White Dog (1982)
Remember when laser disks were a big deal in the VCR era? And remember when Criterion put out a laser disk that meant it must be an important film, right? Well, White Dog was released by Criterion, and it’s a piece of crap.
Kristy McNichol from the TV show Family (remember that one, boy and girls?) stars as an extremely thin would-be actress who accidentally runs over a pretty white German Shepard dog in the Hollywood Hills. After taking it to the most mercenary veterinary hospital I’ve ever seen – the lackadaisical vet and his nurse kept insisting that Kristy pay the bill for the dog’s emergency visit, and I mean INSISTING – and not getting any response later to her doggie found posters, she decides to keep the dog.
All together now, DON’T DO IT, KRISTY!
Anyway, after chewing up a clumsy rapist who attacked Kristy in her GINORMOUS Hollywood home (seriously, it’s bigger than Lois Lane’s pad in Superman: The Movie), and growling at BF Jameson Parker from Simon and Simon, Kristy takes the dog to Burl Ives. Read that again. Kristy takes the dog to Burl Ives. After years of watching a puppet version of Burl Ives wishing us all a “Holly jolly Christmas” I just can’t take the man seriously. And since Burl Ives runs an animal sanctuary/training facility, I expected Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer to be penned up nearby.
Burl Ives (you have to use both his names, like when you say Reed Richards) deduces than the white pooch isn’t merely a trained attack dog, but a “white dog” one that has been trained to attack and kill black people! So the great Paul Winfield, an associate of Burl Ives, and being a black man, also knows of the white dog and agrees to try and cure the furball of his racism.
This is a very silly movie. There’s no metaphor or allegory here. “White colored dog kills only black people.” That’s it. The Criterion folks and the dozen reviewers who gave this thing a positive review were either drunk or high, if not both. Kristy McNichol gives a very bland robotic performance. And seeing her in the very sad, dated 80s fashions of white boots, red bandana and purple pants makes you laugh out loud. Paul Winfield does his usual good job, but the story is just too damn goofy. In just about a month his character is able to take an old dog and teach him a new trick: the canine-with-no-name no longer hates black people, but instead goes for Burl Ives' throat!
I think the dog was hired by Rudolph.
Ps: I think the reviewers who praised this film were blinded by two things. One, they deified director/co-screenwriter Samuel Fuller (I enjoyed Fuller’s The Big Red One, but haven’t seen anything else he’s directed). And two, this movie was shelved by the studio and never given an American theatrical release. Apparently this lead to the legend of its subject matter being too controversial, even though it was released theatrically in Europe and shown on American TV on HBO. If you’ve ever been to a video store you’ve no doubt picked up a movie with major stars in it and said “I’ve never heard of this, why didn’t it come out in theaters?” Not all movies get a theatrical release for many reasons, usually the first and biggest is it won’t make enough moolah at the box office to justify all the print and advertising costs, better to just release it on home video.