Friday, July 24, 2009


As a fan of obscure and mildly off-the-wall B-movies, I have to recommend this one to those similarly inclined, though others will probably be bored by this doggy whodunit. Yes, it’s a kind of mystery involving a dog accused of murder. Unfortunately, the mystery part of the plot is handled lazily, with little suspense and a dopey deus ex machina ending, but the rest of the story, which takes so many odd twists and turns that it feels written by committee, does keep one on one's toes. We first see James Ellison, (pictured; one of my favorite B-leading men), riding the rails, looking like a hobo; when he gets off the train one night in a small Midwestern town, he makes his way to a house, enters through a front window, and when confronted by the tenant, a woman (Helen Wood) with a gun, claims to be the owner of the house. Indeed, it turns out that Ellison is not a homeless bum, but a well-regarded citizen (and former lawyer) who left town a few years ago to travel the world after his marriage fizzled. His wife was a member of the ritzy Mabrey family, and her snooty father and brother always felt that Ellison was a "bad blood" mongrel, not worthy of association with their family. While Ellison is stuck in jail overnight before he can prove his identity, he bonds with a German Shepherd mutt (Ace the Wonder Dog) that the Mabreys have decided is too much of a mongrel to keep around their kennels (the old man’s hobby is showing dogs). The sheriff has orders to kill the dog, which, having been trained to do things like guard, trail, and attack, does have a vicious side, but Ellison adopts it, even after it mauls a mean drunk on the streets. Ellison and Wood become interested in each other, but his obsession with completing the dog's training and beating the Mabreys at the next dog show takes a toll on their relationship, with Ellison becoming a reclusive drinker.

After a sappy Christmas reunion with his ex-wife makes him feel more friendly toward the family, things seem to be looking up for Ellison, but next summer, the mean drunk is killed, his throat torn out by an animal, and Ace is accused of murder. The last part of the film involves the dog's trial (in a courtroom!), a kidnapping, a chase, some gunplay, and a happy ending for Ellison, Wood, and Ace. The way in which Ace is let off the hook shows signs of sloppy plotting, but the finale is exciting. The handsome Ellison is fine, as is the dog; the other performers are colorless, though Robert Kent shows some promise in his few scenes as the sneering rich brother-in-law. What makes the film interesting and problematic at the same time is the sheer number of plot threads and characters which are presented (Ellison as a drifter, the mean drunk, the ex-wife, the Christmas repentance, the dog show) but dropped before they reach fruition. Both the Christmas scene and the dog show are set up nicely, but seem to end before they've really begun. Still, for B-movie aficionados, this is worth viewing. Good old Ace, though no Rin Tin Tin, had a decent career, appearing in 13 movies between 1938 and 1946. [TCM]

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