The Shaggy Dog (1959)

Yesterday we watched The Ugly Dachshund mainly for its title and then ended up kind of charmed by it – except for the racist depictions of other cultures, for which Disney is truly sorry and even has a neat little disclaimer saying so. We checked for a disclaimer on this movie as well and found none, which Sean found a little unlikely but I reminded him that IF any other races or cultures were depicted in the film they surely would be horrible and racist but in 1959 it was even more likely that the film would just be homogenously white. Problem solved! Right? Well, it’s the kind of racism you don’t need a disclaimer for, a thought so disturbing we had to put a pin in it to debate some other time, though I do think the idea has value: the complete lack of diversity is also courtesy of racism, and it’s just as important to recognize racism by omission or lack of representation as the more “overt” kinds that may be easier to spot and condemn. Anyway, on to a very white 1959 indeed…

Wilson Daniels (Fred MacMurray) feels like some kind of freak, but he just doesn’t like dogs. Perhaps, as a former mail carrier, they’re just not meant to mix. His young son Moochie (Kevin Corcoran) wants a dog pretty badly anyway, but dad is adamant (and to be fair, also seems to have an allergy, despite his wife suggesting it may be psychosomatic). Perhaps a dog would have been a safer compromise, though, something to distract the kids because as it stands, teenage son Wilby (Tommy Kirk) is in the basement, about to blow the house up with a missile. Or an “issile interceptor”, mom Freeda (Jean Hagen) mistakenly supplies, because her female brain is clearly inferior, the poor, ignorant slut. In fact, the way Disney treats women in this film deserves its own disclaimer. And would definitely be picketed by PETA, while we’re airing all of Disney’s dirty laundry. That out of the way, back to the review.

Wilby goes and gets himself into yet more trouble, this time involving the girl next door. No, not THAT kind of trouble. This kind of trouble: he takes her to a museum where he clumsily knocks over an exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts and accidentally brings home a ring in the cuff of his pants that periodically turns him into a sheepdog. And that’s not even the crazy part! While nosing around a neighbour’s house, Wilby the sheepdog overhears a plot involving spies and stolen technology. He’ll have to convince brother Moochie, who knows his secret, to convince his father, who doesn’t know it yet, to flag the police. Dad is more distraught to learn that his son is (sometimes) a dog than he is about the whole secret agent theft thing. He can’t believe his own son is a dog, how terrible, how embarrassing, what will the neighbours think? He whines long enough that I start to wonder if this is a weird allegory for finding out your son is gay, but then I remember: 1959. Disney. That would be a whole other disclaimer.

No, the son is just a dog, and the dog will have to hop in a cop car and stop the criminals himself – and if he’s lucky, engage in an act of heroism along the way, which would break the dog curse. Fingers crossed.

10 thoughts on “The Shaggy Dog (1959)

  1. Robert Jantzen

    I was 7 when I saw this film. Fred was in a string of movies in those years, very popular. I don’t remember much except that going to the movies was super special because there were no alternatives like today where we are flooded with streaming opportunities and movie channels. Innocent times in some ways, but of course ugly in retrospect in others. At least we have made some progress, though not enough. Thanks for your honest assessments of these aspects.

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  2. Liz A.

    Now, it could be a gay allegory, because as you know, gay people didn’t just start recently, and writers did couch things in what they wrote. It’s where a lot of ’60s scifi went. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this one. I wasn’t terribly impressed even then.

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