Split Decision: Cinema Canines

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

In honor of Isle of Dogs, who is your favorite cinematic canine?

Otis from Milo and Otis. This film began my love affair with pugs that continues to this day. But really the answer is Milo. I’m a cat person. Unless you’re a pug. — Jill Malcolm

Asta from The Thin Man. Gary M. Kramer

This dog doesn’t have a name, nor is he even reeeeally a cinematic canine in the sense that this week’s Split Decision is surely seeking, but it’s the first thing that came to my head and I love it. My favorite film canine is “talking dog” from the movie-within-a-movie featured for about five seconds of Billy Madison. The pupper is part of a simple comedy device in which a scene opens with activity already in progress. At this juncture, Billy and his friends are watching an unnamed film about a talking dog when it is interrupted by an expository news commercial. We only get to see one line of this pooch’s dialogue, and it’s perhaps the finest distillation of what a “talking dog” movie typically is. The moment doubles as a great depiction of why Billy Madison, a deeply terrible person, is deserving of our sympathies: despite being a spoiled, rich drunk, he’s not above the pure joy that is a talking dog.  —Dan Scully

I feel some sense of shame in selecting a favorite cinematic canine. Please, don’t think for a moment that this reluctance is sourced from prejudiced attitudes. Truth be told, it’s because, as I type this, I fear the leering, judgemental gaze of my dearly beloved feline, Loomis, as she prowls across the room, hypnotized by the sound of my fingers punching the keys. She knows something’s afoot. However, I shall persevere, in a most surreptitious manner. Don’t rat me out!
To my eyes, Jack Russell Terriers seem the most intuitive actors of all the breeds. Thus, I shall deem it a tie between Flike in Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D. and Rimshot in Ernest Scared Stupid. Flike may be subservient to his master — the poor pooch is even forced to beg on his master’s behalf at one point, as such an act would be too undignified for a man — but the concluding moments re-orient their relationship, offering Flike a chance to determine where his destiny lies. Does he face the hardships of Postwar Italy solo, or will he extend forgiveness toward and, in turn, re-establish trust in Umberto?
As for dear old Rimshot….what do I have to say? He’s clearly the most intelligent and capable dog out there. He knows how to drive a truck (and, apparently, has figured out a way to work the pedals while steering), helps vanquish an evil troll, and has attained a magnitude of patience and loyalty not known to humankind. It can’t be an easy life when your chief compadre is Ernest P. Worrell. Let’s hope Rimshot is being fed some seriously elite kibble

Dan Santelli

Come on! You can’t ask a dog person to pick their favorite cinematic pooch. Between Otis (I mean, I do have two pugs), Beethoven (the best foil Charles Grodin ever had), and of course Back to the Future’s Einstein, there are so many amazing canine roles in movies. But at the end of the day, my heart will always be with Hachi, the star of Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009). The movie itself isn’t anything special—it might as well be a Lifetime movie. What makes this movie so heartbreaking is the real story it’s based on, and, of course, the pup who plays Hachi.

The real Hachi (Hachikō) was found and adopted by a Japanese professor. The pup would go to Shibuya train station every evening (independently) to meet his master at the end of the day. After one day dying mid-lecture, the professor never returned to the station. Hachikō came back to the station every single day for almost ten years waiting for his owner to finally get off that train, before finally dying himself. Ugh. In the American film based on this gut wrenching tale, the professor is played by Richard Gere. The movie remains fairly loyal to the true story, aside from the time period and location. It’s one thing to read about this story and picture the devastating events unfolding. It’s a completely different thing to see an actual pup embody this supremely loyal dog who dedicated the majority of his life to simply waiting for his beloved owner to return. Hachi may not be an incredible cinematic feat, but it brought the tremendous Hachikō to life. Oh, and my face looks like it’s been stung by bees by the end of it. If you don’t cry at any point during this, you are clearly made of stone.Catherine Haas

The Beast (Hercules) from The Sandlot.–
My nostalgia for childhood favorites like Homeward Bound and Beethoven kicked in when I read the question, but my answer is actually from an underrated, more recent film: Samantha from I Am Legend.  Being Will Smith’s sole companion and the audience’s only other protagonist for much of the movie, Sam was able to successfully evoke comedy, dramatic tension, and ultimately, melancholy when Will Smith’s Neville has to make tough decisions about his best friend. If it weren’t for the CGI-laden 3rd act that devolves into a straight forward zombie flick, I Am Legend would be much more highly regarded, and some of that credit goes to Samantha the dog.Jeff Piotrowski

I have to pick Dug from Pixar’s Up. While his linguistic enhancement may give him an advantage, it his loyalty and courage that earn him his spot. Is there anything that better sums up a dog than “I was hiding under your porch because I love you. Can I stay?” —Ryan Silberstein

I’ll spare you the details here, but my initial reaction to this was “The terror dogs from Ghostbusters, obviously.” I quickly came to realize what I actually like about them is the way Rick Moranis addresses them upon discovering one in his apartment and that that means I’d just be using them as an excuse to effuse about my love of Moranis. Once I gave it another two seconds of thought, the answer was, in fact, obvious. It’s the nameless dog from the opening of John Carpenter’s The Thing. And I’m not just bringing him up to gush about one of my all-time favorite movies. I’m bringing him up because he is literally my favorite canine performance in any movie. There are some really incredible shots where he’s shown to be decisive in his actions that still strike me as remarkable animal acting. And the use of a dog as the inciting incident in a monster movie is really effective – we don’t want anything to be wrong with him; we don’t want the protagonists to have to kill him. It also demonstrates how indiscriminate the monster is. If this perfect pup isn’t safe, no one is. It is my firm belief that Jed the dog should be given a posthumous Oscar in the near future.Garrett Smith

My favorite real dog is Beatrice from Best in Show. (Really every dog from Best in Show, but that Weimaraner is a great actor!) All stressed out and neurotic, just like her owners. BUSY BEE!!!
My favorite cartoon dog is Lady from Lady and the Tramp. Cocker spaniels are my favorite dogs ever. Yes, I know their ears are stinky. No, I do not care.Jenna Kuerzi

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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