Monday, 2 December 2013


There are a number of reasons to write about Robert Clouse’s 1977 film ‘The Pack’, not least the fact that is an excellent, suspenseful film that keeps the viewer entertained for all of its ninety eight minutes. It’s also unusual, and we like that, and it reminds us of the sort of thing Guy N. Smith might come up with if he had a load of cash and a course of subtle injections. The big thing for us, however, is that it features the greatest ever acting performance by a dog. 

Completely ignored by the Academy, this dog is absolutely superb and, as screen villains go, makes Alan Rickman look like the jumped up am-drammer that he is. This dog is better than 90% of human actors: he is the Robert Ryan of dog villains, seething with hatred and danger and rage. We don’t know what they were taunting him with, but we are glad that we are not it. Actually, this dog is so good that we expect that he didn’t need to be poked with anything, he simply had long conversations with the director about his character’s motivation, then made lots of detailed notes in the margin of his script before squaring his shoulders and going out and giving the performance of a lifetime.

The story is simple, but nicely set up. Joe Don Baker, the immovable object, is on remote Seal Island with around half a dozen other permanent residents and a party of tourists. JDB is the conservation warden, a former Alaskan fisherman (i.e. very tough) who was initially sent to the island 'to study prawns'. The island is a popular destination for holiday makers who, unforgivably, often buy dogs to bring on their vacation, only to abandon them as they jump on the weekly ferry for their homes in the city (something seems not quite right about that bit but we went with it and everything was okay). 

The abandoned and bitter and hungry dogs have formed a pack and, under the charismatic leadership of the greatest dog actor in the world, are now ready to mount a challenge to the humans, who they want very dead very much – partly because they hate them for their cruelty and partly, of course, because humans are extremely tasty.

The film unfolds slowly and deliberately, but from the first glimpse of the canine Laurence Olivier, teeth bared furiously, you know that this is all going to end in an almighty battle, and it does, as the surviving humans rally under Joe Don Baker to keep themselves alive until the next ferry comes, and the pack lay siege, desperate to take their revenge and have their favourite dinner. 

There are some illogical bits (JDB batters the top dog thespian with the butt of his rifle, despite it being easier to shoot him; a woman on the run from the dogs takes shelter in a barn full of dog shit and is then surprised when the pack come home and tear her to bits) but none of that matters AT ALL. The film is good, the tension is high, the setting is marvellous and, yes, the lead dog is a bona fide genius - and he doesn’t even get a credit. Dirty, delicious human bastards. 


Genuinely good animal actors are few and far between, of course. Toto was okay, but his role mainly involved trotting from one predesignated point to another and jumping up. We thought Babe was marvellous, until we found out he was a robot. Digby* wasn’t big at all, and so poor at expressions that the director combed his hair down over his lifeless eyes. 

Aside from our unnamed mongrel genius, the only ever truly great animal actor we can think of is Cheeta from the ‘Tarzan’ films. 

There is a persistent rumour that most of Cheeta’s acting was facilitated by rubbing peanut butter on his gums and letting him smoke opium but, even when he isn’t chattering and licking his lips, he presents us with a fully rounded character, a mischievous force of nature, as best displayed in this unforgettable vignette from the ridiculously enjoyable ‘Tarzan’s New York Adventure’ (1942).

We particularly likes it when he talcs his arse. Good luck with that powder puff, Jane.

* We are slightly obsessed with Digby, The Biggest Dog In The World and, inexplicably, we're also quite angry with him.


  1. Ah, Johnny Weissmuller, where art thou now? A staple of Christmas school holidays during my childhood.

    That must be the censored version of that Cheetah scene, as I seem to recall a bit where he finds one of Tarzan's loincloths, puts it over his head, and embarks on a furious wank. Of course, childhood was such a long time ago, I might be mistaken.

    1. Jeffman,, never doubt your powers of recollection. I share your furious wank memories; all of them !