White Dog is often mentioned on lists of all-time most controversial films, and there’s a good reason for that. Samuel Fuller’s film is controversial because it confronts the theme of racism head on, and succeeds where modern films such as ‘Crash’ fail in that it actually makes you think. Rather than actually being ‘about’ racism, White Dog tells a story and lets the themes flow; thus meaning that the audience is allowed to see the themes shining through, rather than being beaten over the head with them. The film is really clever and is based on a premise that isn’t immediately obvious. In fact, if it wasn’t for a series of little niggles; this film would be an absolute masterpiece. The problems with the film are largely down to the execution, as Samuel Fuller uses too many close-up shots; and the scenes where the title animal attacks in particular suffer from poor editing, which means that it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what’s going on and most of the time gave me a headache. Furthermore, the plot doesn’t move particularly well and the film can seem like it isn’t going anywhere at times.
It’s a good job, then, that Fuller utilises his themes so well. Racism isn’t a subject that interests me generally (mostly because of tacky, sentimental dross like Crash), but the plot here is used in such a way that it’s impossible not to be taken in by it. We follow a young aspiring actress that accidentally runs a dog over. After becoming attached to it, she decides to take it in; but pretty soon the dog attacks someone, and she finds out that aside from being a white dog, it’s also a ‘White Dog’; a dog used by white people to kill blacks. The main reason why this film is so good is down to the title animal. Here we have an entity that is entirely innocent of its crimes; the guilty party being the racist that trained him. By letting us see what the dog is capable of, but making sure we know that the dog is only doing what it has been programmed to do ensures that the true horror of racism is allowed to shine through; as well as the futility of hatred down to skin colour. Films like White Dog are few and far between; here we have a movie that dares to tell a story despite its implications, and a movie that forces its audience to think about their own prejudices. It’s just sad that we live in a world where films like Crash win Oscars while films like White Dog are banished into obscurity. Highly recommended!