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Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Daring Dobermans (1973)

Director: Byron Ross Chudnow
Stars: Charles Knox Robinson, Tim Considine, Miss Joan Caulfield, David Moses and Claudio Martinez

The Daring Dobermans may begin with footage from the unusual bank heist in The Doberman Gang, led by Dillinger and his five canine companions, but this is not your usual sequel. Sure, it begins as the previous film finishes, with the dogs running into the countryside with bags full of loot strapped to them, but not one of the cast returns to continue the same story. This time we have a new trio of stars, who are keen to track down that loot. It's what everyone's doing, given that there's $350,000 at stake and the cops and rangers can't find them. This trio have a plan though, because they realise that the dogs were controlled by high pitched sound and so take a motor home out into the country with an oscillator to call them in. It works a charm too, though the money is mostly lost by the time they show up. The new story begins as they realise that it doesn't matter, because they have the dogs and with the dogs they can get anything.

These three leads are more ambiguous than Eddie and his henchmen were in the first film. They were crooks, pure and simple, whereas these three are opportunists. Steve Crandall is the man with the ideas, and while Charles Knox Robinson had been acting since the early sixties, he's a very seventies leading man. He'd return to the doberman subgenre, if it could be called such a thing, in 1980 for a TV movie called Nick and the Dobermans, that looks like it was a pilot for a series that didn't happen. Like Eddie in the first film, he's the most obvious bad guy, not just in how he treats the animals but in how he treats other people, especially Claudia, the closest thing to a leading lady here. She's an older lady he latches onto at a party when he realises that Cyrus W Markham, her boss, is the campaign fund manager for a politician, one with two million bucks in his office safe from secret contributions, the sort that he might not report if it were stolen.

His colleagues are Greg and Warren, again very seventies faces, but ones with more character development than the henchmen in the first film. Unlike Steve, they're very likeable, so it's easy to see them as anti-heroes, especially when you factor in where the money is coming from this time around. Opportunists liberating dirty money from a politician is more morally ambiguous than crooks planning a bank heist, after all. It's certainly easier to identify with Greg and Warren than anyone in the first film. Would you break your moral code if nobody got hurt and there's a couple of million dollars to split three ways? Greg is David Moses, a black Canadian actor who surprisingly didn't act on the big screen again for twelve years, given the blaxploitation craze of the time. Warren is Tim Considine, returning to a dog film after playing the young skirt chaser in The Shaggy Dog in 1959. Both are reliable support for Robinson.

The story is at once more detail oriented and less focused than the first film, but otherwise plays out much the same way, even down to some of the same little touches. It's notably less carefully done though, as while the first film stayed vague enough that the various plot holes could easily have been explained away by scenes we simply didn't see, here they're a little less acceptable. Watching as a double feature with The Doberman Gang works well, so I can forgive a lot, but if someone came on this one alone and watched without the context of what came before, it would be pretty laughable. The acting is better, and the dogs are even more magnificent to watch, but the story elements that had validation in the first film don't here. In particular, to replace Barney, the former USAF dog handler who trained the animals in the first film, we get an Indian boy who likes the dogs and apparently that's enough to account for them learning whole new routines.

Part of the problem may be that like the cast, the writers didn't return from The Doberman Gang. This time out, the story and screenplay were written by Jack Kaplan, best known for animated TV shows like Speed Buggy and Goober and the Ghost Chasers, and Alan Alch, a lyricist whose main claim to fame is the theme tune to Branded. Mostly, though, it's that they didn't even attempt to bring anything to this film that the original didn't do better, beyond a little more showcasing for the dobermans, who once again are the stars of the show. There are five of them here, renamed to generic dog names: Fido, Rover, Prince, Spot and Rex. This time out they get to do a few tricks and jump from roof to roof. By the time they spring into action for the main setpiece of the film, we're certainly not watching the human actors, even if they include Joan Caulfield, the favourite actress of Joss Whedon. She gets very little to do here except be exploited.

A disappointing sequel, it nonetheless plays reasonably well as a companion piece, making a fun Sunday afternoon double bill with its predecessor. Mostly it just built up my interest level for the third film, The Amazing Dobermans. With nothing remotely new to offer, this should have been the end of the doberman gang, but three years later, Byron Chudnow brought them back again, with another completely new cast, one that included much more major names than here. Fred Astaire plays the lead, late enough in his career that The Towering Inferno was two years earlier. Supporting him are James Franciscus, Billy Barty and the lovely Barbara Eden, after I Dream of Jeannie but before Harper Valley PTA. I wonder how that third film came about, let alone with such an enticing cast, and given how enticing it is, I wonder why Chudnow couldn't get a fourth film off the ground, instead settling for a TV movie in 1980, Alex and the Doberman Gang.

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