‘White Dog’ exposes a racist practice

White Dog” is a movie doomed by concerns of political correctness and received a limited release in the US as a result. It’s topic matter might have boosted the movie’s profile, despite the stilted acting and awkward dialogue. Currently available to stream on Amazon.com, the movie might pique your interest due to comparisons made to a Hungarian movie with a similar title: “White God.”

The comparison was made by Variety in a review of the foreign film by Guy Lodge who wrote “Otherwise given no explanation in the film, the title ‘White God’ may be a tip of the hat to Samuel Fuller, whose 1982 race-relations allegory ‘White Dog’ takes a similarly conflicted view of the relationship between man and his supposed best friend.”

“White Dog is a 1982 drama based on a Romain Gary’s 1970 novel of the same name. Gary was married to the tragic Jean Seberg between 1962-1970. Seberg died from an overdose of barbiturates at the age of 40 in Paris. Gary committed suicide, dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Paris in 1980. The book, originally published in French under the title “Chien Blanc” was based on his own experiences when he and Seberg took in a stray dog that had been trained to attack black people and their subsequent attempts to rehabilitate the dog. By the time he wrote the book, Gary was divorced from Seberg and some critics feel he used the book both sides of the Civil Rights Movement–the white racists and the activists for black rights.

The book is set in Alabama. The movie’s title refers both to the dog itself, a white German Shepherd Dog, and the kind of training the dog received–it was a dog meant for white people. Instead of a couple, the movie focuses in on a young unmarried white actress (Kristy McNichol) who finds a dog and discovers that it kills black people. Paul Winfield plays Keys, a black dog trainer who becomes obsessed with re-training the dog, who works under Carruthers (Burl Ives) who would put the dog down.

While the theme of the movie is that racism is learned, the script doesn’t give us much sympathy for the characters and the consequences of their actions are dismissed. The dog kills a truck driver and an elderly man in church and still Keys wants to deprogram this dangerous dog.

While in the book, the dog was a former Alabama police dog, in the movie, the dog belongs to an elderly white man with grandchildren whom Julie confronts toward the end of the movie. The dog, once taught to kill and having killed, is not likely to be a good pet for anyone.

Director Samuel Fuller co-wrote the script with Curtis Hanson. The 90-minute movie has too many moments of stilted dialogue and clunky transitions. The movie was release internationally in France and the UK in 1982 and was broadcast on cable TV in the US. Its official American release was in 2008 via DVD thanks to The Criterion Collection.

The dog is handsome and actively appealing, the cast tries heroically to rise above the material. The subject matter is certainly worth thinking about, but this movie isn’t really a worthy vehicle.

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