Sam Fuller's controversial and racially charged thriller gets a long overdue release
What happens when a dog becomes a killer? Destroy it or retrain it?What if the dog has only one specific target to kill? Is it worth saving? Or is the animal a ‘ticking time bomb’ ready to attack anyone it sees? These are just some of the questions posed by Sam Fullers controversial 1892 urban horror, White Dog – a film that had nervous distributors withhold it release indefinitely! The story is remarkably simple – girl finds a dog with which she bonds, dog attacks black people, dog undergoes re-training to reintegrate him.That is essentially it, but within this simple structure are complex layers that explore companionship, torture, brainwashing, racial prejudice, right and wrong, animal cruelty and fault. Based on the novel by Romain Gary, itself based on true events, noted director Sam Fuller took the script and made it into a horror thriller with all the concepts outlined above.
Fuller shoots his film by blurring the lines of colour while keeping the racial lines ‘black and white’
The main protagonist, Julie, is shown to care for her dog against all odds with a number of early scenes that demonstrate the dog's attachment and loyalty (it saves her from a home intruder), even when it commits unspeakable acts, because she ‘knows’ it’s not his nature, but the upbringing and training it has received all his life. Rather than have him destroyed she finds a trainer willing to take the killer animal and turn him into a normal playful dog; in what is an allegory for all bigotry. Fuller shoots his film by blurring the lines of colour (literally in some cases, I particularly like one of the very earliest scenes in the vets where Julie is bathed in white light, but the receptionist is shadowed by a dark layer as she delivers bad news) while keeping the racial lines ‘black and white’ (even the credits mark what is in store, a grey background with white lettering that dissolves into black), with some delicious and deliberate character choices; especially the dog’s real owner. The messages are never too heavily played, and despite the subject matter, there is a clear and definite anti-racist theme running throughout.
The only real downer is the stylised filming which makes it look more like a ‘made for TV film’ rather than a theatrical release – ironic considering the film was withheld from release by Paramount due to pressure from race awareness groups. Indeed the film has rarely been seen even on the home video format.
Not quite as shocking as its ‘withheld’ status might presume, it is nevertheless very compelling viewing, not least because of its shock ending, for both the dog’s owner and its fate after training – this latter idea really blurring the lines of action and consequence. White Dog certainly didn’t deserve to be ‘withheld’ but, clearly, this status has done it no harm. Recommended.
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