Veteran canine character actor Higgins stars as Benji
  • Veteran canine character actor Higgins stars as Benji
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A pair of masterful mutts followed by a spot of roadkill. Pard and Bohunk are both available on Amazon. Stream them tonight. Benji fell out of copyright. Consult YouTube.

High Sierra (1941)

Video:

Trailer for High Sierra

Legend had it that Pard (short for Pardner) was a cursed canine responsible for the death of at least two climbers. But that didn’t stop freshly-sprung con Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart) from adopting the scraggly mutt that stood waiting for him at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. The opening credits clearly read, “‘Pard’ as Portrayed By ‘Zero.’” For years, would-be historians insisted on crediting the performance to Toto when in truth, the little guy was Bogie’s offscreen pet. Speaking of credits, this marked the last time the actor was to receive second-billing. Tired of taking a back seat to George Raft, Bogie convinced his pal that there was no future in playing psycho criminals struck down past their prime. Raft backed out and Bogie stepped up, delivering one of the most electrifying performances of his career. This Warner Bros. “twilight of the gangster” drama was directed by Raoul Walsh who, along with James Cagney, would forever seal the genre’s fate at the studio in White Heat.

Benji (1974)

Video:

Trailer for Benji

If you want to start a kid on the road to understanding the importance of consistency of point-of-view (and show them a terrific time at the movies) there is no better place to start than Benji. Why are people surprised to learn that Alfred Hitchcock was a fan of Benji movies? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Low-angle shots of Benji walking towards the camera intercut with forward-moving shots seemingly taken from the pup’s POV is about as Hitchcockian as it gets. One year before the advent of the steadicam, series creator and director Joe Camp had perfected the Benjicam. I’ll put Camp’s (and cinematographer Don Reddy’s) smooth, eye-level tracking shots from the pooch’s perspective up against no less than Kubrick’s rack-and-pinion tours of the Overlook. Made in response to the death of the studio system and the glut of adult-oriented films that followed, the “little movie that could” raked in $45 million on a $500,000 investment and spawned a handful of worthy sequels.

Men of Boys Town (1941)

Video:

Trailer for Men of Boys Town

Want to make an audience all weepy-eyed? Flatten a little dog by chucking it under the back wheels of a barreling rear screen-projected semi. Rest in pieces, poor little Bohunk. Give me a gangster pulling one last job to pay for his kid sister’s life-saving operation; give me an alien unable to call home, yet fully capable of piloting a grown boy on a bicycle past the moon; give me anything but a dead dog as a plot device contrived by a lazy screenwriter with back against the wall (and eager to cash his sequel paycheck). Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney were contractually obligated to appear in this satirically contemptuous sequel to the sentimentally sick-making Oscar-winner, Boys Town. Mom always told me that it takes a man to cry. Break out the Kleenex, boys and girls, to blot the inevitable flood of tears produced by one of the inadvertently funniest comedies the studio system ever belched up.

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