A Dog's Best Friend
Cast & Crew
Edward L. Cahn
Orphaned when his widowed father is executed for murder, Pip Wheeler is sent to live with rancher Wes Thurman and his wife Millie. The young boy's traumatic past makes him so withdrawn and difficult that the Thurmans consider returning him to the orphanage. Unknown to his foster parents, Pip finds a stray, hungry German shepherd, Silver King, guarding a .38 revolver one day and nurses the animal back to health and sneaks food from the Thurman house to feed him. Hiding the dog in the hills, Pip gradually gains the animal's trust, resulting in a softening of the boy's demeanor, which surprises the Thurmans, who know nothing of the blossoming friendship. Meanwhile, the shepherd's owner, miser Otto Tillman, who was rumored to keep a large amount of cash in his house, has been found murdered and Silver King is missing. Evidence at the scene of the crime leads officials to believe that Silver King, a war dog trained by the Marines, wounded the assailant during the murder, thus prompting Sheriff Dan Murdock to call for the dog to be found and shot. Meanwhile, the murderer, Roy Janney, lies suffering from gangrene in a motel with his partner in the crime, Deputy Sheriff Bill Beamer. Unable to seek medical attention for fear that Janney might be identified because of the dog bites, Beamer promises that they can leave town with the money once he finds the dog and the revolver that the animal snatched during their scuffle. Meanwhile, Wes, discovering that a dog has killed one of his lambs, tracks down Silver King and finds Pip with the gun drawn, guarding him. After Pip insists he would rather run away than give up the dog, Wes, convinced that Pip must go back to the county authorities, reports the incident at the police station. Beamer, who is also at the station, learns of Silver King's whereabouts and assumes he can finally recover his gun and dispose of the animal, thus destroying all the incriminating evidence. Soon after, following a lead about a man found dying in a nearby motel, Murdock and Wes go to the motel and discover Janney and the stolen money. When Janney confesses to killing Otto and names Beamer as his accomplice, Murdock and Wes deduce that Beamer will be hunting down Pip to destroy the gun and kill him and Silver King. Meanwhile, Beamer finds Pip in the hills, gets the gun and attempts to shoot the boy, but the dog leaps into the battle and saves Pip. When Wes and Murdock arrive at the scene, Beamer shoots and wounds Murdock but is knocked unconscious by Wes in the ensuing fight. Witnessing Wes's love for him, Pip happily returns to the Thurman house, where both he and Silver King accept their new, permanent home.
Edward L. Cahn
Terry Ann Ross
Herbert S. Greene
Orville H. Hampton
Robert E. Kent
Michael J. Minth
A Dog's Best Friend
Williams, a professional swimmer-turned-actor, had limited success in films-mostly Westerns-and nominally more on the small screen with such series as the lead in The Adventures of Kit Carson (1951-5). He got hitched to Barbara Hale, better known as Della Street from the long-running Perry Mason (1957-66) series and countless TV movies, in 1946. Hale claimed, "It took me two years to talk him into marrying me!" One of their children became an actor as well: William Katt, a dead ringer for his dad, is best known for his roles as the doomed Tommy in the horror flick Carrie (1976) and the bumbling hero from the cult TV series, The Greatest American Hero (1981-3).
Marcia Henderson earned a Theatre World Award in 1950 for her role as Wendy in the Broadway revival of Peter Pan starring Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff as Hook. She retired from show business shortly after her marriage to fellow actor Bob Ivers in 1961. Mobley, who began his acting career at the tender age of 6, is fondly remembered as Packy from the Peter Graves series Fury (1955-60). Mobley was picked up by the Mouse to star in the "Gallegher" series of Wonderful World of Disney television specials, even returning to Disney films in the late 70s and early 80s in nostalgic bit parts.
The most standout cast member of A Dog's Best Friend, however, is undoubtedly the iconic character actor Harry Dean Stanton. Only two years into his now-prolific film career, Stanton would cultivate his distinctive hang-dog face and understated intensity in over 100 films to date, with highlights including Cool Hand Luke (1967), Alien (1979), and Paris, Texas (1984). In Paris, he played the lead-an anomaly for Stanton, who recalled of the experience, ""The whole film evolved on a very organic level. It almost had a documentary feel to it. It wasn't odd to be in the lead, I took the same approach as I would to any other part. I play myself as totally as I possibly can. My own Harry Dean Stanton act... I don't know whatever happened to Travis. I'd say...it's me. Still searching for liberation, or enlightenment, for lack of a better way to put it, and realizing that it might happen, it might not." Children of the 80s will forever associate him as the lovable loser father of Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink (1986). Although lacking formal validation of his talents-he was included in the SAG Award ensemble nomination for The Green Mile (1999) cast-he is revered by many in the industry, including film critic Roger Ebert. Out of admiration, Ebert famously invented the Stanton-Walsh rule, which states that, "no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad."
There was considerable talent behind the camera as well: from director Edward L. Cahn, to his cinematographer Kenneth Peach, and even the film scorers, composing team Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. All four men are best known for their contributions to sci-fi and horror flicks, genres that had a heyday in the 50s. Cahn was one of Hollywood's top editors before moving over to helming films starting with Law and Order (1932) starring Walter Huston. He later gained a reputation as an efficient movie-making machine, churning out several successful B-pictures yearly, such as The She-Creature (1956) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). The latter film was one of the inspirations for Alien, which coincidentally also starred Harry Dean Stanton.
Cahn and Peach collaborated on 6 films in total, including A Dog's Best Friend and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Peach spent most of the 1930s shooting many of the Hal Roach comedy shorts, but had moved largely into television by the 50s; coincidentally, he shot a few of the Fury episodes a few years before working with Mobley on Dog and later went on to film episodes of Sea Hunt (1958-61), a series that became a hit for Lloyd Bridges after Bill Williams turned it down! Small world.
Composers Sawtell and Shefter had a lengthy relationship with Irwin Allen, the king of the disaster pics, scoring The Big Circus (1959), The Lost World (1960), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea for the producer/director. Their distinctive sci-fi sensibilities were put to good use on Cahn's It! and their keen ability to aurally convey suspense was not wasted in A Dog's Best Friend.
Producer: Robert E. Kent
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Screenplay: Orville H. Hampton
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach
Music: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Bill Williams (Wes Thurman), Marcia Henderson (Millie Thurman), Roger Mobley (Pip Wheeler), Charles Cooper (Bill Beamer), Roy Engel (Sheriff Dan Murdock), Jimmy Baird (Jimmy Thurman).
by Eleanor Quin
A Dog's Best Friend
The working title for this film was Outcasts. As this film was not available for viewing, the credits and summary above were culled from reviews and information in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library. A May 13, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Natalie Masters and George Eldridge to the cast; however, their appearance in the film has not been confirmed. According to reviews and publicity materials for the film, location shooting took place in Calabasas, CA.