This is one of those rarely seen, much talked about, "legendary" films that has never been released on home video, and has been rarely screened. Until now, of course.
This film was made for Paramount Studios in 1984, but they never gave it a theatrical release. The plot, about a stray dog taken in by Kristy MacNichol that is a "white dog", a dog trained to kill and maim black people, was considered too hot for them, and the film ended up being a legendary, unseen work. It ended up being the final film of the great Sam Fuller (who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Curtis Hanson, the director of L.A. Confidential). Is the film great, or is it a disappointment? Well...
The film is mixed. When it works, it's very, very good, and when it doesn't, it's slightly embarrassing (which may have been another reason why Paramount didn't release it in the States). It's never cringe inducing or creaky, but there are notable flaws here. There is bad dialogue (some of which sounds dubbed in, and it's bad dubbing), overacting, some bad camera moves, sledgehammer music cues (especially during an early attack scene), and boring, arbitary secondary characters (Kristy MacNichol's boyfriend and a policeman, for example). The first third of the film is a bit dull. But when Paul Winfield enters the film (he's the trainer that attempts to cure the white dog of its racism), the film is much better. Winfield is great here, playing an entirely believable, passionate person who really wants to cure the dog of its hatred of black people. There are some powerful moments, like when Kristy goes to the pound to look for her dog. We see in long shot a dog placed in a chamber that puts him to sleep. We don't see the dog pass away (Fuller isn't exploitative), but he shows a close up of the chamber, which is powerful and sad. After that, Kristy becomes determined to cure her dog.
Fuller comes up with some excellent camera work (especially in the cage where the animal is retrained), great performances by the dog (there were five dogs portraying the white dog in the film), some funny humour directed at R2D2 (yes, the Star Wars robot), and a very powerful and memorable ending. Overall, it's a mixed bag, but its positives outweight its negatives. If you like Fuller, you should check this out. It's not perfect, but it's a memorable film. It was silly of Paramount not to release the film, but Criterion has done us all a favour. Not a perfect film, but still a good one.