Review: White Dog / Cert: 15 / Director: Samuel Fuller / Screenplay: Samuel Fuller, Curtis Hanson / Starring: Kirsty McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burt Ives, Jameson Parker / Released: 31st March
White Dog, now being made available as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series (much like Wake in Fright), is a film that has been tarnished and unavailable for years. Upon its initial release in 1982, many pinned a racist tag on Fuller’s movie and it was withheld from release. Whilst racism is a key component of White Dog, the film itself is far from racist, instead looking to strip down the idea and concept of racism.
The main premise of White Dog sees Julie (McNichol) taking a white German Shepherd under her wing after she accidentally hits the pooch with her car. Seeing that the animal gets medical attention, she decides, upon having heard of the fate that likely awaits the dog if he was to end up at the pound, to take the striking white animal into her home. Before long, the unnamed dog proves his worth by staving off a burglar at Julie’s house, firmly putting the canine in her good books. It’s only when the dog goes missing and returns soaked in vibrantly-coloured blood that Julie begins to think that all may not be quite as it seems.
Deciding to try and have the aggressive edge taken out of the dog, Julie seeks the assistance of Keys (Winfield), who just so happens to be an expert trainer in these sort of matters. Oh, and Keys just happens to be black. It doesn’t take long for the savvy Keys, along with colleague Carruthers (Ives), to realise that the dog doesn’t just attack anybody but that it’s actually a white attack dog, trained to savagely attack anybody who has black skin. Much like somebody has clearly spent a lot of time training the animal to perform such heinous attacks, Keys is just as determined to train this out of the dog.
Whilst the basic premise is all very simple, there’s a lot more going on in White Dog. There’s so many deeper issues on show, such as the shocking realisation that the training of dogs to attack black people was an actual real-life thing at one point, and so many questions thrown up, like is it possible to show the error of their ways to people of this mentality or just how culpable is the ‘beast’ of the picture; is the animal really the monster it is seen as on the surface or is more of the blame applicable to whoever trained the canine? As such, these are just some of the elements that caused certain quarters to mistakenly label the film as racist upon its initial release.
White Dog is a very complex beast. Many may see it as a creature feature or monster movie, possibly similar to Cujo, but there is a hell of a lot more going on in Fuller’s movie. Yes, there are certainly elements of a monster movie or a horror movie in here, but it’s far from an out-and-out horror. It’s likely best to describe White Dog as a drama, a study even, which centres on the disease of racism with elements of horror and suspense mixed in.
Fuller’s film is crisply executed with some great performances on display, particularly from Winfield as the black animal trainer determined to cure the savage dog that’s the focus of the story. Adding to the feel of White Dog, there’s an excellent score from Ennio Morricone. Safe to say, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad score from Morricone over the decades, and he delivers another soundtrack that perfectly complements its film and director.
White Dog is a great film that has sadly spent the last few decades in the doldrums of obscurity. Despite the strong tones of racism that are explored, the film never once feels like it’s slapping you in the face with the oft-taboo topic. Fuller delivers a movie that is subtle, intelligent and thought-provoking, and one that is definitely worth investing your time in.
Special Features: Subtitles / 48-Page Booklet