White Dog (1982)

white dog poster 1982 review
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good looking, interesting concept

So-so acting, questionable plot choices

Movie Info

Movie Name:   White Dog

Studio:   Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):   Drama

Release Date(s):  July 7, 1982 (France)/November 12, 1982 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG

white dog racist german shepherd kristy mcnichol

I hate it when the strange dog I just found comes home covered in blood

An accident on a road in Los Angeles has Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) finding a white German shepherd.  When the dog saves her life from an attacker, Julie feels a connection to the dog.  Unfortunately, the dog has been trained as an attack dog and particularly a “white dog”…a dog trained to attack minorities.  Taking the dog to an animal training facility run by Carruthers (Burl Ives) and Keys (Paul Winfield), Keys hopes to train the dog how to lose its killer instinct before it is too late!

Directed by Samuel Fuller, White Dog is a social commentary drama.  The film loosely adapts the 1970 novel by Romain Gary, and was met with controversy upon its release.  The controversy led to delays and the film wasn’t officially released on video until 2008.  The film gained a cult following over the years, and the Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #455).

White Dog has a really weird past history.  The movie was originally going to be directed by Roman Polanski, but the movie was delayed by the rape conviction against Polanski.  The movie then pushed as a horror film after Jaws release and movie producers wanted the race aspect downplayed (aka a killer dog movie).  The movie finally was made but objections from the NAACP about the subject matter led to a small release and the film being shelved for years (there were allegedly members of the NAACP and the Humane Society on set during filming however).  White Dog turned into an interesting movie that has an oddly TV movie feel.

white dog racist german shepherd paul winfield

It’s ok, he’s smiling at me!

The movie is about the question if racism is a learned behavior and if it can unlearned.  The story has a lot of melodrama but it also has some horribly questionable parts…not regarding the race aspect but the disregard of crime.  You have a dog which has killed a person without the people reporting it (he actually killed another man earlier in the movie which they didn’t know about).  The man killed in a church has a family and that family deserves answers…which is glossed over.  He’s treated almost like a subhuman by-product of Paul Winfield’s experiment.  That feels wrong.

The cast of the movie has a very TV-Movie feel to it.  Christy McNicol made her name in television and had a small movie career in the early ’80s (before returning to TV).  Paul Winfield plays the misguided but determined trainer who insists that he can deprogram racism.  The movie also featured Burl Ives as the other half of the training team (in one of his last performances).

white dog racist german shepherd kills church

Who wouldn’t want this precious pooch?

I’ll give the dog trainers of White Dog this, they managed to make the dogs trained in the lead role look terrifying.  Slow motion shots of the dogs running with their gums and tongues flapping look pretty insane…but maybe too insane.  The dog has to be likeable and trustable to at least McNichol through most of the movie, but it looks like it would kill anyone at points even early in the film.  The movie also does a great job building suspense in scenes where the dog has escaped…you know something bad is going to happen, but you don’t know when.

White Dog is an odd film with a different type of message.  The movie could have easily gone a different way (aka horror), but the makers really tried to keep it on point (it can’t avoid some of the horror).  The ending has a bit of a mixed message (the dog’s anger can’t be stopped), but it also is a bit confusing since it is unclear if the anger is reversed or Ives reminded the dog of its old owner (who looked similar played by Parley Baer).  Regardless, it is a more thought provoking film than you’d maybe expect from the description and kind of hard to watch.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response