In 1929 Hollywood
was transitioning over to talking pictures, for both features and
shorts. The technology was expensive at
the time, but
MGM was looking for a cheap series that could crank out some sound
shorts to be
shown before the A picture. Enter Jules
White. He started at Mack Sennett's
studio and would later become famous working with the Three Stooges. At this point in tome however he, along with
his friend Zion Myers came up with an idea that was just what MGM was
for: a series of shorts with dogs as the
actors. It was easy to make since the
sound wasn't recorded with the image.
They'd film the dogs first and then dub the voices (most done by
and Meyers themselves) afterwards. They
didn't need to worry about a quiet soundstage or on-set sound equipment.
The result was the Dogville shorts, nine of which were made
between 1929 and 1931. These films are
actually funny, though more than a little rather surrealistic and
bizarre. WB has now released the entire
Dogville shorts through their Warner Archives program, and though these
for everybody, they're definitely worth checking out.
This is one of those series where the idea is so strange
that it's almost inconceivable that it was actually made.
The entire cast in these films is dogs. Not
like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin though, these
are canines that are dressed up as humans, walking on their hind legs,
the piano, and generally acting like people.
My first reaction was "and this is funny because..." but I have
the crazy idea does work and there are some good laughs to be found in
Many of the films are parodies of famous films of the time,
be even the ones that aren't have a solid, though simple, plot and some
ups and gags. A typical entry is The Dogway Melody, a parody of The Broadway
Melody (1929), which
follows the original movie rather closely.
In this hysterical short Mr. Cur decides to put on a show and
engaged actress to be his leading lady.
The production is a huge success and includes a dog named Al J.
singing Mammy and a big production
number of Singin' in the Rain
(and this was 22 years before Gene Kelly would immortalize the song in
classic musical.) After the show the
starlet's beau wants to run off and get married, but she has a meeting
Cur. Upset at her rejection, the dog
goes off to get drunk, vowing never to see the bitch again. When he hears his girl struggling with the
producer once he tries to put the moves on her, the jilted lover breaks
the door and rescues his love.
The whole idea is
so absurd that it's funny. These shorts
don't rely on only that however. They
actually have some pretty clever dialog (though there are a few too
based on dogs). This caries them along
after the initial strangeness of seeing dogs act like humans wears off.
Say what you will about the studio system, the bug guys like
MGM certainly had a lot of talent working for them.
That's clear in these films, where despite
the low budgets that costumes and sets were astounding.
The outfits the dogs wore were well done and
extravagant in some cases. Not only
would they dress a dog up in a shirt and pants, but they'd add a
jacket too, and the 'women' had elegant, fancy dresses.
With prison uniforms, night club outfits,
Egyptian harem get ups and WWI uniforms they certainly went all the way
dressing these dogs.
The same can be said for the sets. They
were all created to scale, naturally,
but there was a lot of attention paid to detail. These
shows featured WWI battlefields, court
rooms, a harem, prisons, and a football field, just to name a few. It's fairly amazing how much work went into
each of these shorts.
Something should be
said about animal cruelty in relation to these shorts.
Yes, the dogs were dressed in silly costumes
and made to walk upright, sometimes with the aid of wires.
Some people will watch there and immediately
be turned off because the creators are forcing dogs to do something
would never do naturally. These weren't
some mutts off the street though the dogs were highly trained and
valuable to the trainer. You can't get a
dog to sit still in a chair without teaching him, and there are several
when you can see the dogs looking off camera to their trainer and
command. It has also been reported,
though I could not verify it, that the ASPCA came to the set one day
that the dogs were treated well, which makes sense since they were
trained and not easily replaced.
This set contains
the following shorts:
Hot Dog - A wife is cheating on her husband with another
'man' and when the husband finds out a fight ensues that leaves the
dead and the wife on trial for murder.
College Hounds - This spoof of college football movies gets
the genre down pat. After the star
player is taken out of the big game by a gang of crooks, it seems like
has no chance to win. The game at the
end is hilarious.
Who Killed Rover? (a/k/a The Dogville Murder Case) -
When the nephew of a wealthy man inherits his
fortune, he gets kidnapped and it's up to Detective Phido Vance to find
The Dogway Melody - A
fun parody on the big musical production movie.
One of the best in the series.
So Quiet On the Canine Front - They take
on the famous film this time. It
includes an impressive WWI battle scene
complete with flea grenades.
The Big Dog House - Poking fun at the prison flick this
time, a 'man' gets framed for a crime he didn't commit and sent to the
house to await execution. Can his
girlfriend who has proof of his innocence make it to the governor in
Love Tails Of Morocco
- A group of 'men' who have
joined the foreign legion tell stories about the 'women' that did them
Two Barks Brothers - Two brothers, separated at birth, take
two different paths in life. One becomes
a drifter and the other an anti-liquor crusading DA.
Their paths cross when the drifter is hired
to spike the attorney's drink.
Trader Hound - a funny parody of the film "Trader
Horn." This jungle adventure has men
dressed up as jungle animals, apparently for a joke, but it doesn't
well. One of the more lame entries.
Note: A few sites
(including Wikipedia) claim there are 10th Dogville short.
This is incorrect, there were only 9 made. Who
Killed Rover? was also released as The
Dogville Murder Case. The sites that
list 10 films are counting that one twice.
This Warner Archive collection arrives on two burned DVD-R
discs. Both discs have generic labels
and come in a single-width double DVD case with a custom cover.
The two channel mono soundtrack was pretty good for films
this old that have not been restored. There was some background noise,
hiss that's present throughout, and there are a few pops and some
distortion. The dialog is easy to hear
and the music comes through well even though the dynamic range is very
These full frame shorts actually look pretty good for
unrestored films from the late 20's/early 30's.
The contrast is excellent and the level of detail is very good
too. The image is clear and generally
crisp. There is some minor print damage,
and a few scratches, but nothing that's distracting.
Overall I was very pleased with the picture
quality of these shorts.
As with the other Warner Archive discs, there are no extras
These aren't for everyone and they loose a lot of their
appeal if you watch them one after another, but these shorts are funny
enjoyable. They're also guaranteed to
surprise your friends when you play one before a feature.
One of those things that you have to see to
believe, I found the whole set very entertaining. The
set come Highly Recommended for fans of
early cinema and collectors of the bizarre, and they're still
more casual movie buffs.