Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Call of the Wild (1972)

Although hampered by the bad dubbing found in so many European productions from the early ’70s, this grimy adaptation of Jack London’s classic novel has admirable qualities. The movie adheres to London’s narrative by making a dog the lead character, even though Charlton Heston gets top billing for playing a sled driver-turned-prospector who becomes the dog’s kindest owner. The picture unflinchingly depicts ugly episodes from London’s story, including scenes of animal abuse and frontier tragedy. Furthermore, the flick delivers a bummer ending instead of whitewashing the source material. Having said all that, there are several good reasons why this international co-production has a reputation that falls somewhere between ignominy and obscurity. For one thing, the (human) acting in the picture is almost wall-to-wall terrible. Heston snarls and struts in his usual manner, though enough of the picture involves physical action that his imposing frame lends a certain degree of credibility. The location work is strange, with European vistas standing in for the film’s North American settings. And then there’s the maudlin music, particularly an eerie love theme for the romance between Buck, the canine hero of the story, and the she-wolf who makes him howl. The story, which gets muddied by extraneous scenes featuring Heston’s character, begins when a domesticated dog is stolen and sold into service in the Yukon. John Thornton (Heston) buys Buck after the dog has suffered abuse by handlers, but John brings out Buck’s qualities as a born pack leader. Eventually, Buck gets separated from John and suffers more abuse, but John recovers the animal and nurses him to health. The man-dog love story ends badly, but the dog-wolf romance has a brighter denouement. Along the way, the movie presents a handful of exciting action scenes, and only the most hard-hearted viewer would fail to empathize with Buck’s plight. (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)

The Call of the Wild: FUNKY

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