Wednesday 21 October 2009

Killer-Dog (1936)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Another Jacques Tourneur short for MGM in 1936, this is a Pete Smith Specialty, and Tourneur is firmly on what would become regular ground for him. Strangely though, there's much less here to suggest a future in horror movies and films noir than there was in The Jonker Diamond earlier the same year. This one, a sentimental story at heart of a girl and her dog, is more fun for the outrageous narration of Pete Smith. I've always found his tone rather annoying, presumably something that was fashionable in its time but rather dated to modern ears. He's unintentionally hilarious with some of his lines here and that's the best part of the film for me.

A dog called Major is on trial for his life, accused of being a killer of sheep just like his sire. We follow him through his life in flashback, from being a hungry young puppy eating whatever he can find to saving his young mistress Betty Lou from being run over by her careless mother. Eventually he leaves the house at night, only returning in the morning with a scar along his back. Sure enough there are ravaged sheep at the nearby pen of a rancher, the same rancher who had killed his sire after catching him in the act three years earlier. So Major goes to trial, but the canny judge has a test to see if he's a real sheep killer and he redeems himself with another heroic act that clears his name and takes down the real villain of the piece all at once.

It's a fair enough story and it flows on nicely, if you can deal with Smith's voice. He never varies his tone even when he's coming out with truly outrageous lines that could easily have become taglines for horror movies. When the rancher finds dead sheep in his pen, Smith explains that they're 'grim evidence of a visit by another vicious raider' and 'the rancher examines the victims that forebode renewed massacres of his livestock.' Later in court, 'the attorney pronounces Major a canine Jekyll & Hyde, generally docile enough in appearance but in the eerie hours of the night when the wolf blood of his father runs cold in his veins, he kills.' Just as we never believe kind hearted Major did the dastardly deed, we can't quite buy such theatrics from Smith either.

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