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January Critters: The Ugly Dachshund (1966)

Updated: Jan 9

W.C. Fields may not have liked them, but who else doesn't like a good animal movie? This month we watch movies starring a variety of different animals.

RODNEY BOWCOCK: For our first foray into films featuring animals this month, we turn to the lightweight 1966 Walt Disney comedy The Ugly Dachshund starring Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleschette, and Charlie Ruggles. The film centers around an affluent couple, Mark and Fran Garrison, who own a quartet of troublemaking dachshunds and a Great Dane puppy that, through being mothered and raised by one of the dachshunds believes that he is one of the small dogs. Lots of slapstick antics involving the dogs takes place, culminating in a dog show where Brutus (the Great Dane) wins his class after being surrounded by other Danes that look and behave like him.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: The Ugly Dachshund steals one of the jokes from One Hundred and One Dalmatians where the dog owners at the dog show resemble their dogs.

I loved the "cold open" of the movie where the couple is rushing around befuddled because their dog is in labor and they get pulled over on their way to the vet. It was exciting and well-crafted and it sets up the style of comedy.

The movie is based on a book by British author G.B. Stern whose novel is told from the perspective of the Great Dane who thinks he is a dachshund and can't figure out why he doesn't fit in.

Suzanne Pleshette is appealing as the well-meaning and pristine dachshund "mom" who is clueless about the rough-and-tumble nature of men and their dogs. Her snobbery is apparent but not so potent as to make us hate her. Dean Jones is likeable in a non-descript way. He has good comic timing, such as during a slapstick fall on the couch in one of the early scenes.

RB: The film is full of great character actors that are lots of fun for folks like us to watch, including Charlie Ruggles as the veterinarian that convinces Mark to take the Great Dane puppy home after his mother rejects him due to lack of milk. Ruggles is no stranger to friends and fans of classic Hollywood, appearing in an astounding amount of films going back to 1915, including Picture Show/ Cinevent attendee favorites like Murders in the Zoo, Terror Abroad and Go West, Young Lady. He's a perennial favorite on our screen year after year, and for good reason. His role as the gentle, caring veterinarian is maybe different from his earlier roles, but he had settled into a late-career comfortableness here appearing in similar roles in several 1960s Disney films.

SG: Kelly Thordsen adeptly plays the inflexible police officer who is continually harassed by the family.

RB: Other highlights of the cast include Charles Lane (who needs no introduction), and Parley Baer who arguably had his best role as Chester Proudfoot on radio's Gunsmoke and attended the Cincinnati Old Time Radio Convention a few times. I was not privileged to spend any time with Parley, but he was beloved among those who attended those years. These were not the kind of autograph conventions that we see these days; Baer and his fellow guests would mill about the dealer's room all day meeting fans and often go to dinner with them. Years later, a Parley Baer award would be given annually to those who go to extra mile to preserve old time radio fandom. The stories that I heard often revolve around Parley's love of the hotel restaurant's apple pie. It was fun to see him here in a fairly sizeable role.

SG: I heard some of those stories too. I wish I had attended that show sooner. If only time machines were real.

One of the things I appreciated about this movie was the appropriate behavior of the dogs. When Jones walked out of the room and the dogs went right for the cake, I was convinced that this movie wasn't talking down to me and being cute for cute's sake. That isn't to say that the dogs aren't cute, or that there aren't moments of precociousness on the part of the dogs. If you aren't a dog lover, this isn't the movie for you. They're the stars of the show and the stories completely revolve around them. I love large dogs, so my sympathies were entirely with the Dane, though all of the dogs were fun to watch.

The house is a beautiful example of a mid-century home. The stone exterior, the wood-paneled interior with the low-backed couch, the built-in window seat, the large fireplace in the family room and the decorative glass in its proper place: the house is lovely, but not dog-proofed in the least. I cringed when I watched those pooches destroy it again and again.

This movie, like many of the live-action Disney movies of the 60s, is not available streaming on Disney+, just another reminder of why so many of us collect physical media.

The DVD has a nice interview with Japanese actor Mako who plays one of the caterers. He accidentally found acting after the war when he attended college on the G.I. Bill; he wanted to be an architect, but took some classes with the Pasadena Playhouse and was bitten by the acting bug. He hated playing overly stereotyped parts, but he enjoyed working on this film because he got to play comedy. He remembered director Norman Tokar as being easygoing and mild.

The movie was shown as a double feature with the animated feature Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.

RB: There were some clever promotional tactics used to promote the film. A radio station in Dallas held a contest where the winner would receive a registered 8-week-old dachshund puppy and a year's supply of dog food. I'd like to know more about how that worked out.

SG: Maynard E. Sensenbrenner, mayor of Columbus, Ohio in 1966, declared May 20-26 "Walt Disney Family Week" and said, "Walt Disney for many years has presented good, clean family-type entertainment as symbolized by The Ugly Dachshund. Loew’s Ohio contributes a beautiful and attractive showplace for the best in cinema entertainment.” Ohio Theatre manager Sam Shubouf posted the quote prominently in the lobby to advertise this film.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a theater manager held a contest for two tickets to see the movie for the owner of the dachshund with the most unusual name via local radio station WCMB. The winner was the owner of Heidi Hough who requested an additional ticket for the pooch herself.

RB: Reviews were generally tepid upon the general release, noting that the film essentially relied on one joke and that the fun runs out early. Still, it's hard to deny that there are scenes that are a good time, and director Tokar handles everything capably, although many scenes resemble the shooting of a TV series during this time period. Still, he was a reliable director and was used frequently by Disney as we had discussed in our review for The Apple Dumpling Gang.

SG: I would agree that the proceedings are predictable-- there is and obvious incident with a large cake at the party-- but there is so much charm infused by the dogs and the actors that they go down sweetly instead of grudgingly. Three stars.

RB: The critical reviews are accurate, but the cast is a lot of fun and it is always a good time to see dogs in movies being rambunctious and getting into antics. While this movie is not going to be considered great by anyone that didn't have frequent exposure to it as a kid, it's still a good time and is worthy of a solid three stars.

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1 Comment

I assume Charles "Land" is a typo and you meant Charles Lane, right?

Also, "Honey Tree" is a three-reel short, not a feature.

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