In continuation of their fine Masters of Cinema series, Eureka Video is releasing Samuel Fuller's forgotten controversial title White Dog on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 31st March.
Fuller's film from 1980 tells the story of a white dog who when taken in by a would-be Hollywood starlet Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) after hitting him one night, realises that her new best friend only seems to like people of a certain skin colour. The dog is called a white dog (despite its white Alsatian breeding) because it has been trained to bark, sneer and even kill black people.
Julie takes the dog to a specialist trainer called Keys (Paul Winfield), himself a black man who attempts to train the racism out of the dog through aversion therapy and feeding it hamburgers from his black hand.
There are obstacles as with any psychological evaluation, one jail break from the dog one night results in him chasing a black man and killing him in a church. The symbolism was never lost on Fuller. Yet we never see the full bloody gore of the attack, the barking and biting is all done in the edit, and Winfield conveys the full horror of the assault through his look alone. Fuller holds on Keys when he comes across the body in the church and in a long take, allows Winfield to show us the horror in his eyes.
Winfield a stalwart of American prime-time television throughout the 1980s and 90s was one of those amazing well-spoken black actors of this era along with James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams and Carl Weathers; all men of integrity and intelligence without resorting to physical domination in mark contrast to say Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
Fuller who wrote the screenplay with a young Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), made a taut and tight thriller that is small on exposition but helped by a stellar cast who do a lot with limited roles and create a world of fear and the unknown due to the odd nature of the canine attacker.
The film was vilified upon completion and not granted a release due to the supposed sensationalist nature of the material and a NAACP fear that the film would stoke up racist violence and allow racists to train racist dogs. The film was essentially shelved and following the upheaval surrounding the two and four hour cuts of his World War Two opus The Big Red One (1980), Fuller was all but done in Hollywood.
The film is not racist but instead an exploration of the creation of racism and the handling of it. The story is about a white girl who seeks help from a black man. Told with the thrilling use of close-ups on McNichol to convey her fear and worry, and editing expertly to convey the rage within the white dog of the title.
Ripe for a re-appraisal from one of the unheralded masters of American cinema, White Dog is a brilliant evocation of racism and psychology dealt with intelligence and finesse.
White Dog is out on Blu-Ray and DVD from Eureka Video on Monday 31st March
Watch a trailer of White Dog here