White Dog’s bite is just as powerful as its bark. Photo Courtesy of the Criterion Collection
White Dog (Criterion, 1982) D: Sam Fuller, w/ Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNN
A young female actor picks up a stray, unaware that it's a vicious attack dog. It sounds like bad horror, but it's a serious film that posits racism as learned behaviour that might be overcome with education.
The studio buried it, not sure how to market Sam Fuller's welding of high-energy pulp melodrama and provocative social content. He'd produced great movies with that approach before, most famously Shock Corridor, which deals with madness, and The Naked Kiss, about child molestation. White Dog was to be his last American movie.
Fuller fills his allegory with heated dialogue, stylish tracking shots and dog point-of-view angles, all given an eerie mood by Ennio Morricone's spare, chilling score. The killing under the painting of St. Francis of Assisi is classic Fuller surrealism.
It's Kristy McNichol's first adult role, and she performs with the unadorned intensity the material requires. Paul Winfield as the African-American trainer who tries to cure the dog is at his best with wordless emotion.
Co-writer Curtis Hanson, producer Jon Davison, Fuller's widow Christa, and dog trainer Karl Lewis Miller provide a lively production history. Critics J. Hoberman and Armond White offer basic insights, but longer essays would have been welcome.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, dog trainer onscreen essay. Widescreen. Essay booklet.