Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Masters of Cinema - WHITE DOG on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Masters of Cinema - WHITE DOG on Blu-ray

I once found myself in an elevator with the late, great Paul Winfield and I was tempted to say something, but I just let him be. At the time, I knew him best from THE TERMINATOR and I was tempted to quote a few lines from the film to him (I'm glad I didn't). I always wished I'd said something and not long after that, he died which was a great loss. At the time I saw him, I had yet to see his amazing performance in Sam Fuller's film WHITE DOG as it was still pretty hard to see. When I did finally see it, I knew that I'd have wanted to mention it to him (maybe) in that elevator ride. It's a film with a checkered past, but one that is pretty unfair and I couldn't be more pleased that it was first released by Criterion on DVD and now by Masters of Cinema on this lovely looking Blu-ray.
Paul Winfield is stunningly good in this picture. He is the emotional core of the movie and he, along with Ennio Morricone's affecting score make this movie quite impactful. He plays a veteran dog trainer who takes on the task of basically re-programming a "white dog" (a dog that has been trained to attack and kill black people). It's a powerful struggle to watch played out, especially if you're a dog lover like myself. Paul Winfield was certainly given the occasional headlining roles, but not nearly enough in my opinion. The man is just something else. Backing him up is Burl Ives (who I've always loved as a singer and actor), the lovely Kristy McNichol and Jameson Parker (from SIMON & SIMON). Oh and Dick Miller has a small role too!
WHITE DOG is one of those movies that I'm so happy has been "re-discovered" and re-appraised as the classic that it is. Of course re-discovery is almost not even the proper term because the film was buried at the time it was to be released and never saw much play outside of the occasional TV screening (in an edited version) and later some rep screenings (where I first caught it circa 2002 maybe). The film had a long and difficult road to the screen starting with losing its initial director who was to have been Roman Polanski (who fled the U.S. before the film could go into production). Some of the film's early troubles were rooted not only in the original source novel (which Fuller made some significant changes to), but also the then head of the Black Anti-Defamation League's take on the material and the fact that this book was even being adapted at all. Once the movie started shooting and based on a studio mandated evaluation of the what had been shot by a representative of the NAACP, Paramount feared a boycott of the movie. After a weak attempt at testing the film and with potential NAACP boycotts threatened, Paramount shelved the movie as opposed to risking further financial loss and bad press. Devastated, Sam Fuller packed up and moved to France, never to direct and American film again. Sad story. Even sadder that he would not live to see the film heralded as one of his best works (he passed away in 1997, Criterion put out the dvd initially in 2008). I'm not sure it would have meant as much to him so many years after the fact and in spite of how it affected his career as a filmmaker. Regardless, it would have been something to hear him speak at a Q&A after one of these later screenings of the film. Sam Fuller is one of the great directors and "true characters" of cinema and I am pleased to see his work continuing to be released in the Blu-ray and DVD formats. With each release of one of his heretofore lesser know films on Blu-ray, I do hope he's picking up more fans (as he deserves them).



1 comment:

John Rieber said...

Great review. This is exactly the type of "neglected classic" that deserves attention!