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Tag: films

When dogs ruled the Hollywood shorts

Portraying dogs as humans — a topic we’ve brought up a few times, usually with a sneer — is as ensconced in Hollywood tradition as it has now become on Facebook.

Dogs talking in movies, in fact, is as nearly old as talkies themselves. In the Early Sound Era, trained dogs (aka as cheap labor) were commonly called on to appear in movies, particular movie shorts that were shown before the feature presentation in movie houses.

Of those, one series in the pack stood out: the “All-Barkie” Dogville Comedies, including “Hot Dog” (above).

From 1929 to 1931, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a series of nine short comedy films, sometimes known as the “barkies.”

The actors in these films, directed by Zion Myers and conceived and co-directed by Jules White (who both later gained fame for The Three Stooges comedies), were trained dogs, usually dressed in human attire, whose voices were dubbed by human actors.

Their aim, most often, was laughs. They commonly mocked the often naughty and haughty behavior of the noble class — and spoofed the era’s movies, as well.

But as you’ll see here today, some of them had a pretty dark side.

The series is somewhat controversial today — and was even then — due to suspected methods alleged to have been used to get the dogs to pose and to appear to talk, and they stopped being made after criticism over a scene in the final one, portraying canine cannibalism.

Of course “talking dogs” were nothing new by the 1930s. Talking movies were, though, and dogs pretty much worked for free.

The films were shot with silent film and dubbed over with human speech, often using the voices of White and Myers, as well as other actors.

The Dogville shorts started with 1929’s “College Hounds”, a parody of Buster Keaton’s “College” that features a huge doggie football game. The next film was “Hot Dog,” about a murder in a seedy cabaret after a jealous husband finds out his wife has been cheating on him.

After that came “Who Killed Rover?” and a Broadway parody called “The Dogway Melody.”

Those were followed by “The Big Dog House,” “All’s Canine on the Western Front,” and “Love Tails of Morocco.”

A nationwide theatre owners poll in 1930 rated the Dogvilles as the best short subjects over more legendary comedy and musical series, according to article published last year by Atlas Obscura

Many of the dogs were supplied by renowned Hollywood animal trainer Rennie Renfro, who was present for the making of the films.

To make the canine performers appear as if they were speaking, a director or Renfro himself would stand in front of a dog and wave various lures to focus the canine’s attention. The human would then open his hand repeatedly to entice the dog to open its mouth. Other times, they gave the dogs toffee to make them chomp.

A January 1931 article in Popular Science Monthly says the directors preferred using stray and mixed-breed dogs “because they are not high strung and can get along better in groups than the animal ‘prima donnas’ of breeding.”

Based on trade papers of the time, the Dogville Comedies were well-received and director White would call the series the favorite project of his career.

But not everyone was tickled and charmed by the “Barkies.”

There are some accounts that piano wire was used to help the dogs remain upright — as if they were part dog, part marionette.

The Performing and Captive Animals’ Defense League wrote to the British Board of Film Censors to protest the release of the movies and several films in the series were banned by British censors.

The creators stopped making the Dogville Comedies in 1931 after the controversial “Trader Hound,” a spoof of the movie, “Trader Horn.” The short was banned by U.K. censors for its hints at cannibalism — albeit dogs eating dogs, as opposed to humans eating humans

In retrospect, some see the short films — just as some see The Three Stooges — as having a mean edge. On one hand, they seem aimed at children; on the other, the plots were often mature, featuring adultery and murder.

Throw in the animal welfare concerns, and the fact that humanizing dogs doesn’t do anyone any good, and they can be looked at — by me anyway — as a less than glorious chapter of Hollywood history.

The complete series of Dogville Comedies has been released on DVD by Warner Bros. as part of its Warner Archive Collection.

Numerous animals were permanently harmed in the making of this nasty and perverted film

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The American Humane Association is urging Congress to act immediately in light of Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down a federal law that prohibited videos, photographs and other depictions of acts of cruelty to animals for commercial gain.

The association — which bestows the “No animals were harmed” disclaimer on movies — says a new law is needed to “protect animals from the type of horrific cruelty this law was meant to prevent.”

The law, the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act, was intended to prevent the creation and sale of dogfighting, other animal fighting, and “crush” videos that show real and intentional harm to animals for “entertainment” purposes.

“Deliberately killing animals for entertainment has nothing to do with freedom of speech,” said American Humane’s interim president and CEO, George C. Casey. “Americans are within their right to keep blatant animal torture and killing out of the marketplace, and the Supreme Court should have made that the priority over the supposed protections of those who take sick pleasure in this material.”

The American Humane Association, whose mission is to protect both children and animals, says the connection between violence to people and violence to animals is undeniable, and many studies indicate that animal maltreatment is “part of a complex constellation of family violence.”

The Supreme Court Monday ruled on the case of  Robert J. Stevens, who was convicted of selling videos of dogs fighting each other and attacking other animals. The court ruled the law was overly broad, and that such depictions are protected by free speech.

Stevens, who made the video “Catch Dogs and Country Living” — sounds almost civilized, don’t it? — was the first to be prosecuted under the federal law.

Until then, we’ll settle for the “Pawscars”

bonecrusherUntil the Academy Award folks wise up and start giving awards for canine performances, we have the “Pawscars” — unofficial honors from the American Humane Association given to commend those films that, in their making, have treated animals well.

The American Human Association, which bestows the  “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer seen during movie credits, monitors the use of dogs and other animals on more than 1,000 productions each year.

This year, the association singled out three movies that excelled in keeping safe the animals involved in the productions — “Avatar,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.””

For Best Alien Animals, the association praised “Avatar,”’ which used computer generated images created with the use of real horses with sensors attached to their joints and facial areas.

For Best Newcomer, the association picked Uno, a Neapolitan mastiff who appears in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Uno, who is believed to have been abused before she was adopted, gained confidence and trust during the making of the movie, where she did her job with the help of a patient owner/trainer.

For Best Cameo, the association singled out Bonecrusher, the family bull mastiff of director Michael Bay (above) who appeared in Bay’s movie “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

The association didn’t limit honors to dogs. It also singled out such non-Academy Award nominated films as “The Hangover,” in which a tiger appears; “Did You Hear About The Morgans?” in which a bear plays a big role; and “The Proposal,” which includes a scene in which the family dog is snatched by an eagle.

To achieve the effect, the movie had a trained eagle scoop up a sack made of green-screen material, into which the dog was later inserted. In reality, the dog and the  eagle were never even in the same shot together.

Also recognized was the chase scene in “Hotel For Dogs.” Near the end of the film, the main characters release all the dogs from the shelter, which then chase the teens’ van down the street to the hotel. Trainers rehearsed the dogs for several weeks for the scene, which involved the most dogs ever filmed in a single scene on an American Humane-monitored film.

No animals were harmed — or so they say

Five recent movies have slapped the “No animals were harmed” disclaimer on their end-credits without the permission of the organization that trademarked the phrase.

The American Humane Association, which monitors movie productions in which animals appear, says the five movies used the disclaimer without its approval.

The association has sent the studios and distributors connected to each production a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the unauthorized disclaimers be removed immediately from the theatrical and DVD versions of the movies.

The association identified the movies as:

Adam by Olympus Pictures, Deer Path Productions, Serenade Films, Vox3 Films.

District 9 by WingNut Films Limited, Key Creatives and LLC/QED Intl.

Easy Virtue by Ealing Studios, Fragile Films, Endgame Ent., Odyssey Ent.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Number 9 Films.

Shrink by Ignite Entertainment, Ignite Productions, Ithaka Entertainment and Trigger Street Productions.

American Humane said the registered disclaimer, when properly obtained, assures the public that animal actors used in productions were not killed or injured in any way, and that their well-being and safety were monitored by the association’s certified animal safety representatives.

The 130-year-old organization said the movie companies are misleading the public and creating “a significant breach of trust with audiences” by inserting the credit without authorization.

Some of the studios and producers have indicated they will remove the illegitimate credit, while others are making excuses or taking no action, American Humane said.

“We encourage filmmakers to work with American Humane, and for distributors to verify the legitimacy of the ‘No Animals Were Harmed’® credit, before approving and finalizing any film prints for theatrical release or DVD distribution,” said Karen Rosa, American Humane’s vice president in charge of its Film & TV Unit.  “Viewers, too, should always look for the ‘No Animals Were Harmed’® end credit, and they can check our website to see what rating we assigned to films, based on their use of animals, and to find out how the animal action was achieved on films that we monitored.”