|Directed by||Charles Barton|
Wilbur “Wilby” Daniels is a boy who is misunderstood by his father, Wilson. Wilson thinks Wilby is crazy half the time because of his elder son’s often dangerous inventions. As a retired mailman who often ran afoul of canines, he is allergic to dogs, and he simply cannot understand why his younger son, Montgomery “Moochie” would want a dog.
Wilby and his rival Buzz Miller go with a French girl named Francesca Andrassé to the local museum. Wilby gets separated from the other two, who leave without him. Wilby encounters former acquaintance Professor Plumcutt (whose newspaper Wilby used to deliver), who tells him all about mystical ancient beliefs, including the legend of the Borgia family, who used shape-shifting as a weapon against their enemies.
On the way out, Wilby collides with a table that holds a display case of jewelry. He accidentally ends up with one of the rings in the cuff of his pants. It is the cursed Borgia ring, and no sooner does he read the inscription on it (“In canis corpore transmuto,” which, unknown to Wilby, means, “Into a dog’s body I change”) than he transforms into Chiffon, Francesca’s shaggy “Bratislavian sheepdog”.
Confused, Wilby as a dog goes to Professor Plumcutt, who says he has invoked the Borgia curse upon himself, which can only be broken through a heroic act of selflessness. After getting chased out of his own house by his enraged father (who fails to recognize him as a dog), Wilby has a series of misadventures while switching back and forth between human form and dog form. Only Moochie and Professor Plumcutt know his true identity, as Wilby has spoken to them both in dog form. While at a local dance in his human form, he accidentally transforms himself into a dog.
The next day, Wilby, as a dog, and Moochie are talking when Francesca’s butler Stefano comes out and drags Wilby into the house. Stefano and Francesca’s adoptive father, Dr. Valasky, are discussing plans to steal a government secret, and Wilby, as a dog, overhears. Unfortunately for him, he transforms into human Wilby right in front of the spies and has been discovered, but not before he hears Dr. Valasky expressing his wish to get rid of his own daughter.
The spies angrily capture Wilby and force Francesca to leave with them, leaving the human Wilby bound and gagged in the closet at once. Fortunately, Moochie sneaks into the house just after Dr. Valasky, Stefano and Francesca leave, and discovers Wilby, who is transformed into a dog, still bound and gagged in the closet. Wilby reveals the secret to his dumbfounded father, who goes to the authorities, until Wilson suddenly finds himself accused of being either crazy or a spy himself.
When Buzz appears at the Valasky residence to take Francesca on a date, Wilby, still in his dog form, steals Buzz’s hot rod automobile. Buzz reports this to Officers Hansen and Kelly, who are in disbelief until they see the shaggy dog driving Buzz’s hot rod. Wilson and Moochie follow Buzz and the police, who end up chasing everyone.
The spies attempt to leave aboard a boat, but the police call in the harbor patrol to apprehend Dr. Valasky and stop his boat. Wilby, in his dog form, swims up and wrestles with the men, as Francesca gets knocked out of the boat. He then saves her life and drags her ashore, which finally breaks the curse. When Francesca regains her consciousness, Buzz tries to take credit for saving her. This angers Wilby, who is still a dog, so much that he attacks Buzz. Seconds later, Buzz is surprised to find himself wrestling with the real human Wilby, and the real Chiffon reappears. Since he is soaking wet, Francesca concludes that he has really saved her from the ocean and she hugs and praises Chiffon.
Now that Wilson and Chiffon are declared heroes, Francesca is able to leave for Paris without her evil adoptive father and former butler, both of whom have been arrested for illegal espionage; and she gives Chiffon to the Daniels family for them to keep as her way of thanking them.
Since Wilson has gotten such commendation for foiling a spy ring because of “his love of dogs”, he has a change of heart over his allergy to dogs, a promise to change his ways, and a sense of humor (while he also realizes that his dog-hating attitude isn’t really good anymore), so he allows Moochie to care for Chiffon as he wanted a dog all along. Wilby and Buzz decide to forget their rivalry over Francesca and resume their friendship instead.
In the late 1950s, the idea of an adult human turning into a beast was nothing new, but the idea of a teenager doing just that in a movie was considered avant-garde and even shocking in 1957 when AIP released their horror film, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, one of the studio’s biggest hits.The Shaggy Dog betrays its successful forebear with Fred MacMurray’s classic bit of dialogue: “That’s ridiculous — my son is not a werewolf! He’s nothing more than just a big, baggy, stupid-looking shaggy dog!”
The movie was originally intended as the pilot for a never-made TV series and advertised as “the funniest shaggy dog story ever told,” although it is not in fact a story of that genre. The director was Charles Barton, who also directed Spin and Marty for The Mickey Mouse Club. Veteran screenwriter Lillie Hayward also worked on the Spin and Marty serials, which featured several of the same young actors as The Shaggy Dog. Disney producer Bill Walsh mused that “The Shaggy Dog” was the direct inspiration for the TV show My Three Sons, Walsh said “Same kids, same dog and Fred MacMurray!”
Veteran Disney voice actor Paul Frees had a rare on-screen appearance in the film – for which he received no on-screen credit – as Dr. J.W. Galvin, a psychiatrist who examines Wilby’s father (MacMurray), Wilson Daniels. Frees also did his usual voice acting by also playing the part of the narrator who informs the audience that Wilson Daniels is a “man noted for the fact that he is allergic to dogs.”
Tommy Kirk Going To The Dogs
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
20 April 2007
There seems to be some confusion about exactly what place in film history The Shaggy Dog has. First and foremost it is not Walt Disney’s first live action film, but it is the first live action big screen comedy that he did. It is also the first film that Disney did with Fred MacMurray starring.
For MacMurray this was a big film. His career was in the doldrums at that point and this film brought him to his final phase of his career as the star of family oriented comedies. He got a television series, My Three Sons, after this and that together with the Disney films kept him steadily working for the next fifteen years.
Though MacMurray is the star along with Jean Hagen as his wife, the film’s title role is played in part by Tommy Kirk. Kirk is a young teenager with a lot of angst and an abiding interest in the space program. So much so he constructs his own rocket in his basement and it has an unscheduled launch to open the film. A generation later, this bit was copied in Family Matters by Steve Urkel.
Anyway he’s got a healthy set of hormones as well and a rivalry with the smooth talking Tim Considine down the street. Both are hot to trot for Annette Funicello, but when Roberta Shore shows up with father Alexander Scourby, both go after her as well.
Roberta’s the only weakness in the film. For someone who is foreign, she has one cheesy accent and at times just drops it altogether. She’s also got a large shaggy dog named Chiffon.
Anyway while at a museum young Mr. Kirk gets a hold of an enchanted ring and repeats a spell that causes him to enter the body of the neighbor’s shaggy dog. And he discovers that in fact Scourby and his confederates are spies.
What follows after as Kirk periodically changes from talking dog to teenager is still pretty hilarious. Fred MacMurray gets a lot of laughs as the man who gets the credit for exposing the spy ring which son Kirk can’t really claim.
James Westerfield, one delightful character actor in everything he does, makes the first of three appearances as Officer Hanson, the much put upon patrol cop in this, The Absent Minded Professor and Son of Flubber. Best moment in the film is when Kirk as The Shaggy Dog steals Westerfield’s police vehicle in pursuit of the villains.
I’m still amazed at how well the ancient special effects still work in this film. Disney took some meticulous care in doing the scenes with the dog. You really do think The Shaggy Dog is driving those vehicles and not some guy dressed in a dog costume. Good thing it was a large Shaggy Dog though, a Chihuahua would not have worked as well.
Still working well today.
A bit more context
Author: mt9045 from United States
8 March 2006
Up to the point of this movie, the Disney Studio had had plenty of experience in live-action film production, but it was chiefly in the UK, where they used the considerable debt-credit that England had run up during the war years to produce things as Treasue Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Their initial foray into U.S. live-action production was Davy Crockett on Disneyland, the Mickey Mouse Club’s TV serials, and then Zorro, followed by several mini-series on Walt Disney Presents (Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca, Swamp Fox). The Shaggy Dog was initially planned as a TV series to follow Zorro as something independent from the weekly Disney hour. You can see vestiges of TV production in almost every aspect of this film, from the post-production foley work on entire scenes to the subdued performance of Kirk (largely reprising his Joe Hardy role from the Hardy Boys serials) and MacMurray’s scenery chewing. Not that either of these things were unusual in family movies of the time, but we tend to be more forgiving of them on old TV. (The book the concept originated in was written by Felix Salten, who created Bambi and Perri, a couple of Disney animal characters who did pretty well for themselves.)
The Shaggy Dog was one of the first movies I saw as a child and I’ve always held a great affection for it, even while recognizing all of its flaws. The concept here is what I liked, and I believe, had the same cast (remember, this is the year before Fred MacMurray and Tim Considine were cast in My Three Sons) starred in a TV series based on the concept, we’d now be looking back fondly on another TV classic of the golden years rather than a rather middling Disney comedy. I still feel that it might work better as a Disney Channel series than a movie starring Tim Allen; part of the reason I liked the original is because the star was a kid only a couple of years older than me. What I don’t need in a new Shaggy Dog film is even PG humor, and without it these days, there isn’t much of a market for it in theaters (or even as a series on any of the major networks). It’s a kids’ super-hero concept that requires a kids’ venue, and, sadly, that isn’t the big screen. Perhaps, however, if the film does well, someone in the studio will realize that it would work better on a weekly basis…about fifty years late.
Weird and Funny “Shaggy Dog” Story Of Teen Age Lycanthropy
Author: johnstonjames from United States
9 October 2012
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
this is a hoot for anyone who understands the term ” a shaggy dog story” or anyone who knows folklore. first off the term “shaggy dog”, means a ridiculous or exaggerated story so even the title is imaginative and clever. anyone who has delved into folklore knows all about stories of lycanthropy or the legend of the Borgia family. all of this mixed into the whole fifties “i was a teen age…” formula. the film is good laughs and not a bad excursion into contemporary folklore.
i’ve always felt that Disney comedies like this are often underrated for their cleverness. i guess because so much of the comedy is played for dumb laughs it’s hard to take it all seriously, which you’re not supposed to really, because it’s Disney you’re supposed to enjoy and have fun.
this is a great comedy, semi-horror, teen flick that actually holds up well to sophisticated screw ball comedies. a genuine argument can be made for this film that it is one of cinema’s better comedies. certainly with all of it’s gimmicks and effects, it’s very cinematic.
one major note here for viewers. this film was originally filmed in glorious B&W and is most effective when viewed in B&W. avoid the horrible colorized, tinted versions which disarm the effectiveness of it’s nostalgia and photography.