I was reading one of my favorite movie blogs, Classic Film & TV Cafe, three weeks ago and found out it was going to be hosting a blogathon about classic films that starred a dog or dogs. This was to be called The Dogathon, and it asked for volunteer bloggers to write about a dog movie. I immediately started to wrack my brain about which film would I choose to write about? Old Yeller and Lassie Come Home immediately came to my mind, as did Asta, the lovable pet Airdale of Nick and Nora Charles, characters of The Thin Man movies. No, I thought, I bet those topics have already been snapped up. It was then that I remembered an obscure but still delightful Disney movie that I had never seen or heard of before until one day, 14 years ago, when I rented it from our local video store for my kids to see. Disney’s The Ugly Dachshund was that film. I remembered it was about not one, but two dog breeds, that it starred Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, and that my kids had liked it. That clinched it for me, and I submitted my film choice, which was accepted for the Dogathon.
This film was based on a book, The Ugly Dachshund, written in 1938 by Gladys Bronwyn Stern. The plot is pretty straightforward. Marc Garrison (Jones) is an artist with a lovely home and art studio. His wife, Fran,(Pleshette) is the happy homemaker, who is a bit obsessed about her prize winning Dachshund, Danke, who is about to have her first litter. At Dr. Pruitt’s office( the veterinarian played by the always delightful Charlie Ruggles), Danke successfully gives birth to 3 female puppies and with that Mark and Fran return home. A couple days go by and it’s time to bring the puppies and their mama home. Mark volunteers for the task and while waiting for Dr. Pruitt to get the Dachshunds ready for their ride home, Mark notices a Great Dane who has recently given birth. Dr. Pruitt can’t help but notice Mark’s admiration for the Great Dane, what a fine, noble dog it seems to be. Dr. Pruitt also has an ulterior motive to play up on Mark’s liking for this breed. The Great Dane mama had a large litter, but for some reason, doesn’t have enough milk for all of her pups. Danke, the new mama Dachshund, has too much milk. Would Mark be willing to take home one of the Great Dane pups and let Danke be a wet nurse for it? Just until the pup is weaned? Mark can’t resist a puppy being turned out by it’s mama, and after all, the Great Dane puppy is a male. Mark allows he is a bit tired of being surrounded by females at the house, and he agrees that Danke can be a wet nurse for the Great Dane puppy, whom he names Brutus. When Mark returns home with Danke and now 4 puppies, he at first lets Fran assume that Danke had a fourth pup, and doesn’t say a word as she makes comments from time to time about that fourth puppy’s size, how he doesn’t seem to fit the Dachshund mold. As time goes by, and the weaning is complete for all the pups, Fran has figured out that the fourth pup was not Danke’s but from another breed entirely. Mark reveals to Fran the truth of the matter, and Fran agrees that Mark’s decision to let Danke wet nurse the mother-less Brutus was the right decision. Fran notices that Mark has grown very attached to the dog, and she surprises Mark by giving him Brutus as a birthday present, when previously she had vowed that once weaned, back to Dr. Pruitt the pup would go.
For quite a bit of the movie, we get to see the three Dachshund pups ( who Fran has named Heidi, Chloe, and Wilhemina), tear up the house, the art studio, ruin a backyard party, and everytime, they manage to slip away and poor Brutus is left at the scene and getting the blame. Fran has had it with the Great Dane after the backyard party is turned into a disaster and the next day tells Mark that Brutus must go. One of the Dachshunds, Chloe, who Fran is grooming and training for an upcoming dog show, is sniffing around a garbage can the day after the party, and manages to crawl into a box containing a trashed cake. Brutus sees her enter the box, but the garbage man, who has just arrived to gather up the week’s trash, doesn’t know Chloe is in the box, and he throws it into the device on his truck that dumps all of the garbage into the hold of the large truck. Brutus at this point is barking like crazy, growling at the garbage man, preventing him from getting into his truck. The garbage man calls out for the Garrison’s to come and help him, and they do. Over Brutus’s din, Fran hears a small yelp, and she immediately thinks it might be Chloe, who she had been searching for prior to the garbage man’s arrival. Mark climbs up onto the truck, goes into the hold, and finds Chloe. As he hands her over to Fran, she has a change of heart about Brutus, and decides to fix him eggs for saving her Chloe.
The last part of the movie is about the dog show. Fran is busy training Chloe for the show, and she is still nagging Mark how Brutus acts like he is a little Dachshund, wanting to be a lap dog and crawling around on his belly like a Dachshund with it’s very short legs appears to do. In a cute scene, Mark decides to get out his book on dog breeds, to show Brutus what a Great Dane looks like. Brutus studies the picture and immediately strikes the proper pose. Dr. Pruitt happens to stop by to check on Chloe, who has developed a mild skin rash, and he convinces Mark to enter Brutus in the dog show, as a way to train Brutus, and help the dog realize he is a Great Dane. There is a funny training montage with Dr. Pruitt and Mark, and then the dog show day arrives. I won’t give away who does or doesn’t win, but I will share one more funny scene. When Brutus is in the ring with the other male Great Danes, he sees a lady holding her Dachshund and he begins to creep around low to the ground like a Dachshund. Dr. Pruitt and Mark begin to despair, when suddenly, a female Great Dane appears with her owner. As soon as Brutus sees the female Great Dane, he snaps to attention. Later on, Dr. Pruitt has the cutest line about that moment, when he tells Mark,” …takes a female to make a male want to show off!” After the dog show, happiness reigns supreme in the Garrison’s household, with promises to just be good dog owners, no more dog shows, and Fran adds, they might be busy with other things very soon, hinting that perhaps the pitter patter of little feet is her next project to embark on. The rest of the cast includes Kelly Thordsen as Officer Carmody, Parley Baer as Mel Chadwick, a Dachshund expert, Robert Kino, as Mr. Toyama, the caterer, Mako, as a caterer’s assistant, and Charles Lane, as a dog show judge.
The Ugly Dachshund was directed by Norman Tokar. He had been an actor in the 1940s but then turned his career to directing, working with television shows. He directed many episodes of Leave it to Beaver, which caught Walt Disney’s eye, for here was a director used to working with children. Disney hired him to direct the movie, Big Red, which was based upon the book of the same title, a story about a boy and his Irish Setter. The success of this collaboration led to Tokar directing many Disney movies, and in 1966, he directed The Ugly Dachshund. To handle the dogs in this movie, and all of the numerous scenes of their antics, Disney hired William Koehler. Koehler was one of the names to turn to in Hollywood where dogs featured prominently in a movie. Koehler had previously trained military dogs for the Army during WWII, and then after the war, took his skills to the movie studios. He also authored 6 different books on dog training, and worked with many animals for the Disney studios.
Researching for this blog, I also enjoyed reading about Great Danes and Dachshunds. Two extremes in size to be sure, and also in temperament. Great Danes are truly gentle giants. Bred to be working dogs, used primarily for guarding wealthy landowners’ properties. These dogs are good with all people of all ages, especially the family that owns them. Not prone to barking too much, only to alert the family if strangers are around. The Great Dane’s size makes it excellent for warding off strangers in anyone’s neighborhood. Due to the breed’s large size, they do need room to stretch out in and a yard to cavort in. Sadly, I also discovered that due to their large size, Great Danes have also earned the nickname of Heartbreak Hound, as they have a short lifespan, 8 years on average, due to the health problems that go hand in hand with such a large breed. Dachshunds are a much smaller dog, long- bodied with very short legs. The breed was created for badger hunting, and Dachshunds do have large paws which make it easier to dig into those badger holes to get at that critter! Dachshunds are shy around strangers, and may even be stand offish, but are very loyal to their owners. A stubborn breed, I imagine Mr. Koehler had his hands full trying to train those 4 Dachshunds in the movie! Author E.B. White, who owned a Dachshund named Fred, wrote, “I would rather train a striped zebra to balance an Indian club on his nose than induce a dachshund to heed my slightest command.”
If you are wanting to enjoy a fun movie, one the entire family can view without anyone becoming embarrassed, and especially for all out there who love movies about dogs, then find The Ugly Dachshund pronto! Be sure to also check out the rest of the films being reviewed in Classic Film and TV Cafe’s Dogathon. Click here for the full schedule.