The second film in my second match-up in the second round of the 80s US Bracket is about racism, in case you couldn’t figure it out!
Screenplay By: Samuel Fuller & Curtis Hanson
Directed By: Samuel Fuller
I’m two films into Samuel Fuller’s oeuvre and I feel comfortable saying that he may not be the director for me. I found myself uneasy throughout most of White Dog, and not in a chilling, haunting or effective way. I actually laughed a few times, shook my head a lot, and more often than not sighed at the blunt and heavy handed nature of the entirety of the film. I know that Samuel Fuller has some fans, maybe it would be too much to call it a cult following, and I’m happy that you have found a director you admire. I, however, can not get into his work at all, no matter how hard I try, and this is an indication of the tone you will find throughout this review.
Fuller hit me over the head repeatedly in White Dog. I’m not even speaking of the racial message, because for as blunt as that was, it was nowhere near as blunt as the way Fuller uses foreshadowing. Early in the film Julie’s boyfriend tells her that her new found pet may be a good thing to keep, for security reasons, ya know? Lo and behold less than five minutes later she is attacked in her home by a rapist and the dog saves her. Later in the film a character references the dog being dangerous and how it will attack someone, and less then five minutes later the dog is attacking someone. There are other examples, and I’m already at one example too many for me. Fuller even does this in little self-contained moments, such as when he shows the sign for Noah’s Ark, zooms in super tight on the name of Keys and then shows Keys walking into frame under his name. It’s a small moment, but it’s such a blunt and heavy handed introduction of a character that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.
I’ve heard Fuller described as a B movie auteur, and that White Dog is a great movie on racism with B movie sensibilities. I know B movies, I love B movies, but Fuller does not have true B movie sensibilities. There’s no fun behind what he does, he’s simply a man hammering home certain points in the viewer’s head in a blunt fashion. Fuller tires me out, I keep hoping for a break from his never ending stream of obviousness, but he keeps plodding out these situations that never quite work and tries to make them work. It’s an often used analogy, but I imagine Fuller as the rugged man who only sees the world one way spending his spare time trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.
It’s disappointing that Fuller fails in such epic fashion with White Dog, because outside of the terrible performances, the hamstrung foreshadowing and Fuller’s bludgeoning storytelling there existed a tale of racism that could have been powerful and haunting. By surrounding the racism with blunt film making it makes Fuller’s handling of the racism theme appear all the more heavy handed. And honestly, this movie caused me to check out rather early at the preposterous nature of some of it, like a dog randomly attacking a person and the owner not being forced to put the dog down. If I had been able to hang in there with White Dog for a longer time then maybe its message on the cycle of teaching racism and how hate is even more powerful than racism would have hit me where it mattered.
Maybe I’ll see a Samuel Fuller picture sometime in the future, but Odin knows I will not be looking forward to the experience. White Dog maybe could have been something, but in Fuller’s hands it is a hammy exercise in hammer swinging. Then again, I was predisposed to dislike a film that talks about German Shepherd’s as naturally vicious dogs that need to be put down and features a scene where people are feeding onions to a dog and other scenes where the dog is fed hamburgers that might have had onions on them. Onions are toxic to a dog by the way, and that type of carelessness in the film making did piss me off. But no, I’m not willing to fall back on those factors and create an excuse for White Dog. It, simply put, is not a well made film, it is a heavy handed neanderthal than can gladly remain on the scrapheap of films that do not need to be seen.