It's a Dog's Life


1h 26m 1955

Brief Synopsis

A bull terrier rises from rags to riches.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Bar Sinister, Wildfire
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
1955

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Synopsis

At the turn of the century, a stray bull terrier, Wildfire, and his mother make a good life for themselves on the New York waterfront. Curious about the father he has never met, Wildfire seeks advice from an elderly Labrador named Captain, who reveals that Wildfire was sired by the famous Champion Regent Royal. Wildfire is angry that his mother produced offspring "without benefit of clergy," and vows to find his father and kill him. Wildfire's mother disappears, and after searching for her for two weeks, he finds himself in the rough Bowery district. Wildfire is surprised to discover that dog fighting is a popular sport in the Bowery, and decides to obtain such a situation for himself in order to survive. Spotting another bull terrier with a group of men in Paddy Corbin's saloon, the street-tough Wildfire races in and demonstrates his fighting skills. Impressed with Wildfire's spirit, small-time hustler Patch McGill adopts him, then shakes down his girl friend, brassy Mabel Maycroft, for twenty dollars to finance his new career as a dog manager. Patch trains Wildfire to fight, and five weeks later the dog has his first bout in the back room of Corbin's saloon. While the savage fight goes on, Jeremiah Edward Emmett Augustus Nolan, who is drinking at the bar, expounds on the noble nature of dogs and their exploitation by the humans who force them to fight for money. Wildfire wins the match, then goes on to fight twice a week for months, making plenty of money for Patch. One day, Patch arranges a match with a bigger dog named Destruction, despite Corbin's warning that Wildfire should not fight out of his weight class. Wildfire loses the match, and Patch is rebuking him harshly when Mabel comes in and announces that she is going to marry a policeman. After biting Patch in the leg, Wildfire flees to the waterfront, and is taken in by the kindly Jeremiah, who treats his wounds and puts him to bed. The following day, Jeremiah, who tends animals for the wealthy Mr. Wyndham, shows Wildfire around the beautiful country estate. Jeremiah's younger colleague, Tom Tattle, is alarmed to see that Jeremiah has brought home a fighting dog, and Jeremiah admonishes Wildfire to stay away from the kennels where Wyndham's valuable St. Bernards are kept. Wildfire is befriended by Jimmy Jocks, a wise old English bulldog who belongs to Wyndham's daughter Dorothy. One day, Jimmy Jocks mentions that he knew Champion Regent Royal, and Wildfire realizes his father was not a fighting dog but a show dog. Jimmy Jocks then takes him to the trophy room, where Wildfire is discovered by Dorothy, who immediately recognizes the dog's fine qualities. The sound of barking draws them outside, where three of the St. Bernards have escaped from the kennel and are attacking Jimmy Jocks. Wildfire jumps in to protect his friend, and after Tattle restrains the St. Bernards, Wyndham is prepared to shoot Wildfire. The others protest, but when Wyndham proclaims that Wildfire must go, Jeremiah replies that he will leave, too. As he packs, Jeremiah tells Wildfire that Wyndham, for whom he has worked for forty years, is not enjoying his hard-earned success, and has suffered four heart attacks in the past year. Meanwhile, Wyndham drinks heavily and quarrels with Dorothy, who pleads with him to ask Jeremiah to stay. Wyndham scoffs when Dorothy says that she could enter Wildfire in a dog show, and she proposes a wager: if Wildfire wins a ribbon, both he and Jeremiah stay. Wyndham agrees, and Dorothy begins grooming Wildfire for competition. On the day of the posh dog show, Wildfire marvels at the many exotic breeds on display, and flirts with a female bull terrier from a nearby estate, Miss Ladyship II. Wildfire wins the blue ribbon for best of breed, and one of the judges, George Oakley, tells Dorothy that Wildfire is the best bull terrier he has seen since Champion Regent Royal. Wyndham is not impressed by the award, and Dorothy announces her intention to enter Wildfire in the Grand National Championship at Madison Square Garden. One night, Wildfire approaches Wyndham, who invites him to go for a walk. Wyndham recognizes a kindred spirit in the resourceful Wildfire, and opens his heart to the dog, arousing Tattle's jealousy. Still smitten with Miss Ladyship, Wildfire sneaks away to visit her every night, leaving him exhausted. Wildfire comes to life, however, when he learns that his father will also be competing at Madison Square Garden. One night, Tattle knocks Wildfire out with chloroform and takes him to Corbin's saloon, where Patch buys the dog and demands a fat "reward" for his return. Wyndham and Jeremiah go to the bar, and Wyndham beats Patch up and takes Wildfire. Later, at the Grand National Championship, Wildfire is torn between his desire to repay the kindness of Jeremiah and the Wyndhams by winning the top prize and his urge to find and kill his father. Wildfire wins the bull terrier competition, and is so impressed by Champion Regent Royal's gracious acceptance of defeat that he abandons his plans for revenge. When the other dogs behave menacingly toward his father, Wildfire springs to his defense, and chaos erupts as all the dogs break free. Wildfire flees the Garden and is quickly captured by the dogcatcher and put in the pound wagon with a group of stray dogs, including his mother. Wyndham rescues Wildfire and his mother, and Miss Ladyship runs up to join them. Sometime later, at Wyndham's estate, Wildfire proudly greets his first litter of puppies.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Bar Sinister, Wildfire
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Release Date
1955

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1

Articles

It's a Dog's Life


Like most of Hollywood in the fifties, MGM was in the throes of changing times as it scrambled to come up with bigger pictures and more adult subject matter to lure people away from the free entertainment on their TV sets at home. But when the studio decided to create a simple family film in the mold of its earlier Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944), they showed that they still had the old magic. It's a Dog's Life (1955) may be largely forgotten today; it doesn't feature any of MGM's top stars and didn't set any box-office records, but it's a testament to the studio's reputation as Hollywood's house of quality.

To start with, MGM stinted for nothing in putting together a production team for this tale of a turn-of-the-century bull terrier who rises from rags to riches while looking for the prize-winning father who deserted him as a pup. The cast features two Oscar winners - Edmund Gwenn (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947) and Dean Jagger (Twelve O'Clock High, 1949) - with a third behind the camera, cinematographer Paul C. Vogel (Battleground, 1949). Joining them are some of the studio's top younger players of the time, including Jeff Richards, who had played one of the title roles in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Richard Anderson, an MGM standby in the fifties who would go on to play the government liaison in charge of The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) and The Bionic Woman (1976-1978). And the screenplay was written by one of the hottest writers in Hollywood at the time, John Michael Hayes, who was currently in the middle of a four-picture run with Alfred Hitchcock that included the classic Rear Window (1954) and the black comedy The Trouble With Harry (1955).

But the real star of It's a Dog's Life is Wildfire, the prodigious, Oedipally conflicted dog played by Cadence Glacier, C.D.X. Cadence Glacier was a show champion whose trainers had also provided the dogs for Disney's The Shaggy Dog (1959) and the television version of The Thin Man. His work in It's a Dog's Life brought him the American Humane Association's Patsy Award for outstanding performance by an animal in a motion picture.

Of course, like most award winners, Cadence Glacier didn't do it alone. Along with his trainers, he had a little help from actor Vic Morrow, who received no credit for narrating the film as the voice of Wildfire. Morrow's gentle, whimsical narration is one of the film's highlights, and a far cry from his usual casting at the time. He made It's a Dog's Life right after his first MGM film, in which he played the toughest delinquent in The Blackboard Jungle (1955). That debut typed him so badly that he eventually left MGM rather than play any more psychos or gangsters. He then signed to star in the popular television series Combat in 1962. After that series ended its five-year run, Morrow was typed again, and spent the next two decades rebuilding his career, this time as a character actor and occasional director ( Man Called Sledge, 1970. His comeback was cut short by a fatal accident on the set of The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).

Producer: Henry Berman
Director: Herman Hoffman
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Based on a story by Richard Harding Davis
Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Jeff Richards (Patch McGill), Jarma Lewis (Mabel Maycroft), Edmund Gwenn (Jeremiah Nolan), Dean Jagger (Mr. Wyndham), Sally Fraser (Dorothy Wyndham), Richard Anderson (George Oakley), Vic Morrow (uncredited; voice of Wildfire). C-87m. Letterboxed.

by Frank Miller

It's A Dog's Life

It's a Dog's Life

Like most of Hollywood in the fifties, MGM was in the throes of changing times as it scrambled to come up with bigger pictures and more adult subject matter to lure people away from the free entertainment on their TV sets at home. But when the studio decided to create a simple family film in the mold of its earlier Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944), they showed that they still had the old magic. It's a Dog's Life (1955) may be largely forgotten today; it doesn't feature any of MGM's top stars and didn't set any box-office records, but it's a testament to the studio's reputation as Hollywood's house of quality. To start with, MGM stinted for nothing in putting together a production team for this tale of a turn-of-the-century bull terrier who rises from rags to riches while looking for the prize-winning father who deserted him as a pup. The cast features two Oscar winners - Edmund Gwenn (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947) and Dean Jagger (Twelve O'Clock High, 1949) - with a third behind the camera, cinematographer Paul C. Vogel (Battleground, 1949). Joining them are some of the studio's top younger players of the time, including Jeff Richards, who had played one of the title roles in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Richard Anderson, an MGM standby in the fifties who would go on to play the government liaison in charge of The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978) and The Bionic Woman (1976-1978). And the screenplay was written by one of the hottest writers in Hollywood at the time, John Michael Hayes, who was currently in the middle of a four-picture run with Alfred Hitchcock that included the classic Rear Window (1954) and the black comedy The Trouble With Harry (1955). But the real star of It's a Dog's Life is Wildfire, the prodigious, Oedipally conflicted dog played by Cadence Glacier, C.D.X. Cadence Glacier was a show champion whose trainers had also provided the dogs for Disney's The Shaggy Dog (1959) and the television version of The Thin Man. His work in It's a Dog's Life brought him the American Humane Association's Patsy Award for outstanding performance by an animal in a motion picture. Of course, like most award winners, Cadence Glacier didn't do it alone. Along with his trainers, he had a little help from actor Vic Morrow, who received no credit for narrating the film as the voice of Wildfire. Morrow's gentle, whimsical narration is one of the film's highlights, and a far cry from his usual casting at the time. He made It's a Dog's Life right after his first MGM film, in which he played the toughest delinquent in The Blackboard Jungle (1955). That debut typed him so badly that he eventually left MGM rather than play any more psychos or gangsters. He then signed to star in the popular television series Combat in 1962. After that series ended its five-year run, Morrow was typed again, and spent the next two decades rebuilding his career, this time as a character actor and occasional director ( Man Called Sledge, 1970. His comeback was cut short by a fatal accident on the set of The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Producer: Henry Berman Director: Herman Hoffman Screenplay: John Michael Hayes Based on a story by Richard Harding Davis Cinematography: Paul C. Vogel Music: Elmer Bernstein Cast: Jeff Richards (Patch McGill), Jarma Lewis (Mabel Maycroft), Edmund Gwenn (Jeremiah Nolan), Dean Jagger (Mr. Wyndham), Sally Fraser (Dorothy Wyndham), Richard Anderson (George Oakley), Vic Morrow (uncredited; voice of Wildfire). C-87m. Letterboxed. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working titles of this film were Wildfire and The Bar Sinister, the title under which it was reviewed in Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety. The opening credits are preceded by the following quotation, which appears over an illustration of a bull terrier: "I agree with Agassiz that dogs possess something very like a conscience.-Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man." The end credits run over footage of each actor. The film is narrated throughout by actor Vic Morrow, who provided the voice of "Wildfire," the dog. At one point, during an offscreen dog fighting sequence, Wildfire makes comments endorsing "the fine work" done by the American Humane Association and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
       According to January and February 1955 Daily Variety news items, Herman Hoffman was originally assigned to produce the film. It's a Dog's Life marked Hoffman's debut as a feature director after four years as production assistant to M-G-M studio head Dore Schary. Hollywood Reporter production charts include English actor Roger Moore in the cast, but he was not in the film. A March 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Marilyn Malloy and Nancy Duke to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.