by Scott Broecker
For well over 100 years, moviemakers have understood the emotional benefit of including man’s best friend on the silver screen. From the first film to feature a canine, to the latest YouTube sensation, nothing stirs your emotions and captures your heart like a dog on film.
Whether we’re watching Toto running from the wicked witch, or Old Yeller defending his family from a rabid wolf, we immediately become attached to seeing these dogs make it through their predicaments, hopefully unscathed.
In 1905, a Collie named Blair in real life popularized the name “Rover” when he starred in Rescued by Rover. (Available to watch on YouTube.) Considered to be the first of a new genre of films, the film and its canine star paved the way for the future generations of Rin Tin Tins, Lassies, and Benjis. Blair plays the heroic dog when he searches for, finds, and finally rescues the family’s kidnapped baby. The film became so popular that two shot-by-shot remakes had to be made to compensate for the first two negatives wearing out.
Capitalizing on this popularity, other filmmakers followed with stories that included dogs . When a canine was cast as Charlie Chaplin’s costar in the film A Dogs Life , it became a huge success as well as Chaplin’s first million-dollar film. During the 20s, Rin Tin Tin’s popularity was largely credited with saving the studio, Warner Brothers, from bankruptcy.
Fortunately, most of these classics are still preserved and available to watch.
DOGS ON FILM TIMELINE HIGHLIGHTS
1905 BLAIR, THE FIRST OFFICIAL CANINE FILM STAR, PLAYS THE HERO IN RESCUED BY ROVER.
1918 CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S CO-STAR, SCRAPS, IS THE HEROINE IN A DOG’S LIFE. THIS HILARIOUS SILENT IS BOTH WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY CHAPLIN.
1925 GERMAN SHEPERD, STRONGHEART, GETS FIRST TOP BILLING IN THE FILM ADAPTATION OF WHITE FANG.
1928 RIN TIN TIN STARS IN HIS FIRST “BARKY” (TALKIE) AFTER MANY YEARS IN SILENT FILMS.
1930 THE FIRST PETE, THE PUP, JOINS OUR GANG COMEDIES (LATER KNOWN AS THE LITTLE RASCALS WHEN THEY RAN ON TELEVISION.)
1938 ACE, THE WONDER DOG, IS INTRODUCED IN BLIND ALIBI. THE WHITE AND BLACK GERMAN SHEPARD BECOMES RKO’S ANSWER TO RIN TIN TIN. ACE WOULD GO ON TO MAKE MORE THAN A DOZEN MORE FILMS.
1939 HAVING ALREADY APPEARED IN SIX OTHER FEATURE FILMS, TERRY, THE CAIRN TERRIER, PLAYS THE UNFORGETTABLE ROLE OF TOTO IN MGM’S BLOCKBUSTER THE WIZARD OF OZ.
1943 THE NOVEL LASSIE COME HOME IS MADE INTO A FEATURE FILM WITH PAL MAKING HIS FILM DEBUT AS THE ORIGINAL LASSIE.
1954 LASSIE JOINS THE NEW MEDIUM OF TELEVISION AND BECOMES A REGULAR SERIES.
1963 LASSIE’S GREAT ADVENTURE WITH JON PROVOST BRINGS LASSIE INTO THE WORLD OF COLOR FILM.
1974 BENJI, A STRAY, BEFRIENDS TWO YOUNG KIDS, TRACKING THEM DOWN AFTER THEY ARE KIDNAPPED. BENJI IS REWARDED WITH A LIFELONG HOME. SEVEN OTHER BENJI FILMS WERE MADE. THE MOST RECENT CAME OUT IN 2004.
1989 K-9 AND TURNER & HOOCH ARE TWO MOVIES ABOUT CRIME-SOLVING DUOS AND THEIR MISADVENTURES. THE LATTER WAS FILMED LOCALLY IN PACIFIC GROVE AND MOSS LANDING.
1992 A RAPIDLY GROWING SAINT BERNARD PUPPY HELPS CHOOSE HIS NAME WHEN HE BARKS ALONG TO BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH. BEETHOVEN, THE FIRST MOVIE , WAS SO POPULAR, IT WAS FOLLOWED BY FIVE SEQUELS.
1993 HOMEWARD BOUND IS A WELL DONE REMAKE OF THE ORIGINAL INCREDIBLE JOURNEY.
1995 IN FAR FROM HOME, A BOY AND HIS YELLOW LABRADOR LEARN TO SURVIVE AS THEY STRUGGLE TO CROSS THE RUGGED COASTAL MOUNTAINS AFTER BEING SHIPWRECKED.
1997 IN AIR BUD, A DISCOURAGED YOUNG BOY BEFRIENDS A STRAY GOLDEN RETRIEVER AND IS UPLIFTED BY THE DOG’S AMAZING ABILITY TO PLAY BASKETBALL.
2000 MY DOG SKIP IS SET IN 1940s MISSISSIPPI. AFTER A SHY BOY NAMED WILLIE RECEIVES A TERRIER PUPPY FOR HIS NINTH BIRTHDAY, HIS CONFIDENCE IS RESTORED AND HIS LIFE IS FOREVER ENRICHED.
2007 IN UNDERDOG, A LABORATORY ACCIDENT GIVES A BEAGLE NAMED SHOESHINE SUPER POWERS. BATTLING AGAINST THE EVIL SIMON BAR SINISTER, SHOESHINE USES HIS POWERS TO PROTECT THE CITIZENS OF CAPITOL CITY.
2008 IN MARLEY AND ME, FROM A PUPPY TO A 100-POUND DOG, MARLEY’S ANTICS BECOME A GREAT MUSE FOR WRITER/DAD JOHN GROGAN.
2009 IN HOTEL FOR DOGS, TWO FOSTER KIDS, A BROTHER AND SISTER, SECRETLY CARE FOR A STRAY DOG THEY NAME FRIDAY. THEIR HIDEAWAY BECOMES AN INCREDIBLE PARADISE FOR DOGS.