Benji (1974)

G | 86-87 mins | Drama | 20 November 1974

Director:

Joe Camp

Writer:

Joe Camp

Producer:

Joe Camp

Cinematographer:

Don Reddy

Editor:

Leon Seith

Production Designer:

Harland Wright

Production Company:

Mulberry Square Productions
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HISTORY

Benji represents director-producer-writer Joe Camp’s first feature film. As noted in a 30 Jan 1975 DV article, Camp’s previous career in advertising lead to the establishment in 1971 of his Dallas, Texas based company, Mulberry Square Productions, which initially produced only television commercials. Camp told DV that film industry “experts” warned him against making a G-rated feature because they questioned the marketability of family films and argued that Walt Disney Productions had monopolized the genre. In a NYT article on 31 Aug 1975, Camp said that there was such unwillingness on the part of major studios to back a G-rated feature that one company even requested that he add “cuss words” to the script so they could change the rating to PG.
       Hollywood studios were also skeptical about how well a dog actor in a live-action role could carry the plot, according to DV. In a 14 May 1973 Box news item, Camp announced that Benji would represent the first “live-action dramatic picture [shot] totally from an animal’s point of view.” Noting his inspiration from Disney, “the only major production company that stands for anything,” Camp told Box that Benji was different because the Disney films that were told from the point of view of animals were all animated. As reported in various contemporary sources, including Box, Films and Filming in Jun 1976 and DV on 11 Nov 1974, the film’s camera angles were shot entirely from “Benji’s” point of view, four to eighteen inches from the ...

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Benji represents director-producer-writer Joe Camp’s first feature film. As noted in a 30 Jan 1975 DV article, Camp’s previous career in advertising lead to the establishment in 1971 of his Dallas, Texas based company, Mulberry Square Productions, which initially produced only television commercials. Camp told DV that film industry “experts” warned him against making a G-rated feature because they questioned the marketability of family films and argued that Walt Disney Productions had monopolized the genre. In a NYT article on 31 Aug 1975, Camp said that there was such unwillingness on the part of major studios to back a G-rated feature that one company even requested that he add “cuss words” to the script so they could change the rating to PG.
       Hollywood studios were also skeptical about how well a dog actor in a live-action role could carry the plot, according to DV. In a 14 May 1973 Box news item, Camp announced that Benji would represent the first “live-action dramatic picture [shot] totally from an animal’s point of view.” Noting his inspiration from Disney, “the only major production company that stands for anything,” Camp told Box that Benji was different because the Disney films that were told from the point of view of animals were all animated. As reported in various contemporary sources, including Box, Films and Filming in Jun 1976 and DV on 11 Nov 1974, the film’s camera angles were shot entirely from “Benji’s” point of view, four to eighteen inches from the ground. Mulberry Square Productions fabricated custom camera support equipment, including tripods and dollies, because they were not available commercially.
       Despite offers from three unnamed distributors, Camp decided to use his experience in advertising to market the film, himself, according to DV on 30 Jan 1975. Camp speculated that the studios’ lack of interest in G-rated features would result in ineffective campaigns. A 27 Mar 1974 DV news item announced that Mulberry Square Productions formed its own distribution company, Mulberry Square Releasing, Inc., which was established to handle the release of Benji. Terry McIntyre, who had previously worked at United Artists and K-Tel International, was named as head of the company. On 29 Apr 1974, HR reported that Mulberry Square Productions had signed a deal with a subsidiary of the American Broadcasting Company, ABC Merchandising, for product licensing and merchandise distribution.
       According to studio production notes from AMPAS library files, Camp found investors for Benji even before he wrote the script. He sold most of the stock in the film to individuals who had never before invested in a film production on a “confidence-in-our-capability-basis” and a nine-page treatment. As discussed in various contemporary sources, including Box, on 6 Jan 1975, and NYT, on 31 Aug 1975, Camp’s conviction that he could market a G-rated family film to a widespread audience was not unfounded. After a world premiere in Dallas, TX on 22 May 1974 at the NorthPark Cinema, the film’s test run in the South and Mid-West grossed $5 million over several months, according to Var on 30 Jul 1975. A nationwide release in the summer of 1975 and its highly successful marketing campaign brought the film’s total earnings up to $31.5 million, as reported in a 26 May 1981 Var news item, making it the highest grossing family feature film of the year. NYT stated that the film, which cost $500,000 to produce, was expected “to yield a 625 to 850 per cent return on investment to its backers.”
       As reported in Box on 6 Jan 1975, promotions for the second release of the film included a television advertising campaign, special screenings for schools, and a personal appearance tour with Higgins, the dog actor who performed the role of “Benji,” his trainer, Frank Inn and Camp. The film’s soundtrack on Epic Records was widely marketed and the film was advertised through a product tie-in with a major dog food company. ABC Merchandising was expanding Benji marketing with numerous products such as T-shirts, lunchboxes, stuffed animals and a paperback novelization published by Pyramid Publishing Co. According to Box on 26 May 1975, the book had already gone into a second printing with over one million copies ordered. Higgins made many appearances on television shows, including the Mike Douglas Show and the Dinah Shore Show. Mulberry Square Productions sponsored a “Benji” look-alike contest at theaters, where the winner was awarded a trip to Frank Inn’s Sun Valley, CA animal ranch. Benji products were sold in the lobbies of theatres nationwide.
       While booking theatres for the second run of the film, Mulberry Square Releasing had difficulty finding exhibitors in New York City due to its G-rating, according to Var on 30 Jul 1975. In their effort to promote confidence, Mulberry Square paid $14,000 for a full-page advertisement in NYT announcing that Benji was coming soon to New York, even though no theatres had committed to show the picture. As reported in NYT and Var, the Guild Theatre in Rockerfeller Plaza took a chance on Benji and found that the film broke box-office sales records. According to NYT, 65% of the theatre’s ticket sales were to adults, which was highly unusual for a G-rated film.
       Although venues such as the Guild wanted to continue an extended run of the film, Mulberry Square Productions announced as part of its advertising campaign that Benji would be put on a seven-year moratorium after October 1975. According to HR on 22 Jul 1975, Camp admitted that this tactic was inspired by Disney’s marketing strategies. The article reported that Camp was unreceptive to offers from ABC, Twentieth Century-Fox and Universal Television for Benji showcases, spinoffs and series. On 22 Feb 1978, however, HR stated that two television specials were planned for that year on ABC, The Phenomenon of Benji and Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story. The announcement of the shows coincided with an expansion of Benji merchandise that included games, books, costumes and greeting cards. Several other television specials were produced for ABC and CBS, including Benji at Work (1980), Benji at Marineland (1981) and Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince (1983).
       While Camp sought to emulate Disney productions, the success of Benji turned Mulberry Square into a Disney competitor. As discussed in HR on 18 Jul 1975, Benji consistently outgrossed both of Disney’s feature film offerings in 1975, One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975, see entry) and the reissue of Bambi (1942, see entry). The article noted that the favoritism usually shown to Disney by exhibitors was waning and theatres such as Philadelphia’s General Cinema dropped its policy of never showing another family film back to back with a Disney production. According to Camp, this was the first time in recent history that two G-rated pictures were played simultaneously because Disney had stipulated against this practice in their distribution terms.
       According to the Box review on 9 Sep 1974, the film was shot in Denton and McKinney, Texas. HR production charts on 20 Jul 1973 reported that principal photography began on 9 Jul 1973 in Dallas and McKinney.
       In its 19 Nov 1974 review, LAT mentions that Higgins, the fifteen year-old dog who performed the role of “Benji,” was rescued from an animal shelter in Burbank, CA by his renowned trainer, Frank Inn. Higgins was a regular performer on the television series Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. He was fourteen years old when he starred in Benji. The film marked his first and final performance in a theatrical film, as he died on 11 Nov 1975. While the film received mixed, but generally positive reviews, Higgins was upheld by various publications, including Var and HR, both on 13 Nov 1974, as the strongest and most interesting character. As reported in LAHExam on 11 Jun 1975, Higgins won a “Best in Pictures” award at the American Humane Association’s 25th PATSY awards. Higgins was not credited onscreen.
       Despite the death of Higgins, Camp went on the produce three Benji sequels; For the Love of Benji (1977, see entry), Benji the Hunted (1987, see entry) and Benji: Off the Leash! (2004, see entry). Although For the Love of Benji and Benji: Off the Leash! were produced and released by Mulberry Square, Benji the Hunted was released by Disney. Higgins’s daughter, Benjean, took over the role of Benji in the first two sequels.
       Benji was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Music (Song) for “Benji’s Theme (I Feel Love),” music by Euel Box and lyrics by Betty Box. The film won the Golden Globe award for Best Original Song.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 May 1973
---
Box Office
9 Sep 1974
p. 4720
Box Office
30 Sep 1974
p. 10
Box Office
6 Jan 1975
---
Box Office
26 May 1975
p. 13
Box Office
27 Oct 1975
---
Daily Variety
27 Mar 1974
---
Daily Variety
11 Nov 1974
p. 2, 7
Daily Variety
30 Jan 1975
---
Daily Variety
27 Mar 1977
---
Daily Variety
26 May 1981
---
Films and Filming
Jun 1976
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1973
p. 12
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1973
p. 10
Hollywood Reporter
29 Apr 1974
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 May 1974
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1974
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jul 1975
p. 1, 17
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 1975
p. 3, 10
Hollywood Reporter
22 Feb 1978
---
LAHExam
20 Nov 1974
Section II, p. 1
LAHExam
11 Jun 1975
---
LAHExam
31 Aug 1975
---
Los Angeles Times
19 Nov 1974
---
New York Times
27 Jun 1975
p. 25
New York Times
31 Aug 1975
---
Variety
25 Ju 1973
---
Variety
5 Jun 1974
p. 28
Variety
13 Nov 1974
p. 25
Variety
30 Jul 1975
p. 5, 31
Variety
9 May 1979
---
Variety
26 May 1981
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
starring
starring
starring
special guest appearances
special guest appearances
+

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A family film by Joe Camp
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Prod mgr
PRODUCERS
Prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Lighting
Dolly grip
Grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATOR
Const supv
MUSIC
Mus
Rhythm track for Benji's theme-"I Feel Love" rec b
at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama
SOUND
Post prod and sd services
Sd asst
Addl rec
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles, opticals & processing
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Scr supv
Prod secy
Asst to the prod
Animals provided by and trained by
SOURCES
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHORS
SONGS
Benji's theme, "I Feel Love," music by Euel Box, words and music by Euel and Betty Box, performed by Charlie Rich, courtesy of Epic Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 November 1974
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Dallas: 22 May 1974; Los Angeles opening: 20 Nov 1974; New York opening: 26 Jun 1975
Production Date:
9 Jul--28 Sep 1973 in Dallas and McKinney, TX
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Mulberry Square Productions, Inc.
22 May 1974
LP43795
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
CFI
Duration(in mins):
86-87
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

Benji, a stray dog who lives in an abandoned house on the outskirts of a small town, sets about his daily ritual of visiting human friends. At the Chapman mansion, Benji exchanges the newspaper for a bowl of food with the family’s maid, Mary. When the two young Chapman children, Cindy and Paul, come into the breakfast room to greet Benji, Mary warns that their father will hear and they hide him under the table. After outwitting Dr. Chapman, the children leave for school and Mary explains to Benji that Dr. Chapman stubbornly dislikes dogs, but he is a nice man. Continuing on his route, Benji chases a cat and greets Officer Tuttle, who announces his wedding engagement and tells Benji that he, too, will soon meet the lady of his dreams. At Bill’s Café, Benji wakes Bill from his morning nap and receives a bone as payment. Returning home, Benji finds three suspicious characters, Linda, Henry and Riley, breaking in. Although Henry and Riley are spooked by legends that the house is haunted, Linda intends to propose the location as a hideout to their boss Mitch, mastermind of their illicit activities. Henry leaves a bag of groceries behind and Benji eagerly consumes an open pudding cup. The next morning at the Chapman home, the children brush Benji, hoping their father will accept him into the family, but Mary tells them that the doctor will not change his mind. After impressing his human friends with his new hairstyle, Benji encounters a pretty white dog in the park who is scavenging through his favorite trashcan. Benji presents her with ...

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Benji, a stray dog who lives in an abandoned house on the outskirts of a small town, sets about his daily ritual of visiting human friends. At the Chapman mansion, Benji exchanges the newspaper for a bowl of food with the family’s maid, Mary. When the two young Chapman children, Cindy and Paul, come into the breakfast room to greet Benji, Mary warns that their father will hear and they hide him under the table. After outwitting Dr. Chapman, the children leave for school and Mary explains to Benji that Dr. Chapman stubbornly dislikes dogs, but he is a nice man. Continuing on his route, Benji chases a cat and greets Officer Tuttle, who announces his wedding engagement and tells Benji that he, too, will soon meet the lady of his dreams. At Bill’s Café, Benji wakes Bill from his morning nap and receives a bone as payment. Returning home, Benji finds three suspicious characters, Linda, Henry and Riley, breaking in. Although Henry and Riley are spooked by legends that the house is haunted, Linda intends to propose the location as a hideout to their boss Mitch, mastermind of their illicit activities. Henry leaves a bag of groceries behind and Benji eagerly consumes an open pudding cup. The next morning at the Chapman home, the children brush Benji, hoping their father will accept him into the family, but Mary tells them that the doctor will not change his mind. After impressing his human friends with his new hairstyle, Benji encounters a pretty white dog in the park who is scavenging through his favorite trashcan. Benji presents her with the bone he received from Bill and she follows him back to the Chapman house where Mary brushes her, brings her food and names her Tiffany after the jewelry store. Benji and Tiffany frolic in the park, but when they return to Benji’s home, they find that Riley and Henry have returned. Riley points out that Henry’s groceries have been overturned and becomes increasingly anxious that the house is haunted. As Mitch and Linda arrive to survey the property, Riley tells Henry that a pudding cup is missing, but Henry warns him against upsetting their plans. The following morning, Dr. Chapman tells his despondent children that Benji carries diseases and forbids them from keeping him as a pet. Later, Riley writes a ransom note to extort money from Dr. Chapman by threatening his children, but Henry throws it on the ground, writes a new one, and orders Riley to deliver it when he gives him the signal. Meanwhile, Mitch surprises Henry and Linda by actually kidnapping the Chapman children. Although Benji races to the Chapman home for help, Mary shoos him outside as the doctor meets with police officers and an FBI agent. Benji returns to steal the ransom note and force them into a chase back to the house, but his plan is interrupted by a concerned neighbor. Benji then unsuccessfully attempts to get the attention of Officer Tuttle. When City Hall closes, Benji is locked inside, but he barks through an intercom and is released by a passing policeman. Returning home, Benji snatches Riley’s first ransom note. When Mitch grabs Benji, Tiffany bites his ankle. Benji jumps free, but Mitch kicks Tiffany, leaving her unconscious on the floor, and Henry and Riley chase Benji off the property. When Benji arrives at the Chapman house with Riley’s ransom note, he finds that Linda has preceded him in an attempt to cut off his efforts. Pretending to console Dr. Chapman, Linda takes the note from Benji and puts it in her purse as Mary scolds Benji and carries him away. Benji bites Mary, runs for Linda’s purse and recoups the note. Although Linda chases Benji, he jumps back into Mary’s arms. After reading the note, Mary becomes suspicious of Linda and alerts Dr. Chapman, who demands to know where his children are. Through her tears, Linda claims ignorance but Benji leads the police, FBI, Dr. Chapman and Mary back to the hideout. Meanwhile, the kidnappers are concerned that Linda has not returned and Henry and Riley argue that they should leave. As they walk outside, however, the police hold them at gunpoint and the children are reunited with their father and Mary. After taking Tiffany to the veterinarian, Dr. Chapman calls the dogs heroes and agrees to adopt them into the family.

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GENRE
Genre:
Sub-genre:
Animal, Youth


Subject

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

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