Making its DVD debut (and home video debut, at least in North America) Criterion presents Samuel Fullerís White Dog in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The filmís title sequence plays over a grayish background and quite a few artifacts are noticeable here, presenting a bit of a blocky mess. Thankfully once the film itself actually starts the image improves drastically. While there are still instances where artifacts are noticeable, like edge-enhancement, the overall image is quite smooth with a nice level of detail. The nicest surprise about this release is the colour presentation. Colours are fairly bright and nicely saturated, though it can lean a little on the yellow side.
The print has been cleaned up substantially, yet still retains its grain, and there is very little in the way of damage, a faint line appearing on occasion with the odd bit of debris. Considering the treatment of this film over the years it was a nice surprise to see it look so good. A lot of effort obviously went into it. 7/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
This release is disappointingly slim in supplements but despite there being less than an hourís worth of material itís still a satisfying release.
The big supplement would be the interview/making-of doc called Four-Legged Time Bomb, which is primarily made up of interviews with co-writer Curtis Hanson, producer Jon Davison, and widow Christa Lang-Fuller. Itís presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs about 45-minutes. It begins with the participants talking about Fuller and then makes its way to the filmís origins, from Romain Garyís novel (based on the dog his wife Jean Seberg took in) to the long process of getting the film made, Roman Polanski apparently prepared to direct. Hanson was originally on the project, then taken off, and then back on again, even trying to convince those in charge to let him direct. When it was obvious the studio wasnít going to let him direct he suggested Fuller. Hanson and Davison talk about working with the man, his techniques on the set, his personality, and some of the changes Fuller brought to the story (Fuller is the one that changed the ending, which differs in the novel.) Thereís mention of other performers considered for the roles (Jodie Foster instead of Kristy McNichol, Billy Dee Williams instead of Paul Winfield, Lee Marvin instead of Burl Ives.) Thereís also mention of some problems with the studio, Michael Eisner thinking the film would be an exploitive horror film, a ďJaws with pawsĒ instead of what Fuller envisioned (a film with a statement.) While the film did well in Europe, at least critically, the studio dumped the film in North America, where rumours flew about the film being racist. The film was then shelved and forgotten. Itís a rather fascinating supplement and really adds a lot of value to this release. Despite there being no chapter index it has been broken out into 6 chapters.
(Iíll add a note here that there are clips from both Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss in here, the clips looking much better than what is found on the current Criterion DVDs of those films. Hopefully this is some sort of sign we can expect re-releases of those sometime soon.)
The next few supplements are text-based in nature. Recollections from Karl Lewis Miller presents interview excerpts with the dog trainer from Lee Serverís book, Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground. Itís a text presentation with black and white photos that you navigate through using the arrows on your remote. Miller was working on Magnum P.I. when he was called by Paramount to work on the film. Unsure whether Magnum P.I. would be picked up he took the job (though would later somewhat regret this since the show did become a hit and he could have spent seven years in Hawaii.) This is actually a rather fascinating supplement as he talks about working with Fuller, who was really concerned about getting an actual performance from the animal. He was also very adamant about not hurting any of the animals (a few dogs were used) even moving the location of one shoot after discovering a nest of baby mice, not wanting to hurt or disturb them. Thereís also a rather wonderful bit about the early intruder/rapist sequence (with Miller as the would-be rapist in the scene) which was shot in one take. One amusing fact is that Fuller actually wanted a black German Shepherd to play the dog but because of a studio executive who took the title literally, had Miller start training white German Shepherds before production even began. By the time Fuller was ready to film it was too late and he had to use the white dogs already trained. Itís a brief text feature but is full of some great information about the making of the film.
The final supplement is a small photo gallery. You navigate the gallery using the arrows on your remote and it presents black and white set photos, some with preceding text descriptions. Only a few here (some repeated from the previous supplement) but worth looking through.
This closes of the disc supplements. A 28-page booklet is also included, including two essays. The first is by J. Hoberman, who offers a great analysis of the film, with some production notes, and also writes about the film being shelved after its brief North American run. The second is by Armond White and it focuses on Fullerís use of film to comment on social issues, specifically that of racism. Itís actually not that bad of an essay. Then finally thereís ďThe White Dog Talks Ė To Sam FullerĒ, which presents a rather amusing interview between Fuller and the dog in the film (all written by Fuller for a 1982 issue of Framework.) It defends the film and it includes a rather thoughtful explanation as to why Fuller objected to the original novelís ending and why he changed it.
This unfortunately covers it but for such a small release itís incredibly thorough. There is more out there Iím sure (itís unfortunate they couldnít get Kristy McNichol to talk about it, or any of the studio execs) but I was quite pleased with what we did get. 6/10