Monday, February 16, 2009

Day Six: White Dog (1982) - Rank 4/5


Frequently cruel and, at times, difficult to watch, but overall a fantastic "lost" piece of cinema from the early eighties by Samuel Fuller. Kristy McNichol plays Julie, a model who accidentally hits a large, white German Shepherd with her car and ultimately ends up adopted the animal after its recovery. The title of the film does not indicate the dog's color - it's indicative of its behavior. The term "white dog" refers to a dog trained to attack and kill anyone with dark colored skin. She learns this after her dog maims one of her best friends, a black model. Her quest to cure her dog leads her to an animal trainer names Keys (Paul Winfield), who happens to also be black, making this the toughest task of his career.

Winfield easily steals the movie. He plays Keys with a determination, confidence and subtle swagger analogous to Robert Shaw's Quint from "Jaws" (only in this situation, Winfield is trying to save an animal rather than hunt it). His performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination (not necessarily a win). Burl Ives is equally as enjoyable as Keys eccentric, snake-handling boss. As for McNichol, her performance neither added or took away from the role - it just seemed very "by the numbers."

The movie is just a good, underrated film. There are a few logic flaws that keep it from excelling to the rank of a "great film." For example, White Dog escapes at one point and kills a black man in a church. Keys learns this, captures the dog and brings it back for training. What about the police, you say? It's never really addressed. Still, many accuse the film of being exploitative, but I find that a little harsh. I thought it was a fabulous commentary on the culture we exist in. We try to forget that such fierce racism exists, but we cannot. Fuller's film begs the question: "can we ever truly be rid of our racist ways?" He uses the dog as a representation for our society and dependent on your interpretation of the film's resolution, you may be left wondering if racism will always be an integral part of our subconscious (an eerie take on the classic "Nature vs. Nurture" debate). Well worth a watch.

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