Comedy Oddities: The Shaggy D.A.

the shaggy da indexDisney’s 1959 live action shapeshifting comedy The Shaggy Dog is something of a delight, a charming, innocent affair which is full of absurdity and joyful daftness, with it slowly growing and growing in popularity over the years to the extent that it has now been remade twice (once in 1994 with Ed Begley Jnr, and once in 2006 with Tim Allen) and in 1976 a sequel was made that allowed us to see what had happened to Wilby Daniels (now played by Dean Jones) all these years later.

It seems that Wilby has been rather lucky as while he’s still cursed by an ancient ring which caused him to transform in to a dog in the first film, in the past decade and a half not one person has read the inscription on it out loud which causes him to turn in to a dog, and now he’s happily married with a child of his own. Wilby’s a seemingly decent enough guy but much less likeable than he was when Tommy Kirk played him, and he’s a lot less interesting too having ditched his fascination with science and rocket building completely.

However life is set to change in a big way as after he’s burgled twice in the course of a couple of days he decides that the current DA isn’t doing enough to stop crime, and so plans to run for the position himself. Unfortunately for Wilby this ties in with the ring being stolen and then sold to Tim (Tim Conway), an Ice Cream Van Man who rather conveniently owns a big shaggy dog, and just as Wilby is due to be giving an interview on tv about his campaign Conway reads the inscription, causing Wilby to turn in to a dog. Sadly it’s not captured on tv but it does cause chaos as the tv crew are annoyed that he’s not present to be interviewed, and Wilby runs off and bumps in to Tim, who doesn’t seem that surprised that his dog can now talk and only sees the possibility of making a sod load of money out of him.

For some unknown reason Wilby only stays in dog form for a few minutes initially, unlike in the first film where he was covered in fur for hours at a time, and the first half of the movie isn’t that fun as Jones continues his campaign and is rarely running about on all fours. There are a couple of highlights, like an opening song from the dog that’s all about being an honest politician, and it’s fairly amusing when Wilby recounts his teenage experiences as a canine as if it were a traumatic horror story, but most of the time it’s very average fare with way too many bits involving Tim Conway’s character trying to persuade people his dog can talk.

The final forty minutes sees it pick up a fair bit thankfully as Wilby spends most of it as a dog, and the storyline concerns the current DA who it turns out is corrupt and linked to a local gangster type. It allows for a fair amount of daftness to finally take place, like when Wilby’s wife Betty (Suzanne Pleshette) moans “Oh Wilby, No!” when he starts to transform again, as if he has any choice in the matter, and there’s some nicely bizarre moments where we meet a number of other talking dogs in a dog pound which suggests that all dogs can merrily chat away in English, not just those who were once human – that or it could be hinting that every single dog who has ever existed was a human at some point, though I’m doubtful that much thought was put in to it.

Also pretty damn funny is a scene where Wilby in dog form is singing in the van and another dog comes along and stares at him, and after Wilby says “What’s the matter, never seen another dog sing before?”, the other dog says “That’s singing?”, it’s a lovely bit of silliness that I wish the film contained more of. The action scenes do at least contain some, with the dog punching out a criminal at one point before using a rope to slide down from a second floor window, and there’s a couple of strong set pieces during the finale too, but it’s not enough to make me that enamoured with the film.

If they cut about twenty minutes from the first forty, and concentrated on it mainly being Wilby as a dog this could have been a contender for Cult Classics in the way the first one was. But the first half contains way too much filler, with a lot of scenes of Tim Conway messing about with the dog and flirting with some poor woman just not being funny at all, while Wilby’s home life and attempts to campaign to become the new DA are bland and the attempts at satire tend to be weak.

The film also lacks the innocent charm of the first, and though Jones is mostly okay as the lead it’s lacking the strong performances that the first film contained. If only it had lent in to the ridiculousness of the situation a little more, and contained extra scenes involving the all rather chatty dogs at the dog pound, then it would have been so much more entertaining, but it seems like the writers / director bottled it and decided to make a far too conventional flick in the end.

★★1/2.

Alex Finch.
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