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Although Behave Yourself! (1951) boasted two acclaimed young stars just reaching their first peak of popularity and a supporting cast of veteran character actors, it was the featured dog that stole the movie from his human co-stars. The madcap plot, which has elements of black comedy a la Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), concerns a little mutt named Archie who follows a young man (Farley Granger) home one night. The pretty young wife (Shelley Winters) thinks the dog is an anniversary present, but in reality, it belongs to a couple of thugs who have trained it for criminal use. They advertise for the dog's return; the husband answers and uncovers a murder. The couple suddenly finds themselves up to their ears in more problems than they can handle, and quickly one murder follows another until the screen is virtually littered with corpses.
Winters later said the dog actor was "almost human" with an IQ that "must have been about 140 and who could have put Benji to shame." According to her, the mutt stole every scene in the picture. A few years later, she found herself in a crime drama, I Died a Thousand Times (1955), with another "wonder dog." She swore the animal on that production must have studied with Lee Strasberg at New York's famed Actors Studio because "his motivations seemed clearer than any of the actors" and he was able to repeat every action called for, no matter how many takes they did. Winters and that dog befriended each other, and when shooting was completed, she tried in vain to buy it from the trainer. That's when she found out the dog was the offspring of the one she worked with on Behave Yourself!.
Besides the canine lead, a great deal of the movie's charm and humor comes from the familiar character actors, among them horror movie staple Lon Chaney, Jr., dropping the "Jr." from his name in the credits; William Demarest, a stock player in a number of Preston Sturges' 1940s comedies and later famous as Uncle Charlie on the TV sitcom My Three Sons; and Elisha Cook, Jr., Hollywood's favorite weasly little punk in such films as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946). Also in the cast was Sheldon Leonard, who started his career playing mostly criminal types and became one of television's most important producers.
Winters and Granger were an odd choice for the naive young couple in this offbeat comedy. Neither was known for comic roles; in fact, despite their studio-imposed glamour, both had somewhat darker screen images. Granger had distinguished himself as an attractive and sensitive but rather troubled and morally ambiguous young man in such films as Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night (1949) and Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948). Winters was groomed as a blonde sexpot but resisted typing by taking on grittier roles in A Double Life (1947) and John Garfield's final film He Ran All the Way (1951). When they were cast in this movie, the couple at the time linked romantically although they were mostly just good friends - were riding high on their recent successes: he in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951) and she as the doomed factory worker in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951), opposite Montgomery Clift. Upon completion of Behave Yourself!, the two took off for a studio-paid European tour/vacation where they were often swamped by fans. The press also followed them everywhere, eager to report on any possible hint of romance between the two. But during the tour, Winters met and fell in love with Vittorio Gassman, the Italian actor who would become her second husband. She and Granger (who she calls "Farfel") remain lifelong friends.
Producer: Norman Krasna, Jerry Wald
Director: George Beck
Screenplay: George Beck, Frank Tarloff
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Music: Leigh Harline
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino
Cast: Farley Granger (William Calhoun 'Bill' Denny), Shelley Winters (Kate Denny), William Demarest (Officer O'Ryan), Francis L. Sullivan (Fat Freddy), Margalo Gillmore (Mother), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Pinky), Hans Conried (Gillie the Blade), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Albert Jonas), Sheldon Leonard (Shortwave Bert).
BW-81m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon