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The Shaggy Dog

The Shaggy Dog(1959)

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One of the few benefits of the recent spate of lackluster remakes of classics movies is that they seem to either renew interest in the original, or studios opt to release the original film to DVD as a tie-in with the release of the new version. The most recent example is Disney's original 1959 version of The Shaggy Dog, its release to DVD coinciding with the new theatrical version hitting theatres. And what a treat it is! The original Shaggy Dog is an innocent, charming family film that is certainly not going to match the special effects of a film made recently, but makes up for it in heart.

Wilson Daniels (Fred MacMurray) is a generally mild-mannered mail carrier with a natural antipathy toward dogs, much to the dismay of his young son, Moochie (Kevin Corcoran), who wants nothing more than to own one. But the real bane of Wilson's existence is teenage son Wilby (Tommy Kirk), who seems to have no direction in life, other than spend all of his time in the basement tinkering with experiments: something that is infinitely preferable to the young man than trying to work up the courage to ask someone one out on a date. Wilby's one friend is Buzz Miller (Tim Considine), the type of guy who will retain your friendship as long as you can be a source of the occasional loan.

Buzz stops by to hit Wilby up again, with current date Allison D'Allessio (Annette Funicello) neatly fitted in his sporty little car. But they are interrupted by the arrival of a moving van and a car that both grind to a halt at a house across the street from Wilby's. They are stunned by what emerges from the car: a beautiful French girl named Franceska Andrassy (Roberta Shore) accompanied by a huge shaggy dog who she calls chiffon. Once Franceska has released the dog and gone into the house, the dog makes a bee-line for Wilby, and the impact with the animal nearly throws the boy on his back. Buzz announces that he's going to return the dog (in an obvious attempt to ingratiate himself to the new arrival), and Wilby insists he can do that on his own. Nevertheless, Buzz accompanies him to the house anyway, leaving Allison sitting in his car (but not for long – after two seconds she decides not to put up with this and leaves).

Once the boys have introduced themselves to Franceska and have returned the dog, she gives them a brief tour of the family's artwork and curios. Among them is a large portrait of the notorious Lucretia Borgia, whose family, Franceska explains, was rumored to have practiced black magic. It's not the lady that Wilby finds interesting, though—it's the fact that pictured at her feet is a large shaggy dog who looks uncomfortably like Chiffon.

On a visit the local museum the next day, Wilby runs into the eccentric Professor Plumcutt (played by Disney film regular Cecil Kellaway). The gangling Wilby manages to knock over a display, and scrambles to help retrieve the artifacts from the floor. However, Wilby proves to be one of those people to makes things worse when he tries to help, and the professor gently urges him to run along so that he can get things rearranged properly. When Wilby gets back to his lonely basement, he discovers an antique ring in the cuff of his pants, apparently having dropped there when the things spilled in the museum. He studies the ring and finds the inscription "In Canis Corpore Transmuto," which he foolishly says aloud, not just once, but three times, in what could reasonably be described as a chant.. Within moments he is sprouting tufts of long white hair, then his nose turns into a black snout, and at last he is fully transformed into Chiffon, Franceka's big shaggy dog (which disappears from the scene whenever Wilby takes over his body. The one good thing is that Wilby retains his voice and is still able to talk.

He realizes at once that the only one who can possibly help him is Professor Plumcutt. He heads for the museum and finds the professor burning the midnight oil. The professor is completely unfazed by the change that has come over Wilby, and when he examines the ring finds that it had belonged to the Borgias, and posits that perhaps they had place a curse on the ring that caused this. Wilby asks how exactly he's supposed to change back, and the Professor explains that he may change back on his own, or he may change back and forth for a while, or that sometimes an act of heroism is what is called up to correct things. Not very satisfied with this answer, Wilby returns home, wriggles into his pajamas, and in one of the film's funniest moments performs his oral hygiene routine before climbing into bed.

When Moochie discovers him the next morning, he's thrilled: despite knowing that this is his transformed brother, he's always wanted a dog! But Wilby immediately sets out to try to find some way to get permanently changed back. Unfortunately, his progress is hampered by the fact that he keeps transumting back and forth from man to dog and back again at the most inopportune moments. However, while in the guise of the dog he overhears Francescka's father, respected scientiest Dr. Mikhail Anrassy in secret conference with sinister stranger Thurm (Strother Martin), discussing plans to steal something from the town's missile plant. Without thinking, Wilby is off and running to try to stop the plot, not realizing that this might be the opportunity he's been waiting for to perform the brave act that will break the curse.

The Shaggy Dog is a delightful romp that never attempts to be anything more than it is: a slice of pure entertainment, with the cast selling the material by playing it with the utmost sincerity, and the antiquated effects still working surprisingly well. Fred MacMurray turns in his usual performance as the father, who learns to love dogs after one of them inadvertently makes him a hero. Poor Jean Hagen, without her trademark accent and done up like Barbara Billingsly, is wasted in the role of the mother. Disney apparently ensured the film's success by populating the rest of the cast (with the exception of Roberta Shore) with alumni of The Mickey Mouse Club. Annette Funicello gets a chance to play a saucier young woman than she had in the past. Tim Considine also gets his first opportunity to play a bad guy rather than a squeaky clean youth. Kevin Corcoran is delightful as Moochie, who is torn between wanting a dog and wanting a brother...but leans heavily toward the dog. But it's Tommy Kirk who gets to show the most range as Wilby. His reaction when he first sees in a mirror that he's transmuting is priceless.

Disney's Wild & Wooly Edition DVD was transferred from source material that is in remarkably good condition, with no damage or debris, only some mild general wear. The audio is excellent, with no deterioration and very strong bass. The disc include the film in it's original theatrical formal, black and white and widescreen (aspect ration 1.75:1, anamorphically enhanced). It also includes a colorized version which has had ten minutes edited out.

Additionally, there are new interviews with Tim Considine, Kevin Cororan, Tommy Kirk, and Roberta Shore (who also provides a feature-length commentary), and a brief tribute to Fred MacMurray.

For more information about The Shaggy Dog, visit Disney DVD & Video. To order The Shaggy Dog, go to TCM Shopping.

by Fred Hunter