Directed by Samuel Fuller [Other horror films: N/A]
There are some movies that you just know aren’t going to have happy endings, and while that doesn’t make the movie bad, it can impact your willingness to sit through it. This never bothered me that much – I still cry during the end of Titanic, and probably always will, but still find the film worth watching. White Dog is too a film worth watching, but it’s not one that I would say has much in the way of rewatchability.
Dealing with a pretty obscure topic (at least as far as my education was concerned) about dogs trained specifically to attack black people, it should go without saying that racism is very prevalent in this movie. Almost none of the on-screen characters are racist (save for one that shows up toward the end), but that a dog was “trained” (or beaten, depending on whether or not you’re a piece of trash who condones animal abuse) by a racist into a savage monster is just damn disheartening.
I don’t always like touching on racism, on a side-note. Partially, it’s due to the fact that I’m a white guy from Indiana who didn’t really know any black people until college, and it’s just not a comfortable topic for me. No doubt that comes from a place of privilege, and it’s just awful how backwards the USA still is when it comes to race. Still, it’s a necessary conversation, and I think this movie, which got some hate after it was released, does good with the topic.
The main character, played by Kristy McNichol (from Little Darlings, a movie I’ve not personally seen but my mother was a big fan of, so wanted to throw it a mention) strikes me as naive about some things, but really turns into a strong character, and when she confronts a racist man toward the end, it was great to see. Her performance here is pretty solid, especially during the first half as she’s learning to care about and love the dog.
McNichol isn’t the best performance though – that accolade goes to Paul Winfield. Though not an actor I’m that familiar with (I have seen him in both The Serpent and the Rainbow and The Horror at 37,000 Feet), Winfield does great here. I love his goal of attempting to recondition the dog in order to discourage racists from using them for their racist ends. About an hour in, he really goes out of his way to recondition this dog (even after the mild disagreement from McNichol’s character), and I love him for it, no matter how it ended.
Aside from these two, the only other person that really stands out is Burl Ives, who is a character that takes a little to get used to, but I did end up rather liking him. Dick Miller also pops up for a single scene, which was random but fun, and toward the conclusion, we get a little Parley Baer, playing a rather despicable character pretty well with the short screen-time he had.
It’s also worth noting that, while I have no problem with the horror label being thrown onto this movie, much of the violence is shown in a more dramatic and heart-breaking light. Sure, the movie is a downer by it’s subject itself, but aside from the second attack (of the street sweeper, played by Tony Brubaker), most of the kills don’t really feel like what you’d expect in a horror movie. That doesn’t downplay the horror of a humongous dog rushing someone down, but if someone went away from this finding it far more a drama, I couldn’t say I’d much blame them.
White Dog is a movie I’ve seen before, but like many of the movies I’ve seen in years past, I didn’t have a great memory of this one. It’s no doubt a well-made film, and is one that should be checked out if it sounds of interest, but it’s not a movie I think I’d go back to that often, and it’s definitely not what I’d call a fun viewing.