Sunday, September 25, 2011

Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)

The real-life inspiration for this tiresome comedy is an interesting footnote in Hollywood history: Early in his career, legendary studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck guided the career of silent-movie star Rin Tin Tin, who happened to be a particularly noble-looking German Shepherd. While the absurdity of transforming a canine into a matinee idol would seem to present possibilities for sly spoofery, Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood instead opts for broad buffoonery. Set in the anything-goes world of 1920s Hollywood, the flick smothers its slight storyline with clunky plotting, inane slapstick, overwrought production values, and pointless cameos by faded stars of stage and screen. A badly miscast Bruce Dern stars as the Zanuck-inspired lead character, a Hollywood tour guide who dreams of moguldum and seizes his opportunity when a desperate studio owner (Art Carney) mistakes Dern’s character for the trainer of a photogenic dog. The animal actually belongs to a would-be starlet (Madeline Kahn), so Dern’s character and the starlet decide to hitch a ride to stardom on Won Ton Ton’s tail. Predictably, things go awry, so much of the movie concerns Won Ton Ton’s wilderness years after he’s separated from his owners, plus their attempts to replace him and, eventually, get him back; this plot twist changes the movie from silly to sappy, and Won Ton Ton is no better at eliciting tears than it is at eliciting laughter. Although Carney and Kahn are comedy pros accustomed to playing broad material, Dern is an edgy, naturalistic actor completely out of his element. Even more out of his element is the film’s director, Michael Winner, best known for brutal action pictures like Death Wish (1974); to say that the film’s painful aspirations to effervescence feel forced is an understatement. Some viewers may enjoy Won Ton Ton’s parade of Old Hollywood cameo players (everyone from Ethel Merman to the Ritz Brothers to Stepin Fetchit to Henny Youngman), but for anyone but obsessive devotees of movies about movies, Won Ton Ton is, well, a dog.

Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood: LAME


BruceWayneOfOz said...

I can't dispute anything that you say about this film. I actually worked on it, and it was Painful! The Director, Michael Winner, was a Humorless Hack, who had no business directing (if anyone wants to Call it That) a comedy.
It Should have been Funny, with all the Talent involved (off-camera was often more fun, especially the quick-witted Art Carney) but too many were given too little to do.
All these years later, I can't quite bring myself to even watch the dvd!
The only positive of that time, for me, was being around all those great old stars! At least I have my Memories and can remember the good times!


fakebaconimprov said...

Finally got around to seeing this, a Paramount movie on which my father did publicity (helping to coordinate Mae West's appearance at the premiere.) Madeline Kahn and Terri Garr reteam from Young Frankenstein--both look fantastic but there is so much wrong with this film that it's hard to imagine who it is made for (and that its PG rating would hold up today). If you're interested in spotting tons of old stars throughout the film, you'd be better off to watch the end credits first (I wish I had).

BruceWayneOfOz said...

Yes...poor Mae didn't really know what was happening. This should have been Fun to work on, but it was depressing, seeing so many once-great stars reduced to embarrassing cameos.
At least Art Carney was in great spirits between takes! What a character!