White Dog (1991)

PG | 90 mins | Drama | 12 July 1991

Director:

Samuel Fuller

Producer:

Jon Davison

Cinematographer:

Bruce Surtees

Editor:

Bernard Gribble

Production Designer:

Brian Eatwell
Full page view
HISTORY


       1970s Var reports indicate that as early as 1975, Paramount producer Robert Evans had slated a filmed adaptation of Gary’s novel as an upcoming project, alongside such films as Blizzard and The Two Jakes . The film was at various times set to be directed by Roman Polanski, Arthur Penn and Tony Scott, and to be written by Curtis Hanson, Thomas Baum and Nick Kazan. Early in 1981, Paramount revived the project, assigning Jon Davison as the producer, with Nick Vanoff and Edgar J. Scherick as executive producers. In 1981, with the looming prospect of strikes by both the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild, Paramount decided to fast track the project with Robert Butler directing, using the then recent Nick Kazan draft of the screenplay. Contract producer Jon Davison was assigned to oversee the project. The studio was interested in turning out a low-budget horror-exploitation film, but Davison suggested hiring Sam Fuller because he felt that Fuller would bring an added dimension to the project because of his long-standing and public opposition to racism throughout his career. Fuller knew source author Romain Gary, who had been the French Consul in Los Angeles for several years in the 1950s, and he was familiar with Gary's story, which was reportedly based on events from his own life, in which he and his wife, actress Jean Seberg, found a stray dog and only later learned that it had been trained to attack blacks. But according to an 11 Apr 1982 LAT article by Eric Kasum, Fuller claimed that "Gary wrote the book as an ... More Less


       1970s Var reports indicate that as early as 1975, Paramount producer Robert Evans had slated a filmed adaptation of Gary’s novel as an upcoming project, alongside such films as Blizzard and The Two Jakes . The film was at various times set to be directed by Roman Polanski, Arthur Penn and Tony Scott, and to be written by Curtis Hanson, Thomas Baum and Nick Kazan. Early in 1981, Paramount revived the project, assigning Jon Davison as the producer, with Nick Vanoff and Edgar J. Scherick as executive producers. In 1981, with the looming prospect of strikes by both the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild, Paramount decided to fast track the project with Robert Butler directing, using the then recent Nick Kazan draft of the screenplay. Contract producer Jon Davison was assigned to oversee the project. The studio was interested in turning out a low-budget horror-exploitation film, but Davison suggested hiring Sam Fuller because he felt that Fuller would bring an added dimension to the project because of his long-standing and public opposition to racism throughout his career. Fuller knew source author Romain Gary, who had been the French Consul in Los Angeles for several years in the 1950s, and he was familiar with Gary's story, which was reportedly based on events from his own life, in which he and his wife, actress Jean Seberg, found a stray dog and only later learned that it had been trained to attack blacks. But according to an 11 Apr 1982 LAT article by Eric Kasum, Fuller claimed that "Gary wrote the book as an allegory to purge the anger over extensive coverage of an alleged affair between Seberg and a prominent Black Panther [political party] leader." It may have been Fuller himself who inspired Gary's story. According to the producer, Fuller remembered telling the author a story of the Germans' use of dogs during the Second World War. Fuller claimed that these dogs were able to distinguish between German and American soldiers, perhaps due to distinct scents produced by the difference in both diet and uniforms. The dogs were dyed white to enable better visibility by spotters and would pinpoint American positions to the German artillery. In Apr 1981 Var announced that Fuller, who had just completed his war film, The Big Red One , would direct from a script co-written by Curtis Hanson. According to a Jun 1981 Var report, Davison and Paramount president Don Simpson wanted Fuller because of his famously economical approach to filmmaking and his fortitude in working under pressure. According to Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face , he wanted Jodie Foster to play the part of “Julie,” but she was unavailable.
       According to Fuller’s autobiography and reviews of the film, a spokesperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People named Willis Edwards was allowed onto the set to check for possible racist elements in the film. Fuller took this as an insult, given his history of speaking out against racism both publicly and through his films. Fuller had Edwards escorted off the set. Soon after, rumors circulated concerning the film’s alleged racism, which Fuller believed were originated by Edwards. According to a 1 Apr 1981 Var report, the NAACP, having received a copy of the script before the film went into production, issued a statement indicating that the organization was opposed to the film out of concern that its plot might trigger racial violence. Though no one in the organization had seen the finished film, the NAACP placed White Dog on its ‘white list,’ meaning the film had the potential to be boycotted by concerned black citizens. Var and LAT articles written during the film’s production allude to the controversy surrounding the film’s racial subject matter.
       Fuller shot the film on schedule over the course of forty-three days. Much of the film was shot at the Wildlife Way Station, a refuge for animals unwanted by zoos or found injured in the wild, located in Angeles National Forest. Martine Colette, operator of the Wildlife Way Station, told Var on 19 Jun 1981 that she supported its use in the film, because Paramount installed, among other facilities, an animal hospital and a caged arena. According to Fuller’s autobiography, his wife, Christa Lang-Fuller, had the idea of asking Ennio Morricone to score the film. According to a 29 Apr 1982 LAT article Paramount asked the director "to cut out some of the gore, so I did."
       Paramount had announced both the American and French releases of the film for June 1982, but the date for the American release was postponed. The film had a special world preview in Jun 1982 at the Cinematheque Francaíse in Paris, after which it was released in France. Var and LAT reports indicate that it was met with positive reviews, attributed mainly to the fact that Samuel Fuller had been admired as an artist in France for many years. According to a 1 Apr 1981 Var article, Paramount planned to hold preview screenings in Seattle, WA in early 1982; a sneak preview was shown on 19 Dec 1981 t the Uptown Theatre, as advertised in the 18 Dec 1981 Seattle Times. Undecided about how to distribute the film, Paramount held another test screening in Denver during late summer. On 12 Nov 1982, White Dog opened for one week at five Detroit theaters, "with no trailer, no poster and no promotion," according to the producer. "It did no business and was shelved as uncommercial. Fuller was so devastated he went into self-imposed exile in France and never made another studio film."
       Paramount scheduled White Dog for release to TV and video in Jan 1984. Two HR reports from Jan 1984 announced that NBC pulled the film after promoting it for a month. The television network issued a statement that the film had been deemed inappropriate for broadcast. As indicated by contemporary sources, the film was not screened theatrically in the U.S. until 1991, when it premiered at New York’s Film Forum to enthusiastic reviews. Among those critics who praised the film for its statement against conditioned racism were Janet Maslin of NYT , J. Hoberman of Village Voice , and Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader . Criterion Collection released the film on DVD in 2008. According to a press release issued by Criterion, The National Society of Film Critics honored the video distributor with a film heritage award for making White Dog fully available to an American audience for the first time.
       Character name "Roland Gray" is mispelled in credits as "Roland Grale."
       White Dog was based on Romain Gary’s story of the same name, which was published as a short story in Life Magazine in 1968 and then as a novel in 1970. According to a piece written by director Samuel Fuller in a 1982 issue of Framework , the only similarity between Gary’s story and the film is the subject of the racist dog. In the novel, a black man vengefully retrains the dog to attack only whites, an element of the story to which Fuller strongly objected. The following onscreen dedication appears after the end credits: “Dedicated to Romain Gary.” To reflect the theme that the titular dog sees the world in black and white, the opening credits are printed on black, gray and white title cards, and over the course of the closing credits, the image gradually fades from color to black and white.


The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and notes were written by participant Stuart Collier, a student at Georgia Institute of Technology, with Vinicius Navarro as academic advisor.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Reader
29 Nov 1991.
---
Daily Variety
1 Apr 1981.
---
Framework
1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jan 1984
pp. 1, 47.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jan 1984
pp. 1, 32.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 1991
p. 10, 15.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jun 1981
pp. 1, 4.
Los Angeles Times
11 Apr 1982.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Apr 1992
p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
29 Apr 1982.
---
New York Times
12 Jul 1991
p. 8.
Seattle Times
18 Dec 1981
p. 33.
Variety
16 Mar 1976.
---
Variety
2 Oct 1980.
---
Variety
1 Apr 1981.
---
Variety
23 Jun 1982
p. 26, 36.
Variety
30 Jun 1982.
---
Variety
9 Feb 1983
pp. 3, 44.
Village Voice
16 Jul 1991
pp. 55, 58.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Edgar J. Sherick Production; A Samuel Fuller Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Gaffer
Still photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
COSTUMES
Women`s cost
Men`s cost
MUSIC
Mus comp, orchestrated and cond
Mus ed
for La Da Productions
Mus mixer
SOUND
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Dial ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Prosthetics
Prosthetics
Prosthetics
Title des
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Dogs trained by
Dogs trained by
Asst dog trainer
Asst dog trainer
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "Chien blanc" by Romain Gary in Life (publication date undetermined).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
12 July 1991
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 12 July 1991
Los Angeles opening: 17 April 1992
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
15 March 1985
Copyright Number:
PA241505
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex cameras by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
90
Length(in feet):
8,100
Length(in reels):
10
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26388
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

While driving at night, aspiring actress Julie Sawyer accidentally runs over a white German shepherd. She takes the dog to a veterinarian and pays for its medical treatment, but is informed that the dog is unfit for adoption and will likely be put to sleep if handed over to the pound. Julie decides to keep the dog at her house until contacted by its owner. Concerned that Julie lives alone, her boyfriend, Roland Gray, encourages her to keep the animal as a guard dog. One night, a would-be rapist assaults Julie in her home. Jolted awake by the sounds of their struggle, the dog attacks the intruder, allowing Julie time to call the police. Several days later, the dog runs away, and Julie searches for it in vain, even checking the pound to see if the dog has been picked up or turned in. The following night the dog attacks and kills the driver of a street sweeper. The dog returns to Julie’s house, blood streaked across its face. Julie cleans up the animal and fails to tell Roland about the state in which she found it. The following day Julie takes the dog with her to a studio lot where she is acting in a film. In the middle of a take, the dog attacks Molly, an actress playing a scene with Julie, severely harming her. Roland, now aware of the dog’s violent behavior, tells Julie that this is an attack dog and orders her to have it put down before it claims another victim. Julie refuses and takes the dog to Noah’s Ark, an ... +


While driving at night, aspiring actress Julie Sawyer accidentally runs over a white German shepherd. She takes the dog to a veterinarian and pays for its medical treatment, but is informed that the dog is unfit for adoption and will likely be put to sleep if handed over to the pound. Julie decides to keep the dog at her house until contacted by its owner. Concerned that Julie lives alone, her boyfriend, Roland Gray, encourages her to keep the animal as a guard dog. One night, a would-be rapist assaults Julie in her home. Jolted awake by the sounds of their struggle, the dog attacks the intruder, allowing Julie time to call the police. Several days later, the dog runs away, and Julie searches for it in vain, even checking the pound to see if the dog has been picked up or turned in. The following night the dog attacks and kills the driver of a street sweeper. The dog returns to Julie’s house, blood streaked across its face. Julie cleans up the animal and fails to tell Roland about the state in which she found it. The following day Julie takes the dog with her to a studio lot where she is acting in a film. In the middle of a take, the dog attacks Molly, an actress playing a scene with Julie, severely harming her. Roland, now aware of the dog’s violent behavior, tells Julie that this is an attack dog and orders her to have it put down before it claims another victim. Julie refuses and takes the dog to Noah’s Ark, an animal training facility, where she seeks someone who can re-train the animal not to attack people. Mr. Carruthers, one of the owners of the facility, informs her that there is nothing he can do. As Julie leaves the office, the dog breaks free of her grip and jumps a black handyman, but the animal is restrained before it can inflict serious injury. Carruthers heatedly tells Julie that her pet is a ‘white dog,’ trained by racists to assault black people. This explains the attacks on the sweeper driver and the actress, Molly, both of whom are black. Witnessing the dog’s latest assault, the co-owner of Noah’s Ark, a black animal trainer named Keys, takes it upon himself to recondition the German shepherd so that it no longer attacks black people. He also makes clear that the dog’s condition is to be kept a secret. As he attempts to retrain the dog through a series of confrontations in a caged arena, Keys gradually reveals his history with white dogs and explains to Julie how they are created: white racists manipulate desperate black junkies into beating puppies until they learn to hate and attack black skin. Many animal trainers, Keys included, have tried to cure white dogs, but each time the dogs have proven unable to take the last step without snapping altogether and turning into indiscriminate attack dogs. One night, the dog breaks loose of its cage and escapes from the facility. The following day, while Keys searches around town, the dog chases a black pedestrian into an empty church and kills him. Keys subdues the dog after the attack, enters the church, and, with tears in his eyes, finds the man’s corpse among the pews. When Keys returns to Noah’s Ark and explains what happened, Julie immediately pleads for the dog to be killed before it takes the life of yet another innocent. Keys angrily retorts that as much as he’d like to shoot it, killing the dog would be nothing more than a short-term solution. Reconditioning is the only procedure that can prevent the creation of more white dogs in the future. After further training, the dog shows its first sign of improvement by willingly eating out of Keys’ hand, an action that it initially refused to do. That night, as Keys, Julie and Carruthers hold a celebratory dinner to mark their first victory, they acknowledge that by keeping the nature of the dog hidden from the authorities, they are essentially accessories to murder. During their conversation, a police officer enters. Though they are worried that he may have found out about the dog, it turns out that he has only come to ask for directions. After he leaves, they conclude that in spite of what the authorities decree, what they are doing is right and humane. In the following weeks, the dog continues to make slight improvements until it is finally content around black people without turning to violence. Although Carruthers is confident that they are on the verge of victory, Keys reminds him that the dog is on the edge of a mental breakdown. Keys reluctantly calls Julie, telling her they can begin the final test. On the way out of her house, Julie comes face-to-face with the dog’s previous owner, an old man accompanied by his two granddaughters. After questioning the man and finding that he was responsible for creating the white dog, Julie refuses to return the animal and warns his granddaughters not to let him corrupt them as well. At Noah’s Ark, Keys, Julie, and Carruthers stand in triangular formation in the caged arena. Keys beckons the dog in from outside, and it runs to Keys without attacking. Hearing Julie’s voice, it runs to her as well, again showing no sign of violent behavior. However, upon seeing Carruthers, the dog springs and pins him to the ground. Keys is left with no choice but to shoot the dog. He and Julie carry Carruthers out of the arena, leaving the dog’s dead body resting in the sand. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.