Perhaps the only thing harder to believe than the existence of three crime procedurals about dogs committing robberies is that the Walt Disney Company had nothing to do with the pictures. Rather than being family-friendly romps, these pictures are dramas with comedic elements, and in fact the first one includes a bloody mauling—not exactly the stuff of normal G-rated fare. Although the Doberman movies aren’t particularly well-crafted, suffering from indifferent direction and weak acting, the scripts have a certain methodical quality. The people behind the series were producer David Chudnow and his son, TV-editor-turned-feature-director Byron Ross Chudnow, though the real credit should go to the various animal trainers involved in the series. While onscreen dog behavior is juiced through editing (thereby hiding from viewers offscreen commands and/or interludes between different stunts), the canines’ seemingly endless bag of tricks is impressive.
The first movie, The Doberman Gang, follows the exploits of career criminal Eddie (Byron Mabe), who wants a foolproof means of pulling heists. After watching security dogs take down invaders at a junkyard, he concocts the idea of training dogs to commit robberies. Eddie enlists the aid of Barney (Hal Reed), a U.S. Air Force animal trainer, by claiming that he wants to start a legitimate training business with Barney. After spending weeks training six Dobermans at a remote location alongside Eddie, Eddie’s girlfriend (Julie Parrish), and two of Eddie’s thuggish ex-con pals, Barney gets hip to what’s happening. Then the relationship among the conspirators starts to unravel in predictable ways. Attempts at wit in The Amazing Dobermans are anemic, such as naming the dogs after famous criminals (Bonnie, Clyde, Dillinger, etc.), and the songs played during dreary montages are truly terrible. Still, the lengthy heist scene is exciting simply because of novelty, and the Chudnows thrown in enough twists to keep things moving along.
Without giving away the ending of the first film, it’s enough to say that at the beginning of The Daring Dobermans, the dogs are on the loose, still carrying loot from the big heist. Law-enforcement officials and vigilantes search in vain for the animals, but working-stiff buddies Greg (David Moses), Steve (Charles Robinson), and Warren (Tim Considine) hit the jackpot. Greg uses an oscillator to create high-pitched frequencies in order to summon the dogs. Overcome with greed, the dudes decide to train the Dobermans for a new mission, even building a facility out in the desert. This attracts the attention of Billy (Claudio Martinez), a poor Native American youth who likes animals and, initially, doesn’t realize the men are planning a crime. The plot of The Daring Dobermans is even more outlandish than that of the first film, and the characterizations are just as thin. However, like its predecessor, The Daring Dobermans comes alive, somewhat, during the big heist. Further, the picture largely avoids the cute-kid stuff one might expect from the Billy storyline, opting instead to employ Billy as a mirror reflecting the awfulness of the lead characters. (The human ones, that is—the Dobermans, as always, are blameless.)
A jolt of star power wasn’t nearly enough to justify the existence of the next installment, The Amazing Dobermans. Rather than continuing the story of the previous films, The Amazing Dobermans casts five dogs as new “characters.” As for the two-legged cast, tanned and vapid James Franciscus stars as Lucky, a low-rent con man on the run from loan sharks. He’s rescued from attackers by kindly and religious Daniel (Fred Astaire), an ex-con who learned animal handling while in prison and now travels the country with his five dogs, hiring out the team for security work. Later, when Lucky befriends circus clown Samson (Billy Barty), Lucky recruits Daniel and his canines to form a new circus act. Concurrently, Lucky romances Justine (Barbara Eden), who performs a horse-riding act in the circus. All this stuff comes together in a convoluted heist/sting sequence. The Amazing Dobermans is the dullest of the three flicks, especially when composer Alan Silvestri scores montages with hideous disco/lounge jams, and the movie’s tepid light comedy is hard to take. Franciscus does his damnedest to sell the whole enterprise, Eden looks attractive in her spangly bikini costumes, and Astaire somehow retains his dignity. But seeing as how the “highlight” of The Amazing Dobermans is a dog performing a high-wire act, it’s clear the series had run its course—and then some.
Nonetheless, the talented canines returned in the made-for-TV flick Alex and the Doberman Gang (1980), again directed by Byron Ross Chudnow.
The Doberman Gang: FUNKY
The Daring Dobermans: FUNKY
The Amazing Dobermans: FUNKY