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The Shaggy D.A.

The Shaggy D.A.(1976)

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teaser The Shaggy D.A. (1976)

The cycle of Disney big-screen family-friendly comedies that delighted the baby-boom generation got its formal kickoff with the release of The Shaggy Dog (1959). Despite a disjointed script that evidenced its genesis as a failed sitcom pitch, this low-end offering with Tommy Kirk as an adolescent mystically saddled with uncontrollable transformations into a sheepdog was a huge hit. Thereafter, the Mouse House had a template--complete with Fred MacMurray as the flustered father figure--for many a popular and profitable kid-centric farce to follow. It wasn't until the tail-end of the Disney comedies' heyday that the studio finally crafted a sequel. While The Shaggy D.A. (1976) evidences its share of the time-wear that was by then marking the Disney formula, there's plenty of enjoyable bits of business, and performances by another solid collection of dependable character comics, to commend it.

With nearly a generation having gone by since The Shaggy Dog's release, the collar was passed from Tommy Kirk to Dean Jones, nearing the end of his dozen-year run as Disney's go-to male family comedy lead. (He starred in That Darn Cat! (1965), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), andThe Love Bug (1968), to name but a very few.) The grown Wilby Daniels is now a relatively successful attorney with a wife (Suzanne Pleshette) and young son (Shane Sinutko), and the screenplay opens with them being the latest victim of the wave of home thefts that have been plaguing the hamlet of Medfield. The outraged counselor, sick of the do-nothing stance of the town's firmly entrenched incumbent district attorney Honest John Slade (Keenan Wynn), vows to be the new broom in the imminent election season.

Slade, for his part, has more than the apparent reasons for preserving the status quo; in actuality, he's firmly in the pocket of Eddie Roschak (Vic Tayback), the boss of the burglary ring. Slade needs an angle with which to derail Wilby's campaign, and fate quickly provides one. Roschak's flunkies (Dick Bakalyan, Warren Berlinger), ever hunting for a score, think they've found one at the local museum; the very same cursed ring of the Borgias which caused Wilby's teenage transmutations. Disbelieving of the ring's legend and disappointed in their fence's rejection of the bauble as worthless, they foist it off cheap on their first easy mark, the hapless ice cream vendor Tim (Tim Conway).

Of course, it isn't long before Tim reads the ring's mystic inscription ("Canis corpore transmuto") aloud. Wilby, who's been dreading this moment since learning of the ring's theft, begins to once again sprout a coat. Here's the plot fillip: Tim's constant companion is a huge sheepdog answering to Elwood, and the spell is causing his body to merge with Wilby's. Inevitably, Wilby finds himself "putting on the dog" during the most inopportune moments on the campaign trail. Eventually, Slade's chief of staff (Dick Van Patten) puts two and two together, and the bad guys conspire to retrieve the ring and ensure that Wilby's run for office abruptly ends at the local pound.

The direction of The Shaggy D.A. by longtime house pro Robert Stevenson (Old Yeller (1957), Mary Poppins (1964)) is serviceable, and the effects work is industry-standard for its day at best. The bulk of the fun comes from the efforts of the capable players. Besides the aforementioned, there's Jo Anne Worley as Conway's roller derby queen love object; Pat McCormick as the less than bemused barkeep; Hans Conried as the museum's curator; John Fiedler as the beleaguered town dogcatcher; and Ronnie Schell as the exasperated TV news director, to name but a few. Impressionist George Kirby put his skill to amusing effect by channeling Bogart, Cagney, Lorre and Eddie G. as Wilby's dogpound cellmates.

As an aside: originally cast as the dogcatcher was Liam Dunn, the gaunt character player whose latter career was marked by scene-stealing comic efforts in What's Up, Doc? (1972), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). Dunn passed away during the production of The Shaggy D.A., forcing the filmmakers to improvise in order to salvage continuity. As Wilby/Elwood is pursued to the local rink, Fiedler calls for backup, and it's an unbilled Dunn who attempts to aid Wynn and Van Patten with the pooch's capture for the duration of the roller derby sequence.

Producer: Bill Anderson
Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Don Tait; Felix Salten (novel "The Hound of Florence")
Cinematography: Frank Phillips
Art Direction: Perry Ferguson, John B. Mansbridge
Music: Buddy Baker
Film Editing: Bob Bring, Norman Palmer
Cast: Dean Jones (Wilby Daniels), Tim Conway (Tim), Suzanne Pleshette (Betty Daniels), Keenan Wynn (John Slade), Jo Anne Worley (Katrinka Muggelberg), Dick Van Patten (Raymond), Shane Sinutko (Brian Daniels), Vic Tayback (Eddie Roschak), John Myhers (Admiral Brenner), Dick Bakalyan (Freddie), Warren Berlinger (Dip).
C-92m. Closed captioning.

by Jay S. Steinberg

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