A late entry in Samuel Fuller’s storied resume, White Dog is a film about racism that doesn’t shirk tricky issues; questions of nature versus nurture are raised and not easily dismissed. Based on a book by Romain Gray, a French writer who once challenged Clint Eastwood to a duel (Eastwood declined), this project was adapted by Fuller and Curtis Hanson with fairly explosive results. And oddly enough, the original white dog that Gray encountered was brought into the family home by his partner at the time, Jean Seberg.
White Dog is the story of a black dog trainer Keys (Paul Winfield) who tries to retrain a stray dog that has been trained to attack black people. Whether it’s possible for the animal to overcome it’s racially-based training or not, Fuller advances a strong metaphor for the dog representing racial hatred, and Keys obsessively trying to break down ingrained programming.
White Dog is an old man’s film in a sense, in that it doesn’t trade in ideals and instead focuses on the evil that men do, but also offers insight into what the evil is and how it manifests itself. There are big questions here; in what way is superiority central to our programming, and can racism ever be overcome rather than just brushed out of view in terms of our behaviour?
For various reasons, White Dog was barely seen on release, and a welcome return on streaming should allow cineastes the chance to enjoy the photography of Bruce Surtees and the score by Ennio Morricone. White Dog has finally begun to amass some critical momentum as a controversial and original take on a hot subject, and hopefully it’s availability on streaming for the price of a cup of coffee may lead it to the audience it deserved but didn’t get back in 1981. Kirsty McNichol and Burl Ives provide strong support.