Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dogville Comedy Shorts

"Smithers, release the hounds!"
- Montgomery Burns

Dogville Collection
directed by Jules White and Zion Myers
USA, 1929-1931, 142 minutes
(Warner Brothers Archive Collection) Archive

Mondo Cane
I'm on an all-animal movie kick, so naturally - once Warner Brothers decided to finally release the hounds - I had to order this official 2-disc DVD containing all nine of MGM's classic "Dogville" comedies. Depending on your sensibilities, you will either find these pre-Code, decidely un-P.C. shorts appalling or funny. I find them to be both appalling and humorous, and got them only because I collect audio-visual oddities of this stripe so that I can tell my theoretical-only grandchildren: This too was a chapter in the annals of Hollywood Babylon.

I first saw these on Turner Classic Movies' great "One-Reel Wonders" series, and apparently Warner Brothers (which owns the MGM film library) has listened to its viewers and rewarded them with this straight-from-the-masters release.

(I've even more excited that Warner Archives has all 63 Joe "Behind the Eightball" McDoakes one-reelers on its 6-disc Joe McDoakes Collection. I loved George O'Hanlon as "Everyman" Joe McDoakes, and his wife was played by the gorgeous Phyllis Coates (soon to become Lois Lane on the first season of the 1950s Superman TV series.) It's a tad pricey, so it'll have to remain on my Wish List until I hit the lottery.)

The nine all-canine, all-Barkie shorts are as follows:

Dogville Filmography

1. Hot Dog (1929, 15minutes)
This Dogville short starts in a nightclub. A married dog is out on the town with her lover boyfriend, which has everybody gossiping. The husband shows up, and after a fight between the husband and the boyfriend, the wife kills the husband. She is put on trial for murder. At the end of the trial is a surprising twist. (summary by David Glagovsky)

2. College Hounds (1929, 16 minutes)
This Dogville comedy is a spoof of college football movies. A man in debt to a loan shark uses his daughter to stop football hero Red Mange from playing in the big game between Airedale College and Spitz University. Guess who makes a last second score to win the game for Airedale?

Since it's football playoff time, enjoy this excerpt from the Dogville short "College Hounds":

3. So Quiet on the Canine Front (1930, 16 minutes)
This is an obvious parody of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was released in 1930 and went on to win the third Academy Award for Best Picture (after Wings and Broadway Melody, which later became anoher Dogville spoof.)

4. The Big Dog House (1930, 17 minutes)
In this dogville spoof, a department store employee is framed for murder by his boss, because he wants the employee's girlfriend for himself. The girlfriend does everything she can to see that the boss gets what he deserves. (summary by David Glagovsky)

5. The Dogway Melody (1930)
In this Dogville spoof of The Broadway Melody (1929), Mr. Cur, a Broadway producer, puts on a show and makes a play for the leading lady.

6. Who Killed Rover? (1930, 15 minutes)
This Dogville short, also known as The Dogville Murder Case, is a spoof of the popular Philo Vance murder mysteries of the period (which starred human actors William Powell at Paramount & Basil Rathbone at MGM) - one of Philo's cases was even called The Kennel Murders. In this entry a wealthy resident leaves his fortune to his nephew, who is then kidnapped by jealous relatives. Detective Phido Vance tries to find the nephew before any harm can come to him.

7. Love Tales of Morocco (1931, 17 minutes)
This Dogville short takes place at an outpost in the Dogville Foreign Legion. As the story opens, the soldiers watch a newsreel, which includes the opera singer Galli Cur (a spoof of Amelita Galli-Curci) sing an aria. After the show, they go to the local bar and tell each other the stories behind the reason they joined the legion. All the stories are about how women did them wrong in one way or another. They all agree that they are fed up with women, until a certain visitor shows up.

8. The Two Barks Brothers (1931, 17 minutes)
I guess the title is a play on The Marx Brothers. Twin brothers are separated at birth when one is stolen by gypsies. One becomes a district attorney. The other becomes a drifter. Thirty years later, circumstances bring them together again, unbeknownst to them. As donzilla comments on IMDB: " This is a story of multi-breed dogs, in which one brother, a politician, is bent upon leading the community, and the other is "bent". There is a lot about gin-drinking because the year filmed was a prohibition year. And efforts to keep his brother from winning the political office are paramount here. The filming is better than "Lonesome Stranger", filmed with various breeds of monkeys, because the lip movements and gestures are more realistic. They don't contain paint-in teeth and mouth movement. A good animated film for it's time. Nowadays, as in "Babe" the animals move their mouths minimally."

9. Trader Hound (1931, 15 minutes)
The narrator for the film is none other than Pete Smith, the award-winning "Smith named Pete" behind the "Pete Smith Specialty" film unit at MGM. Besides the canine actors in this spoof of Trader Horn, a real monkey plays a monkey and an alligator plays an alligator - there are even real dogs playing wild dogs for the climactic chase at the end of the film.

I'm too lazy to spout off more about the Dogville shorts, so I'll leave it to others. Here's the poop on the pooches:


Porfle's review from the "HK Cult Film News" blog:
Back in the old days, studios sometimes tended to get a little experimental with their short subjects. And sometimes they got just plain nutty. Nowhere is this more evident than in MGM's bizarre and fascinating "Dogville" shorts, all nine of which are now available in the DOGVILLE COLLECTION, a 2-disc set from Warner Brothers' Archive Collection.

Directed by Jules White ("The Three Stooges") and Zion Myers, these shorts are corny take-offs on various movie genres and sometimes certain films in particular, using dogs in place of human actors. This means you'll see different breeds of dogs wearing clothes, walking around, hanging out in bars, etc. and speaking with dubbed voices. The miniature sets and props are great--sometimes I'd forget they weren't full-sized. Some shots of dogs driving cars, flying (and parachuting out of) airplanes, riding in buses and fire engines, and just about anything else you can think of, are ingenious.

Are these shorts funny, you ask? Well, the sight of a bunch of dogs strolling around on their hind legs wearing clothes and "acting" out scenes from old movies just can't help being occasionally funny, especially when the costumes and setpieces are more elaborate. Every once in a while a dog's expressions will synch perfectly with the dubbed dialogue and be laugh-out-loud hilarious. And even when it doesn't work, you just sit there mesmerized, thinking, "What the hell am I watching?"

Of course, the thing that will make some viewers uncomfortable and others refuse to watch altogether is the possibility of animal cruelty. To what degree any actual abuse might be involved here in these pre-SPCA shorts is hard to ascertain--mainly the dogs just look like they'd rather be somewhere else instead of wearing clothes and pretending to be movie actors, often sporting a distinct "WTF?" expression.

The most bothersome aspect is the use of harnesses and invisible wires to make the dogs walk around on their hind legs. The sight of entire chorus lines of dogs being manipulated in these contraptions is especially worrisome. However, I didn't see anything in any of the shorts that I would consider out-and-out abuse. I assume (naively, perhaps) that these dogs were valuable to MGM and well cared for during the shoots, and that they at least didn't have it as rough as they would if they were being forced to pull sleds in the Yukon.

Running from 1929 to 1931, the series is wonderfully antique-looking with beautiful opening titles. Dubbing and sound effects are well-done considering that talking pictures were still in their infancy, and the editing is snappy and cartoon-like. The first three Dogville shorts are billed as "All Barkies", after which each is officially designated "A Dogville Comedy." MGM's celebrated mascot Leo the Lion sounds like he has a frog in his throat in his first few appearances, loses his voice altogether for a few shorts, and then finally comes back in fine voice for the last ones.

1929's "Hot Dog" takes place in a speakeasy and concerns a roguish playboy named Joe Barker out on the town with Clara Bone, another dog's wife. When she worries that her husband might show up and catch them together, he brags, "I've been chased by some of the best husbands in town!" There's an all-dog band banging away on their instruments while the entertainment onstage consists of some lovely canine hula dancers in grass skirts. "You never looked at me like that," complains one lady dog to her husband, to which he replies, "You never LOOKED like that!" Naturally, the husband does show up, leading to a violent confrontation. "There's my wife with some yellow cur! I'll kill that dirty dog!" is another example of the pun-filled dialogue. The story ends with a dramatic courtroom scene.

In "College Hounds", a spoof of the old campus football comedies, we find a dorm room full of students going about their daily business--shaving, brushing their hair, relaxing in the bath, lifting weights, ironing their clothes--as they discuss the upcoming big game. Later, a scoundrel with big money bet on the other team hires a femme fatale to lure hometown hero Red Mange into a trap so he'll miss the game. There's a really bizarre love scene, and an even more bizarre football game with two whole teams full of dogs in uniforms being scooted around like puppets on a tiny football field.

"Who Killed Rover?" is a Phido Vance murder mystery complete with knives, guns, and all sorts of scary goings on. An all-dog wedding ceremony leads to a romantic honeymoon night with a rather risque' scene--the groom enters the bedroom, whisks the pillow off one of the twin beds, and nestles it next to the other one. Ooh, suggestive! This one has a surprisingly downbeat ending.

"The Dogway Melody", a spoof of backstage musicals, is one of the best. A slick-talking smoothie hustles to get his girlfriend into the big show, which consists of a series of mind-boggling production numbers including an elaborate version of "Singin' in the Rain."

Then comes the impressive war movie spoof "So Quiet on the Canine Front", which features a full-scale WWI battle sequence with machine guns, cannons, and flea grenades. Private Barker is enlisted to go behind enemy lines disguised as a nurse and ends up at the wrong end of a firing squad before his pal rescues him in the nick of time.

"The Big Dog House" tells of a mild-mannered bookkeeper for the Dogville Department Store who is framed by his boss Mr. Barker (related to Private Barker, perhaps?) for embezzlement and murder, and sent to Dogville Penitentiary. A funny spoof of hardboiled prison pictures, this one has another suspenseful ending with the innocent dog on his way to the electric chair as his girlfriend Trixie, after hearing Mr. Barker's deathbed confession, races with the governor to stop the execution.

Heartbroken soldiers in the Foreign Legion recount their sad tales of romantic betrayal in "Love Tails of Morocco", which offers several entertaining flashbacks in various settings. In "The Two Barks Brothers", gypsies steal a baby who later becomes a shiftless tramp named Oscar, while his twin brother grows up to be an anti-liquor crusading district attorney. Underworld beer king "Scartail" Growler hires Oscar to slip some gin into the D.A.'s water pitcher, leading to a hilarious scene in which the D.A. tries to deliver a temperance speech to some conservative citizens while getting sloppy drunk.

The final short, "Trader Hound", lampoons the enormously popular jungle adventure "Trader Horn" which would in turn inspire MGM's "Tarzan" series. Using the same music and basic plot, this spoof begins with a safari into darkest Africa in search of the great white goddess, Nina T-Bone. This film seemed promising but turned out to be one of the worst of the series--much time is devoted to the antics of human actors in animal costumes, with an extended battle between a lion and a gorilla proving particularly boring. The whole thing is narrated by Pete Smith in his usual unfunny (to me, anyway) style. However, the dramatic appearance of Nina T-Bone and the climactic chase as the hunters flee a tribe of dog-eating cannibals liven things up at the end.

As usual with the Warner Archive series, this burn-on-demand DVD set is taken from the best available video masters in the Warner vault, but with no remastering or restoration. Thus, the picture quality is less than perfect, yet considering the age of these shorts they look and sound quite good. Average running time is 15 minutes each.

The entertainment value of these DOGVILLE COLLECTION shorts is, of course, a matter of taste, not to mention one's tolerance for seeing dogs being manipulated like puppets to walk around on two legs and perform other human-like activities. While several moments elicited big laughs, the overall effect of this series of novelty films is a sort of dazed incredulity at their utter strangeness. I would love to see a roomful of stoners watching these things and flipping out.


From geophos on Rotten Tomato's forum:
If you’ve ever watched a film on Turner Classic Movies you’ve no doubt caught the beginning or end of one of the Dogville Comedies. If you were lucky, you saw it in its entirety.

MGM was distributing Hal Roach's Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts and they proved to be so popular that the studio wanted a series of their own. So between 1929 and 1931 they hired B-movie director Zion Myers and an associate, Jules White, who came up with The Dogville "All Barkie" Comedies. Trained dogs of every breed were dressed as humans and acted out imaginative and delightful scenarios concocted by the two partners.

Myers and White did most of the main voice-over dialogue themselves, though extras were brought in for "crowd scenes". When they couldn’t get a dog to “speak”, a little peanut butter on the roof of its mouth got those chops working just fine. Props were attached to the animals' paws with double-sided tape and they were manipulated, like puppets, with fish wire. While the ASPCA and HSUS would no doubt set up the picket lines today (don’t even thing about what the folks at PETA might do!), at the time these pups were well cared for by MGM for being, literally, “top dogs” and a good draw at the box office.

As you can tell by some of the following titles, plots of currently popular movies were lampooned and a film’s “big scenes” were often duplicated to hilarious effect. The Dogway Melody, for instance, features vaudeville routines, a black pooch named Al. J. Olson in a suit and white gloves singing a soulful rendition of “Mammy”, and a Busby Berkeley-style extravaganza of “Singing in the Rain”. The Big Dog House’s centerpiece is a prison riot, and Love-Tails of Morocco has the hounds of the Dogville Foreign Legion recalling the reasons they joined up, with one reminiscence taking place in a long hotel hallway with chases and doors slamming in true French-farce style. Dachshunds, of course, are the “Germans” in So Quiet on the Western Front; an English bulldog is an RAF flyer piloting a bi-plane, and the battle scenes are so good you’d swear they were lifted from a legitimate Hollywood epic. But those sausage links used as barbwire are a dead giveaway. Since these were made pre-Code, some of the shorts were subversively risqué and definitely politically incorrect. In Trader Hound, the “African native” dogs have grotesque woolly Afros, face paint, bones under their noses and speak English Steppin Fetchit-style. This was the last and, to me, the least successful because they broke the illusion by using two humans in lion and gorilla suits wrestling in a scene that went on way too long.

Related Links:
TCM's Shorts Circuit

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Anonymous petapparelfashion said...

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4:54 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

tons of cool stuff in here!!

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have this set too ~ my 3 year old daughter doesn't want to see anything else; nothing produced today can rival these shorts.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a very good ear and I would bet money that one of the voices dubbing the dog "actors" in "Who Killed Rover?" (1930) was Ross Alexander.

Anyone else agree?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One of the voices in "...Canine Front" sounds like Billy Bletcher.

8:47 AM  

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