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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

White Dog (1982)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives, Jameson Parker and Parley Baer
Distributor: Eureka, Masters of Cinema Series
RRP: £9.95 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
EKA 70128/BD
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 31 March 2014

Nosing around on the net for sales and overlooked gems, I was stunned and ashamed to find this Sam Fuller masterwork available from Eureka. Amazed to find it as a deluxe Masters of Cinema entrée, no less: dual discs, 1080p Blu-ray immaculate transfer and a pristine progressive encode DVD, plus a 42 page booklet beyond cool. Ashamed because I should have known my Eureka catalogue better. Better late than never.

This is the suppressed picture that drove Sam Fuller to leave America. The author, Romain Gary, on whose book it is based, committed suicide a year before Fuller’s film was released. His former wife, actress Jean Seberg - Iowa teenager turned superstar, who gave Warren Beatty his first picture of note with Lillith (1964), who was picked up then discarded by Clint Eastwood after Paint Your Wagon (1969), black rights activist, hounded by the FBI - had committed suicide a year before. Or, maybe was suicided. Suspicions have never been settled on that one. It is certain that her decomposed body was moved before it was found ten days later. When keyboard warriors and tapeworm ideologs praise the “honor” of the FBI, they forget to mention Jean Seberg or Romain Gary. When Hollywood preaches about domestic racism and white privilege it comfortably forgets its gutless aesthetic betrayal of Sam Fuller’s White Dog.

See the ultimate study on Fuller: Typewriter, Rifle, Movie Camera given us not coincidently by BFI.

Called the most important film on its subject ever made, White Dog is cringe inducing for hack patriots and jingo religionists. It was never released unless one counts a bowdlerized chop shop version on America’s Lifetime Channel. Even that version, precocious pre-teens and teens when shown my VHS tape copied from TV, went pious ballistic and scolded old filmophile John for wobbling their merry-go-round. I find it’s no different today. Even dropping Quentin Tarantino’s name as a fan garners no interest with doctrinaire youth. If art doesn’t jerk your chain sometimes maybe it’s not art but crap kitsch.

Kristy McNichol plays Hollywood actress Julie Sawyer who befriends an injured white dog, a white Alsatian, then is herself saved by the dog from a midnight intruder and would be rapist. They bond. Alienated from her Hollywood hills existence of usury, she seems to draw strength and emotional protection from the dog, beyond the reach of her fiancé, Roland (Parker.) To his credit, Parker plays a male who doesn’t push and tries to help her from the distance she requires.

The problem is, Julie’s dog is a “white dog,” a dog raised in the time bound redneck tradition of white racists, to hunt and kill black men. The dog’s training is apparent to us in scenic point of view before Julie catches on. Stealthily he sneaks out at night to hunt. The modus operandi of the murders becomes very apparent to investigators but not soon enough before horrific deaths occur. The driver of a street sweeper is killed in his driver’s seat as the machine trundles on its way. Another victim is trailed inside a church and dies behind the altar.

Fuller, of course, was not a racist but a truth teller. Race was always a distinctive issue in his films. This is his zenith on the subject. What does the dog teach us about the white mind that trains it? What is the prideful psyche that domesticates nature to dehumanize “the other” into a hunting victim? It’s the antithesis of Martin Buber’s concept of “I – Thou.”

The dog’s secret is discovered. But here in the second half of the movie comes the wonderful Paul Winfield as Keys, a black man who doesn’t want the dog put down but instead wants to deprogram it. Can he undo the ideation of the dog’s former owner? Winfield, always known as an actor’s actor, gives here what I think is the best performance of his sterling career. To Keys this is a war of ideas between his mind and the mind of the unknown racist trainer. Even if the dog must be destroyed for its crimes, Keys is driven to first change the dog’s mind. He declares that if he cannot do that, it means evil is stronger.

Fuller is a tough thinker (see Five By Fuller reviewed on these pages) who stares evil in the eye and doesn’t blink. The dog’s deprogramming is attempted at the Wildlife Way Station and its (then) founder, patron saint of animal protection, Martine Dawson makes a cameo. Burl Ives plays Carruthers the fictional manager of the animal sanctuary. The debate between Ives and Winfield comprise the film’s last half up to its denouement. Fuller leaves no ideological stone unturned. Winfield is a hero of Martin Luther King passions. That the acting is so believable is what keeps White Dog from descending into sloganeered treacle.

Music is by no less than Ennio Morricone. That should tell you something about Fuller’s aesthetic discretion.

The dog is played by five dogs, Hans, Folsom, Sam, Buster and Duke. Fuller painstakingly “interviewed” the animals.

This was not just a potboiler done for the sake of controversy. Everyone involved from hero producer Jon Davison to Fuller’s co-writer Curtis Hanson and dean of cinematographers, Bruce Surtees, all believed this was a think piece that needed to be done. Ives’ courageous record in Civil Rights and Winfield’s career of breaking stereotypes, reached a lifetime apex for both of them. Here, in this film. But it was crushed and buried by executive suite Hollywood. No wonder Fuller dedicated the film to Romain Gary and obliquely to Jean Seberg, then wiped the dirt of Hollywood from his shoes and left forever. Integrity.

We should thank Eureka for its integrity in providing us this calibre of product for our home theater collections. Its brand is well-named and our last bastion of film viewing well supplied.


John Huff

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