Wednesday, February 1, 2017

It's a Dog's Life (1955)

Wildfire in It's a Dog's Life (1955)

"It was strictly dog eat dog on the waterfront." - Wildfire

Before there was A Dog's Purpose (2017) there was It's a Dog's Life (1955). This film tells the story of Wildfire, a bull terrier making it on the mean streets of New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. He's been taking care of his mom until she suddenly disappears. On a mission to find his mom and the dad who abandoned him as a pup, Wildfire goes exploring. He gets caught up in a dog fighting ring at a local saloon when Patch McGill (Jeff Richards) takes him under his wing. Wildfire is a champion fighter until he meets his match and his winning streak ends. Patch and his lady cohort and source of money Mabel (Jarma Lewis) quickly abandon him. Wildfire starts a new life at the Wyndham Estate when he's rescued by the tender-hearted grounds keeper Nolan (Edward Gwenn). Mr. Wyndham (Dean Jagger) doesn't want Wildfire around but his daughter Dorothy (Sally Fraser) sees showmanship potential in the purebred bull terrier. Thus Wildfire continues onto a new journey as he competes in dog shows, falls in love and wins over the hearts of pretty much everyone he meets.

Wildfire and Dean Jagger in It's a Dog's Life (1955)
Vic Morrow has an uncredited role as the voice of Wildfire whose thoughts narrate the story. Wildfire was actually two identical looking pure white bull terriers, one used for close-ups and the other used for stunts. For those of you squeamish about seeing animal abuse in the form of dog fighting fear not. We don't see any dog fighting. It's obscured by crowd surrounding the dogs with audio effects of dogs growling to suggest the fighting is happening. Also there is a scene when Patch holds up Wildfire by the tail. It's obscured enough that it's obvious that Wildfire isn't really dangling there. Dog lovers will have fun seeing the wide variety of breeds showcased in the film especially at the two dog shows at the end of the film.

Wildfire in It's a Dog's Life (1955)
Wildfire
"I can hardly wait to be reincarnated." - Wildfire

The film includes a young Richard Anderson in the role of George Oakley, a judge at the dog show who has a thing for Dorothy Wyndham. Willard Sage plays Tuttle, the villain of the story who wants to take old man Nolan's job and tries to get rid of Wildfire. Villains in animal films always get to me but Tuttle's role was particularly benign yet helps move the plot along.

Wildfire and Sally Fraser in It's a Dog's Life (1955)
Wildfire and Sally Fraser as Dorothy Wyndham

Wildfire and Edmund Gwenn in It's a Dog's Life (1955)
Wildfire and Edmund Gwenn as Nolan

An MGM film shot in Eastman Color and CinemaScope, It's a Dog's Life was directed by Herman Hoffman and produced by Henry Berman.  It was based on the novel The Bar Sinister by Richard Harding Davis published in 1903 and adapted for the screen by John Michael Hayes. The most notable aspect of the movie for many is the musical score by legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein.

I wasn't expecting much from this film. It's been sitting in my collection for a while and I always put off watching it. Then I thought with the release of A Dog's Purpose, a film also narrated by a dog's thoughts, that it was time to pick this one up. I was pleasantly surprised. This is a fine little film. It's very unusual for a dog movie to have no children in the story. This has not a single one. All of the humans in Wildfire's life are all adults. Usually children and dogs make for magical onscreen pairings because of that special relationship they have. Their innocence and free spirited nature is often lost to adults. This isn't a traditional family film and there is some content parents might not want their very young kids to watch: in particular the dog fighting scenes (suggested and not shown), the gambling and the sexually suggestive scenes between Patch and Mabel and the saloon's entertainer.

It's a Dog's Life (1955) is a fun movie that deserves to be pulled out of obscurity and appreciated. Wildfire doesn't reincarnate into other dogs like in A Dog's Purpose but goes through different stages in his life as he meets new humans on his journey to find his parents. So even if you're giving that new movie the side eye, like I am, or you enjoyed it and want to try something in a similar vein, make sure you pick up this movie and give it a try.

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It's a Dog's Life (1955) is available from the Warner Archive Collection on DVD-MOD.


Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you Warner Archive for a copy of It's a Dog's Life (1955)!

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