chase after run away slaves and after that to pursue black convicts.  Unfortunately there have been bigots who have carried on the tradition.  The key thing to remember is that racism is taught.

Romain Gary was a well respected writer and director.  He had written material for "The Longest Day"  (1962).  He became French consul in Los Angeles where the inspiring events for "White Dog" took place.  He first wrote a magazine article and then a novel.  He also worked on the film script.

Samuel Fuller has often insisted about writing and directing.  He focuses on violence which he is against, but wants to demonstrate the effects on both perpetrators and victims.  Had been an American rifleman during World War I winning a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart using some of this experience in some of his early films.   Had written at least one earlier film on racism, "The Klansman" (1974).  After "White Dog" was released he was very disappointed that it was shelved for years in America, although had received excellent reviews in Europe.  This was his last American film and he went onto do films in France. The NAACP objected to what they thought was racism.

 A key part of the film was Karl Lewis Miller, dog trainer.  The DVD had an interesting feature on his role.  He used 4 dogs and was able to get screen credits for them.  In some cases he had been tasked by the director to do unusual acting.  He had acted as animal trainer for another 64 films.  He also played a break in with intent to rape who was attacked by one of the dogs.

Ennio Morricone the famous composer was in charge of music.  Some of his more famous efforts were for "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966),  "The Mission" (1986), "Cinema Paradiso" (1988), "The Legend of 1900" (1998), and "The Best Offer" (2013).  Sam Fuller's wife, Christa Lang (who had a small role in the film) made the suggestion to hire Ennio.

Bruce Surtees handled the cinematography.  He went on to film "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984).

Bernard Gribble was the editor.  He had edited such films as "The Man in the White Suit" (1951) and  "The Winds of War" Tv Mini series (1983).

Kristy McNicholl played Julie Sawyer, the rescuer of the white dog.   She won two Emmy awards for her role in tv. series, "Family" (1976).  Made lots of appearances in American television.

Paul Winfield played trainer, Keys which required him to be attacked a few times. He has appeared in numerous films including  "Sounder" (1972), "The Terminator" (1984).  He bred and showed pug dogs for several years.  He had been nominated for one Oscar and three Emmy awards, one of which he won.  Some movie roles he played were as Thurgood Marshall, Roy Campanella, Don King and Martin Luther King Jr.  He also performed on stage.

Burl Ives played  Carruthers, an animal consultant for movies.  Burl is well known as a singer accompanying  himself with banjo or ukulele.  A career on stage led to movies with his winning an Oscar for best supporting actor.  Some of his notable films include "East of Eden" (1955), "The Big Country" (1958), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) and "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" (1964).

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