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Cinematic Canines

Dogs and Their Work in the Fiction Film

by Adrienne L. McLean

Publication Year: 2014

Dogs have been part of motion pictures since the movies began. They have been featured onscreen in various capacities, from any number of “man’s best friends” (Rin Tin Tin, Asta, Toto, Lassie, Benji, Uggie, and many, many more) to the psychotic Cujo. The contributors to Cinematic Canines take a close look at Hollywood films and beyond in order to show that the popularity of dogs on the screen cannot be separated from their increasing presence in our lives over the past century.The representation and visualization of dogs in cinema, as of other animals, has influenced our understanding of what dogs “should” do and be, for us and with us. Adrienne L. McLean expertly shepherds these original essays into a coherent look at “real” dogs in live-action narrative films, from the stars and featured players to the character and supporting actors to those pooches that assumed bit parts or performed as extras. Who were those dogs, how were they trained, what were they made to do, how did they participate as characters in a fictional universe? These are a just a few of the many questions that she and the outstanding group of scholars in this book have addressed.Often dogs are anthropomorphized in movies in ways that enable them to reason, sympathize, understand and even talk; and our shaping of dogs into furry humans has had profound effects on the lives of dogs off the screen. Certain breeds of dog have risen in popularity following their appearance in commercial film, often to the detriment of the dogs themselves, who rarely correspond to their idealized screen versions. In essence, the contributors in Cinematic Canines help us think about and understand the meanings of the many canines that appear in the movies and, in turn, we want to know more about those dogs due in no small part to the power of the movies themselves.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This project began as a panel that Joanna Rapf organized for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference in 2009. Rutgers University Press immediately expressed interest in a volume on the topic, and Joanna turned the editing duties over to me, one of the panelists. In no small measure this book rests on her prescience and enthusiasm, for which I am extremely...

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Introduction: Wonder Dogs

Adrienne L. McLean

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pp. 1-30

For a few weeks before and after the turn to 2012, two cinematic canines were the focus of a considerable amount of media attention. One was the then nine-year-old Jack Russell terrier Uggie, whose work in The Artist, a film that would soon be awarded an Oscar for Best Picture of 2011, was generally regarded as a highlight, if not the main attraction, of the black-and-white silent feature whose...

Part One: Stars and Featured Players

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Chapter 1: Answering a Growl: Roscoe Arbuckle’s Talented Canine Co-star, Luke

Joanna E. Rapf

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pp. 33-53

In June 1916 the fan magazine Photoplay ran a story about actor Jack Pickford’s dog, Prince. The article quotes the dog as saying, “Actor dogs have only one growl coming: they don’t get enough publicity in the magazines—I mean us stars” (42). Prince is right; dogs had played a significant role in film from its beginnings, but compared to their human co-stars, they had not received much...

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Chapter 2: The Dogs Who Saved Hollywood: Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin

Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, Jeremy Groskopf

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pp. 54-77

“Dog heroes” were top American action-film stars in the 1920s. Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin, among the early wave of German Shepherds introduced to the United States at the conclusion of World War I, were beloved by millions of movie fans as superbly talented canine performers whose abilities, like other dog stars before them, were uniquely highlighted by silent film. Strongheart was...

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Chapter 3: Asta the Screwball Dog: Hollywood’s Canine Sidekick

Sara Ross, James Castonguay

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pp. 78-103

In late October 1937, newspaper readers in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, learned that “a dog’s life is not so tough when the dog works in the movies.” A syndicated article recounted publicity about the “home” of Skippy, the canine star who played Asta in the popular Thin Man films, along with a number of other iconic screwball roles. Skippy/Asta was said to be the resident of “a full-sized...

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Chapter 4: Promoting Lassie: The Animal Star and Constructions of “Ideal” American Heroism

Kelly Wolf

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pp. 104-120

Press materials related to canine stars as dog heroes in the United States from the 1930s through the 1950s often mythologized their subjects through a rhetoric of nationalism, partially owing to the connotative value of the dog—especially large dogs—as loyal, strong, and protective. Although they were continually balanced on the edge of domestication and wildness, dog heroes were always represented...

Part Two: Character and Supporting Actors

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Chapter 5: Dogs at War: Military Dogs in Film

Aaron Skabelund

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pp. 123-142

The practical and symbolic deployment of dogs during World War II was unprecedented and has not been replicated since. Although the conflict was heavily mechanized, armies on all sides used canines in numbers and in ways as never before; one analyst estimates that the Allied and Axis militaries employed more than 250,000 canines for a variety of tasks, including as...

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Chapter 6: Loaded Dogs: Dogs, Domesticity, and “the Wild” in Australian Cinema

Jane O’Sullivan

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pp. 143-157

One might expect that dogs figure prominently in Australian cinema. Perhaps this expectation is a result of the centrality of dogs in some well-known and oft-cited Australian prose fictions (such as the turn-of-the-twentieth-century short stories of Henry Lawson and Barbara Baynton). There is also a pervasive notion of dogs as taking their place beside many a farmhand, or as herding in...

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Chapter 7: Bullies and Curs: Overlords and Underdogs in South African Cinema

Giuliana Lund

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pp. 158-180

In his 2006 proclamation “The Year of the Dog,” prominent intellectual Njabulo Ndebele challenged South Africans to reevaluate their treatment of dogs and, by extension, each other. Canines have been subjected to exploitation and violence throughout the turbulent history of the region, from centuries of colonization and decades of apartheid to the long-awaited democracy that arrived in 1994....

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Chapter 8: Things from Another World: Dogs, Aliens, and Antarctic Cinema

Elizabeth Leane, Guinevere Narraway

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pp. 181-196

All narrative cinema set in Antarctica—the world’s only continent with no permanent human population—will to some degree reflect humanity’s troubled relationship with nature, understood as both nonhuman animals and the environment. The dog is a key figure through which to explore this relationship. While clearly on the nature side of the traditionally conceived culture/nature...

Part Three: Stock, Bits, and Extras

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Chapter 9: Hitchcock’s Canine Uncanny

Murray Pomerance

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pp. 199-218

Alfred Hitchcock’s mise-en-scène depends intensively on meticulously researched and carefully arrayed social, cultural, and technical details of character, action, and scene. Considerable scholarly attention has been given to Hitchcockian stars as embodiments or exemplifiers of relevant dramaturgical and social detail, but only the scantest attention has been paid to his settings, his use of color and...

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Chapter 10: The Dog at the Side of the Shot: Incongruous Dog (Canis familiaris) Behavior in Film

Alexandra Horowitz

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pp. 219-234

Familiarity is both a boon and a bane to the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. On the one hand, it has allowed dogs to occupy our homes and enjoy a share of the resources, both nutritive and protective, that their humans have secured for themselves. On the other hand, the familiarity afforded by this ubiquity prevents us from seeing dogs for who they are. Generally, humans anthropomorphize: we...

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Afterword: Dogs at the Digital Divide

Adrienne L. McLean

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pp. 235-250

In the introduction to this book I made reference to MGM’s “Dogville Barkies,” a series of nine shorts produced between 1929 and 1931. The films were “acted” entirely by trained dogs, in full costume and even makeup, that were “ventriloquized” with the voices of humans (see the photo on page 17). The shorts spoofed feature films of the time: the musical...

Works Cited

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pp. 251-260

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 261-264


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pp. 265-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780813563572
E-ISBN-10: 0813563577
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813563565
Print-ISBN-10: 0813563569

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 56 photographs
Publication Year: 2014