I’ve decided to do a new series of postings which will appear on my blog every Monday and will be picture-led, picking out five films on a particular theme. These are not necessarily the “best” five or even my five favourites, but just a selection that interested me. It would be good to hear other people’s suggestions for each theme. Since I’ve just posted on the wonderful performance by Uggy (or is it Uggi? or Uggie? I’ve seen all these spellings, and don’t suppose the dog minds too much which it is!) in The Artist, I’m starting off with a look at a few talented dogs in films – although I intended just to write a line or two on each, I’ve got slightly carried away about a couple of them, so I put those at the start!
1. Pal Joey (1957): I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Frank Sinatra lately and watching his films too. I could listen to his voice endlessly. To be honest, Pal Joey, directed by George Sidney, isn’t one of my favourites out of his films – a lot of the nightclub scenes are messy, sexist and depressing, and it doesn’t have the power of the stage musical, as far as I can remember from seeing it years ago. However, I do love the relationship between Sinatra as Joey and Snuffy, the terrier he reluctantly adopts after chatting to it in a pet shop to impress the dancing girls who surround him. The dog (a Cairn terrier, I believe) is very talented and there are some sweet, funny scenes where it dips a bagel in some coffee (presumably this is actually dog food!) as an endearing trick – living on its wits and charm just as Joey has to. The scenes with the dog are part of the softening of the character, who is a lying womaniser with few redeeming qualities in the original stage show – but, anyway, for me they are among the best parts of the film. (There is also a dog featured briefly as a sort of double for Sinatra’s character in Young at Heart (1954), a film I love, where heroine Doris Day takes in a puppy which is the runt of the litter at the start of the movie, and refuses to give up on it. Later she also refuses to give up on Sinatra, playing a depressed musician.)
2. The Call of the Wild (1935): Buck the dog is the central character in the original novel, by Jack London, but for his film version William Wellman introduced a human drama and relegated the St Bernard dog to a supporting role. Nevertheless, the scenes of the dog with Clark Gable are very touching, as they head into the 19th-century Yukon searching for gold. Both of them are rebels against society, longing to get back to nature, so once again there is the element of doubling between dog and owner which so often seems to turn up in films. I’ve found that my review of this film is one of the most popular postings on this blog, doubtless largely because of the pictures I’ve gathered together. Sadly, I don’t have one with both Gable and Loretta Young together with the dog. (Another Wellman film where a dog plays an important role is The Light That Failed (1939), an adaptation of Kipling’s novel with Ronald Colman as a drunken artist who is going blind. He constantly talks to his dog, who probably features in nearly as many scenes as Uggy in The Artist – but sadly I haven’t been able to find any pictures of Colman with the dog. This is a film I keep meaning to review, so when I do I will find a still or two to put this right!)
3. The Thin Man (1934): Asta must be one of the most popular movie dogs ever, making a perfect team with William Powell and Myrna Loy in this sparkling comedy-mystery, directed by W.S. Van Dyke. The dog’s original name was Skippy, but eventually this was changed to Asta as the wire-haired fox terrier went on to feature in the next two films in the series – later being replaced by lookalikes. So far I have only seen the first film in this series, but I intend to catch up with all the others, hopefully during the coming year.
4. Tol’able David (1921): I’m a fan of actor Richard Barthelmess, but so far I’ve mainly seen his talkies rather than his silent films, even though the silents are probably more famous. However, I have seen and admired this famous silent, directed by Henry King, a melodrama where Barthelmess starts off playing a young boy who is forced to mature as he confronts tragedy and cruelty. The opening of the film has some blissful country scenes of David playing with his pet dog, Rocket, who sadly goes on to meet a tragic fate. In fact, cruelty to the dog by a brutal neighbour is what starts the whole chain of melodramatic events unfolding. According to the cast list, it appears that Rocket’s real name was Lassie.
5. Back to the Future (1985): This Robert Zemeckis time travel adventure is rather later than most films I write about here, but it’s a big favourite with my whole family, especially my teenage son – and one of his best-loved sequences is the scene at the beginning, where eccentric Dr Emmet Brown (Christopher Lloyd) has come up with an amazing Heath Robinson apparatus to feed tinned food to Einstein the sheepdog. Einstein seems rather more interested in the food than he is in the scenes where he gets involved in time travel!
So, does anyone have any thoughts on any of these movie dogs, or do you have other favourites? And what about movie cats? I’m really more of a cat person than a dog person, but I’m struggling to think of many.