Saturday 9 August 2008

The Shaggy Dog (1959)

I have a lot of catching up to do with the sort of American comedy film that transcended the boundaries of cinema and became part of the national cultural heritage. Given that it's Fred MacMurray day on Turner Classic Movies, I have plenty of opportunity but my DVR only gave me room for a couple, beginning with this 1959 Disney film suggested by a novel called The Hound of Florence written by the author of Bambi, Felix Salten. It's certainly fun but it's almost the definition of fluff.

MacMurray is Wilson Daniels, a mailman who hates dogs, but while he's the star he's hardly the lead. That role goes alternately to Tommy Kirk and an uncredited sheepdog, who both play the shaggy dog of the title. Kirk is Wilby Daniels, another in a long string of all-American boys that he played for Disney until they found out he was gay and destroyed his career. Wilby is a well scrubbed and well meaning specimen of the American youth of the fifties, but a clumsy one who's always getting into trouble. He's about as stereotypical as his parents: Wilson is a hard worker who looks after his family but is absolutely in charge, and Freeda is sweet, caring and a complete moron when it comes to anything except housework.

She's far from the only moron in the film, as if we pay attention to Disney it would appear that fifties America was full of them. Buzz Miller is one of them. He's the local skirtchaser and he dumps Annette Funicello (who always played a moron) on the fly when a beautiful girl moves into the house on the other side of the street. She's Franceska Andrassy, who speaks worse French than I do, and to try to impress her, Wilby and Buzz take her to a local museum. There Wilby accidentally acquires a cursed ring owned by the Borgias and reading its inscription accidentally transfers his self into Franceska's dog, Chiffon. Chaos ensues.

While this chaos is admittedly fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way, everything about this film is highly predictable, from Buzz Miller's shenanigans trying to take both girls to the country club dance to the whole spy subplot to the interaction between Wilby and his brother, played by Kevin Corcoran as he was in no less than five Disney films. Little brother Moochie is a moron too, as is Prof Plumcutt, who explains to Wilby everything about the shapeshifting but can't understand why he wouldn't want to be a dog. The peach of all the morons is Wilson Daniels himself who honestly tries to explain to a psychiatrist that his son is a dog. And don't even get me started on the cops.

I lost count of the continuity errors. I haven't looked up the gaffs at IMDb but they must span onto multiple pages. There's literally no attempt to make any of it make sense. They're annoying even for a fluffy comedy, which is the genre least likely for me to care about continuity errors. The film was remade in 2006 with Tim Allen, which would seem to fit as I don't believe he's ever played a character that wasn't a moron. Wholesome family entertainment in the Disney style would seem to be his forte. Unless of course he strays from the wholesome in his private life and then they'll kill his career too. Isn't Hollywood lovely?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your assessment of this movie is all wet. It was aimed at kids, and it was made in 1959, what did you expect? Annette didn't play a "moron" in this old movie, just a sweet girl who got dumped for a snobby one. I love thos old Disney movies, especially the one Annette was in. Not Oscar material, just entertaining.