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DVD: White Dog | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: White Dog

DVD: White Dog

Startling polemic on racism

Samuel Fuller's white dog shows his training

Once in his stride as a director, Samuel Fuller never shied away from the controversial. The mental-hospital set Shock Corridor, from 1963, prefigured One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and touched on the arms race, incest, racism and the Korean War. A year later, his Naked Kiss sympathetically portrayed a prostitute. The final film he made in America, 1982’s White Dog, also pulled no punches and met the nature of racism head on. In some quarters of the press it was trailed as itself being racist. It was not released in America. Fuller then upped and offed to France where he had long been hailed by the Cahiers du Cinéma brigade as a seminal American director. He died at 85 in America in 1997.

White Dog is, indeed, a very strong film and absolutely anti-racist. Based on a novel, it concerns the title’s canine, who is taken in by Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) after she hits him while out in her car. Although docile in her company, she soon learns the dog is trained to attack black people – it is a “white dog”, trained by a racist. Late in the film, she encounters the dog's original owner. After finding Carruthers (Burl Ives), who has a menagerie from which he furnishes animals for films, his black colleague Keys (Paul Winfield) decides to de-programme the dog with a series of training sessions. The film’s ending is within the bounds of what might be expected, but it is not exactly what seems to be coming. It shocks.

White Dog Kristy McNicholOverall, the film shocks. The trappings of Hollywood cloak a fiercely angry polemic. This startling film would work well on a double bill with the 1962, William Shatner-starring Roger Corman film The Intruder, which is also concerned with racism. (pictured right, Kristy McNichol's Julie Sawyer with the white dog)

There are some missteps and distractions. Winfield is dependably wooden. Scenes of Sawyer with her boyfriend are a waste of time. McNichol herself is irritating in a Kim Darby-ish way. Her character is meant to be a poor, struggling actress yet she has a magnificent, mountain-top house, a swank Ford Mustang and wears a different, then-fashionable, outfit for virtually every scene. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack music, though well suited for White Dog, recycles large chunks of what he wrote and what was recorded for the 1971 film Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna which seems a bit cheeky. It is the film’s tenor which matters though.

The image of this release is stunning. During night scenes, the colours have the intense depth of the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. The only extra is a sub-titled version of the film, but the package’s booklet has top-notch, in-depth essays and a reprint of a curious piece where Fuller himself interviews the white dog.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Overleaf: watch director Richard Linklater discussing White Dog

Watch director Richard Linklater discussing White Dog

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