Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cinematic Canines

Cinematic Canines: Dogs and Their Work in the Fiction Film

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cinematic Canines
    Book Description:

    Dogs have been part of motion pictures since the movies began. They have been featured onscreen in various capacities, from any number of "man's best friends" (Rin Tin Tin, Asta, Toto, Lassie, Benji, Uggie, and many, many more) to the psychotic Cujo. The contributors to Cinematic Canines take a close look at Hollywood films and beyond in order to show that the popularity of dogs on the screen cannot be separated from their increasing presence in our lives over the past century.The representation and visualization of dogs in cinema, as of other animals, has influenced our understanding of what dogs "should" do and be, for us and with us. Adrienne L. McLean expertly shepherds these original essays into a coherent look at "real" dogs in live-action narrative films, from the stars and featured players to the character and supporting actors to those pooches that assumed bit parts or performed as extras. Who were those dogs, how were they trained, what were they made to do, how did they participate as characters in a fictional universe? These are a just a few of the many questions that she and the outstanding group of scholars in this book have addressed.Often dogs are anthropomorphized in movies in ways that enable them to reason, sympathize, understand and even talk; and our shaping of dogs into furry humans has had profound effects on the lives of dogs off the screen. Certain breeds of dog have risen in popularity following their appearance in commercial film, often to the detriment of the dogs themselves, who rarely correspond to their idealized screen versions. In essence, the contributors inCinematic Canineshelp us think about and understand the meanings of the many canines that appear in the movies and, in turn, we want to know more about those dogs due in no small part to the power of the movies themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6357-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Introduction: Wonder Dogs
    (pp. 1-30)

    For a few weeks before and after the turn to 2012, two cinematic canines were the focus of a considerable amount of media attention. One was the then nine-year-old Jack Russell terrier Uggie, whose work inThe Artist, a film that would soon be awarded an Oscar for Best Picture of 2011, was generally regarded as a highlight, if not the main attraction, of the black-and-white silent feature whose story concerned the triumphs and travails of a star couple in Hollywood in the 1920s. The other dog was the German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin, who had been one of Hollywood’s...

  5. Part One Stars and Featured Players

    • 1 Answering a Growl: Roscoe Arbuckle’s Talented Canine Co-star, Luke
      (pp. 33-53)

      In June 1916 the fan magazinePhotoplayran a story about actor Jack Pickford’s dog, Prince. The article quotes the dog as saying, “Actor dogs have only one growl coming: they don’t get enough publicity in the magazines—I mean us stars” (42). Prince is right; dogs had played a significant role in film from its beginnings, but compared to their human co-stars, they had not received much publicity. No dog, for example, had yet been featured on the cover ofPhotoplayorMotion Picture Magazine. Several of the dogs that played a significant role in early cinema—even the...

    • 2 The Dogs Who Saved Hollywood: Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin
      (pp. 54-77)

      “Dog heroes” were top American action-film stars in the 1920s. Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin, among the early wave of German Shepherds introduced to the United States at the conclusion of World War I, were beloved by millions of movie fans as superbly talented canine performers whose abilities, like other dog stars before them, were uniquely highlighted by silent film. Strongheart was known as an original “Wonder Dog” and as the most outstandingly skilled actor of the dozen or more canine cinematic performers of the era (see Rapf in this volume). Rin Tin Tin was sometimes called “The Dog Who...

    • 3 Asta the Screwball Dog: Hollywood’s Canine Sidekick
      (pp. 78-103)

      In late October 1937, newspaper readers in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, learned that “a dog’s life is not so tough when the dog works in the movies.” A syndicated article recounted publicity about the “home” of Skippy, the canine star who played Asta in the popular Thin Man films, along with a number of other iconic screwball roles. Skippy/Asta was said to be the resident of “a full-sized building, with human-sized doors and windows, hot and cold running water, boneburying pits, automatic vacuum flea removers and mechanical cats to chase” (Gettysburg Times, October 30, 1937, 8). At the time this article appeared,...

    • 4 Promoting Lassie: The Animal Star and Constructions of “Ideal” American Heroism
      (pp. 104-120)

      Press materials related to canine stars as dog heroes in the United States from the 1930s through the 1950s often mythologized their subjects through a rhetoric of nationalism, partially owing to the connotative value of the dog—especially large dogs—as loyal, strong, and protective. Although they were continually balanced on the edge of domestication and wildness, dog heroes were always represented ultimately as “ideal” members of society. Despite the fame of the silent-era dog hero, especially Rin Tin Tin, the most recognizable animal performer in the United States probably was, and remains, Lassie, the tan and white rough collie...

  6. Part Two Character and Supporting Actors

    • 5 Dogs at War: Military Dogs in Film
      (pp. 123-142)

      The practical and symbolic deployment of dogs during World War II was unprecedented and has not been replicated since. Although the conflict was heavily mechanized, armies on all sides used canines in numbers and in ways as never before; one analyst estimates that the Allied and Axis militaries employed more than 250,000 canines for a variety of tasks, including as messengers, sentries, draft animals, trackers, and patrol auxiliaries (Kelch 1982, 2). As I have detailed elsewhere, dogs—both real and imagined—were rhetorically deployed through a variety of media forms to mobilize people for war (Skabelund 2011). Armies first used...

    • 6 Loaded Dogs: Dogs, Domesticity, and “the Wild” in Australian Cinema
      (pp. 143-157)

      One might expect that dogs figure prominently in Australian cinema. Perhaps this expectation is a result of the centrality of dogs in some well-known and oft-cited Australian prose fictions (such as the turn-of-the-twentieth-century short stories of Henry Lawson and Barbara Baynton). There is also a pervasive notion of dogs as taking their place beside many a farmhand, or as herding in response to the commands of sheep farmers, or as strategically nipping at the heels of wayward bullocks driven along the stock routes of outback Australia. Indeed, the perception that “in the outback the dog is both mate and essential...

    • 7 Bullies and Curs: Overlords and Underdogs in South African Cinema
      (pp. 158-180)

      In his 2006 proclamation “The Year of the Dog,” prominent intellectual Njabulo Ndebele challenged South Africans to reevaluate their treatment of dogs and, by extension, each other. Canines have been subjected to exploitation and violence throughout the turbulent history of the region, from centuries of colonization and decades of apartheid to the long-awaited democracy that arrived in 1994. Furthermore, this pervasive mistreatment of canines has been used to legitimize violence against human underdogs. As Ndebele attests, “the word ‘dog’ is never far away in the imagining of violence and abuse in our society. You can see how often we have...

    • 8 Things from Another World: Dogs, Aliens, and Antarctic Cinema
      (pp. 181-196)

      All narrative cinema set in Antarctica—the world’s only continent with no permanent human population—will to some degree reflect humanity’s troubled relationship with nature, understood as both nonhuman animals and the environment. The dog is a key figure through which to explore this relationship. While clearly on the nature side of the traditionally conceived culture/nature binary, the sledge (sled) dog is that (imported) part of nature to which humans have historically most closely related in this environment. With native Antarctic animals scarce during winter, and absent in the continent’s interior, personal and working relationships between sledge dogs and humans...

  7. Part Three Stock, Bits, and Extras

    • 9 Hitchcock’s Canine Uncanny
      (pp. 199-218)

      Alfred Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène depends intensively on meticulously researched and carefully arrayed social, cultural, and technical details of character, action, and scene. Considerable scholarly attention has been given to Hitchcockian stars as embodiments or exemplifiers of relevant dramaturgical and social detail, but only the scantest attention has been paid to his settings, his use of color and props, what can be read from his costumes, and the work of secondary players who fill in the scenes (see Pomerance 2000–2001). As any afficionado already knows, Hitchcock’s films, whether the ones he made at the beginning of his career in England or...

    • 10 The Dog at the Side of the Shot: Incongruous Dog (Canis familiaris) Behavior in Film
      (pp. 219-234)

      Familiarity is both a boon and a bane to the domestic dog,Canis familiaris. On the one hand, it has allowed dogs to occupy our homes and enjoy a share of the resources, both nutritive and protective, that their humans have secured for themselves. On the other hand, the familiarity afforded by this ubiquity prevents us from seeing dogs for who they are. Generally, humans anthropomorphize: we attribute human characteristics to animals without sound evidence for the existence of those characteristics. In particular, our assessment of the meaning of the dog’s behavior, and our extrapolation from that behavior to claims...

  8. Afterword: Dogs at the Digital Divide
    (pp. 235-250)

    In the introduction to this book I made reference to MGM’s “Dogville Barkies,” a series of nine shorts produced between 1929 and 1931. The films were “acted” entirely by trained dogs, in full costume and even makeup, that were “ventriloquized” with the voices of humans (see the photo on page 17). The shorts spoofed feature films of the time: the musicalThe Broadway Melody(1929) becameThe Dogway Melody(1930), the war filmAll Quiet on the Western Front(1930) becameSo Quiet on the Canine Front(1931), the adventure filmTrader Horn(1931) becameTrader Hound(1931), the prison...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 251-260)
  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  11. Index
    (pp. 265-272)