Take Five: Dogs on film

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!

Sinatra with Snuffy the dog in ‘Pal Joey’

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.)

Clark Gable and Buck the St Bernard

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!)

William Powell and Myrna Loy with Asta

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.

Richard Barthelmess as David with Rocket

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.

Christopher Lloyd with Einstein the sheepdog

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.


15 thoughts on “Take Five: Dogs on film

  1. Roscoe Arbuckle’s dog Luke was quite a performer. He was in a few of Arbuckle’s Keystone films, some Comiques, and also appeared in Keaton’s The Scarecrow.


  2. What a fun post, Judy. You know, by the time I got to the end of the article, I was thinking the same thing you stated about cats. I can think of a few movie cats, but the only ones with names are in later (ahem, as in ’60s) movies. Other than Lassie, I’d have to say Asta is my personal favorite. I think he’s the same dog that plays Mr Smith in The Awful Truth and George in Bringing up Baby. Dogs (and cats) can add interest, warmth and sometimes just plain fun to a movie, and they don’t have to say a thing.


    • I haven’t seen ‘The Awful Truth’ yet, though I aim to do so very soon as it is discussed in the next chapter of a book I’m reading very slowly on romantic comedies… will watch out for Asta! I did just see ‘Bringing Up Baby’ recently and hadn’t realised that George was the same dog, but the imdb confirms you are right.:) I’m still trying to think of some movie cats for a future posting, but haven’t come up with much yet. Thanks for your thoughts on this, CagneyFan!


  3. Of your group here Judy, Asta is my favorite doggie! I agree with you on PAL JOEY, but the songs are wonderful even though Sinatra does not do them all. Most of the songs he did not sing in the movie he did record on various albums. Fun post!


    • Another fan of Asta – thanks, John! I love the songs in ‘Pal Joey’ too and agree it is a shame they aren’t all in the film – I’m listening to a lot of Sinatra at the moment and will hopefully catch his versions of all those he didn’t get to in the film.


  4. Judy, are you reading James Harvey’s book on Romantic Comedy in Hollywood? I’ve read it a couple times and not only greatly enjoyed it, but have made it a point to watch all the movies he cites. I haven’t watched them all, but I’ve made great progress over the past few years. Hope you enjoy The Awful Truth. I’ve seen it probably a dozen times and still laugh. One of my top ten favorite movies.


    • Yes, that’s the one – I’ve been reading it very slowly and trying to watch as many of the movies he cites as possible, but loads of them are not available in the UK so it is taking a while. I think he is a fantastic writer – I tend to end up reading each chapter a few times! Glad to hear you like him too.


    • PS CagneyFan, I just watched ‘The Awful Truth’ today and I now think I’d seen it before years ago – anyway, really enjoyed it, and Cary Grant and Irene Dunne make a great combination. I’m a bit disconcerted that we never find out why Grant was lying about going to Florida at the start – I wonder if some footage was cut that explained this?


  5. Judy this is a wonderful idea! I think Uggie may now be my favorite screen dog (It will be quite a thrill when he is carried on the stage next month with the producers of THE ARTIST to pick up the Best Picture prize) Of course I always think of Toto in THE WIZARD OF OZ and those two red-bone hounds in WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, but you’ve collected a memorable short list, and imparted some splendid insights into the films they appear in. Yes I agree that the dog in THE CALL OF THE WILD is in there quite a bit.


  6. Thanks a lot, Sam – I wanted to do a few more lighthearted and quicker postings in between the reviews, which tend to take me ages, and thought this would be a bit of fun. I don’t agree with people who say it should be possible to give acting awards to animals (it would make a lot more sense to give awards to their trainers), but I agree it would be fun to see Uggie going up on stage with the producers if ‘The Artist’ wins. I saw him on breakfast TV the other day and he seemed to be enjoying himself. Agreed on Toto (I remember your daughter wanted you to get her a dog just the same as him!) , but I don’t think I’ve seen ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ as yet.


  7. If you want to see a fun movie with a great dog, watch “Lady Be Good” with Eleanor Powell, Robert Young, and Ann Sothern. The scene with Eleanor dancing with the dog is classic!


    • Many thanks for commenting, Lisa – I haven’t seen that one but I definitely need to see Eleanor dancing with the dog, so I will hope to get hold of it. Sorry to be slow in replying!


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