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My Dog, The Thief DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Robert Stevenson / Writers: William Raynor, Myles Wilder, Gordon Buford

Cast: Dwayne Hickman (Jack Crandall), Mary Ann Mobley (Kim Lawrence), Elsa Lanchester (Mrs. Formby), Joe Flynn (P.J. Applegate), Roger C. Carmel (McClure), Mickey Schaughnessy (Foley), John van Dreelen (Travell), Charles Lane (Mrs. Pfeiffer), Jim Begg (Baker)

Original Air Date: September 21 & 28, 1969 (aired in two parts)

Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono (English)
Subtitles: English (Enhanced for Hearing Impaired); Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 17, 2006
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Was $19.99)
White Keepcase

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Beginning in the fall of 1954, Walt Disney would take to television airwaves one night a week and share an hour's worth of magic from his studio. During this relative infancy of TV, Walt made much of the medium, keeping past productions alive via broadcast, raising awareness on current productions via tactful promotion, and
on occasion, introducing new adventures made just for this anthology program, all the while conveying the ideas behind Disneyland, the theme park from which this weekly series took its original name. Initially, a majority of the newly-created content was either not really newly-created (that is, it compiled old live action and animated shorts) or it took the form of an hour-long installment of an ongoing series, such as the remarkably popular Davy Crockett stories. But as time moved on and it became clear that Walt's anthology was a weekly television staple, more ambitious, never-before-seen two-hour live action films would air over a period of two weeks.

When Walt died in December 1966, the anthology series (then called "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color") suffered considerable plunges in ratings, but it would live on for a long time to come, enduring title, format, and schedule changes, but nonetheless remaining a weekend fixture, which it had been since its 7th season (1960-61). As was true of the types of live action films the Disney studio would release to theaters in the wake of its namesake's death, the made-for-TV movies would tinker little with the storytelling sensibilities that Walt had established in his productive years of working in the medium. Even though it was Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller whose name would appear as producer and even though Walt himself would not be able to charismatically introduce them, the original anthology creations post-Walt would not differ greatly from those made in Walt's lifetime. Accordingly, the result of the Walt-less Disney Company aspiring to his standards for original TV programming was that there was not a great deal of difference to be found in the production values between Disney's low-budget big screen fare and Disney's low-budget small screen fare; many of the latter variety headed to the big screen in European markets.

This is true of My Dog, The Thief, a small screen comedy movie which made its debut on the second and third Sundays of the anthology series' sixteenth season, in late September of 1969 on what was newly-retitled "The Wonderful World of Disney." It would reach overseas cinemas the following year and surely, audiences there would have been hard-pressed to note more modest origins when compared to other live action output bearing the Disney name. My Dog's director was Robert Stevenson, a veteran at the helm of some of Disney's greatest live action successes (among them, Old Yeller, Mary Poppins, and 1969's top-grosser The Love Bug). Its cast included such studio regulars as Joe Flynn and Elsa Lanchester. And its concept was not terribly sillier or differently executed than the types of animal comedies Disney had been making for about a decade, since moviegoers took to The Shaggy Dog more readily than more dramatic fare like Third Man on the Mountain.

As usual, Joe Flynn plays an authority figure. In this case, his character, KPAE station owner P.J. Applegate warns Jack Crandall (Dwayne Hickman) that his traffic reports need to be spiced up like a spicy meatball. Jack (Dwayne Hickman) panics at the site of an unwelcome co-pilot.

The human protagonist of this outing is the seemingly milquetoast Jack Crandall (who could have been played by Dean Jones, Roddy McDowall, or perhaps even on-the-cusp-of-manhood Kurt Russell, but is portrayed by Dwayne Hickman, best known as the titular teen of fondly-remembered sitcom "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"), a traffic reporter for Southern California radio station KPAE whose dull broadcasts leave listeners quickly reaching to find a different station. This is depicted in an amusing sequence early on, but Crandall's boss, station owner P.J. Applegate (Joe Flynn, in the type of role he consistently played for Disney) is seriously considering firing him if Jack can't somehow spice up his chopper reports.

Enter Barabbas, the enormous St. Bernard of the title who is introduced before anything else in the opening credits tune "That Dog, Barabbas" (penned by Terry Gilkyson, who earlier earned an Oscar nomination for "The Bare Necessities", his famous contribution to The Jungle Book). This opening montage establishes backstory for the chief canine character and, filmed without any cast member who shows up later on,
can kind of exist as a compelling short film/music video of its own. The gist of it is that Barabbas is a kleptomaniac; he has an impulse to steal things, from sandwiches to hole-bound golf balls. This personality trait explains the movie's title, the dog's name (taken from the Biblical thief set free instead of Christ), and the fact that he has been adopted and returned eight times. Running off on the dog catcher, Barabbas winds up in the airport where Jack takes off on his helicopter (always at the last minute) for his daily reports.

While Jack is reporting on highway congestion, Barabbas resurfaces inside the airborne work station. This curveball has Jack freaking out, but somehow, drivers who haven't already tuned out really take to the mishap and the play-by-play that evolves from it. Even without visuals, the idea of the calm reporter being unable to outmuscle the mischievous St. Bernard draws interest and many enthused phone calls to the station. Having saved his job, Jack reluctantly agrees to take on the dog as a pet and co-pilot, as KPAE has a genuine phenomenon on its hands.

Jack tries to sneak the dog past fussy landlord Mrs. Formby (Elsa Lanchester) and her new tenant Kim (Mary Ann Mobley). Bumbling bad guys were something of a requisite for Disney's live action films in the 1960s and '70s. Here, Roger C. Carmel and Mickey Schaughnessy fit the bill.

As if there weren't enough gags borne from this unlikely workplace scenario, the movie provides plenty more in its depiction of Jack and Barabbas outside of work. At home, the pair must deal with a landlord (Elsa Lanchester) who has an allergic cat and a strict no-dog policy. Bring on the big, suspicious cardboard box! It is also at his apartment that Jack meets his perky new neighbor Kim (Mary Ann Mobley), an obvious love interest though Barabbas's nature ensures that there will be a number of obstacles to overcome, as Jack stumbles to explain stolen items instead of revealing his pet.

What would a 1960s Disney comedy be without bumbling bad guys? A pair of villains -- McClure (Roger C. Carmel) and Foley (Mickey Shaughnessy, playing the same kind of intellectually-challenged crook he would in The Boatniks) -- provide elements of suspense and the bulk of the serious plot as they trail Jack and Barabbas, who they suspect have heisted their very expensive necklace through coincidental events. As is often the case for older live action Disney movies, the action climax feels overextended and the crooks do eventually wear out their welcome.

Still, if it never strays too far from the studio formulas, My Dog, The Thief plays its cards right and provides a surely entertaining experience. Though it relies heavily upon the iffy premise that traffic reports can be funny with a big dog in the reporter's chopper, such a wacky idea diverts enough in the moderation with which it is seen. The rest of the proceedings are uniformly enjoyable in the old-fashioned Disney tradition. From broad comedy like Barabbas's champagne hangover to subtle satire like Applegate's attempts to turn the traffic reports' newfound popularity into a major advertising deal with dog food maker Gro-Fast, the movie offers a lot to like beyond the expected big dog antics and enough to excuse the typically unhelpful policemen. There is even decent chemistry between the romantic leads.

While commercial fadeouts mark the movie as something intended for television, unlike some other anthology movies, there is not any noticeable division to indicate that it was tailored for a two-part airing. In fact, if you had seen the film before reading this review, you could very well mistake it for a theatrical release. It wouldn't be among Disney's very best, but it would be among the widely-pleasing majority.

Girl + boy + dog is not all that uncommon for a '60s Disney film. Oh no, it looks like Barabbas wants some bubbly!

Two random notes that don't really fit anywhere else: 1) While I could find no proof to confirm this, I'm fairly confident that the movie contains a young and uncredited appearance by recognizable character actor Larry Hankin as a bearded station worker
who oversees Jack's transmissions. 2) Dwayne Hickman circa late-'60s sure sounds like Dave Foley circa late-'90s. If you close your eyes when Jack talks and imagine Flik, you'll see what I mean. Just not when he does his clearly dubbed barking noises.


That My Dog, The Thief was filmed for television ensures that the 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation it receives is not compromised the way most of Disney's theatrical live action comedies' DVD treatments are. Unfortunately, that's one of the few areas where points can't be taken off. It is abundantly clear that an old video master has been used; an old Walt Disney Home Video logo appears at the beginning to illustrate this much. (At least the anthology end credits are restored.) Overall, the picture quality doesn't fare as bad as it could, but it is a far cry from great or even uniformly acceptable.

Colors appear to be a little unnatural, coming across as either pale, yellow, or orangeish depending on the scene. The transfer is always lacking the sharpness and clarity of a well-restored big screen feature. Moiré effects are abound, especially stemming from checkered sports coats. A few shots of stock footage and matte composites stand out ("True Life Adventures" footage is employed a couple of times when needed, as well). These are plagued by scratches, as are some less explicable moments, such as the 25-minute mark when speckle, hiss, and pop (not to be confused with the Rice Krispies guys) take over the screen. There is also an unfortunate video jitter at 54 minutes into the movie. These are the most noticeable detractions, but the disc contains several easily noticeable visual flaws that should not have passed through the mastering process unnoticed and untended to as they appear to be.

Audio is provided as two-channel Dolby Digital Mono. The biggest offense in this regard is that an acute amount of hiss is consistently present on the soundtrack. You will get used to it sure enough, but it only supports the overall feeling that you're watching a well-watched VHS cassette. I'm not sure if the original elements have been poorly preserved to the point where this troubled video master was the best route to take. Either way, more drastic remastering efforts are certainly in order and one hopes that when the studio finally gets around to releasing more made-for-TV movies, they look and sound better than this.

The dog is the only one keeping his eyes on the road! Foley (Mickey Shaugnessy) and McClure (Roger C. Carmel) think the dog has their necklace and is in the cardboard box.


It's not in the slightest bit surprising that there are no bonus features to be found on this disc. Nor is it a shock to discover sneak peeks which play automatically at the beginning of the disc, promoting Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition, Tim Allen's The Shaggy Dog (a trailer/featurette hybrid), "Classic Family" (live action Disney titles that have been treated better than this), and the first wave of Timeless Tales. The Sneak Peeks menu holds additional promos for Bambi II, Chicken Little, and The Little Mermaid: "Special" Edition.

The menus appear to be the result of a primitive student exercise in computer graphics. A doo-laced '60s-sounding soundtrack excerpt accompanies the basic (and oddly 16x9-enhanced) Main Menu imagery, while a different instrumental tune (with soft but still audible dog noises) accompanies the Scene Selections and Set Up screens. None of them are animated or overly inspired (the cursor is a paw print), but it's more than some studios might do for a little-seen 36-year-old TV movie.

Would a big St. Bernard really make helicopter traffic reports a lot more exciting? You be the judge. What necklace?!


General Disney fans and grownups with fond memories have been clamoring for a number of the studio's made-for-TV movies to come to DVD and allow them to revisit old favorites. As far as I know, My Dog, The Thief isn't commonly among those wish lists,
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but it has become only the fourth pre-1990 Disney telemovie to make it to DVD in the nine years of the format's existence, surprisingly before oft-cited works like the Moochie movies, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, Child of Glass, Mr. Boogedy, Polly, and so on.

My Dog's disc debut offers both good and bad news for those other television productions. The good: its release paves the way for more to come, especially those that enjoyed a studio-issued VHS. The bad: it has been given a lackluster presentation, unsurprisingly free of bonus features but also with subpar picture and sound. The one thing that redeems the DVD does so considerably. It is the movie itself, which is very much in the mold of other live action Disney movies of the '60s and '70s and contains enough charm and humor to rival many of its big screen kin. One needn't be a fan of St. Bernards or kleptomania to enjoy this production, merely a fan of live action Disney movies and their typical formulas. My Dog, The Thief offers a fresh enough story, good-natured efforts from all involved, and apt variables to ensure enough entertainment for repeat viewings, whether or not you are old enough to recall its anthology debut. One only wishes the DVD treatment was as satisfying as the feature.

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Related Reviews:
Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates (1962) • The Love Bug (1969) • That Darn Cat! (1965) • Mary Poppins (1964)
The Barefoot Executive (1971) • The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) • Rascal (1969) • The Million Dollar Duck (1971)
The Ugly Dachshund (1966) • No Deposit, No Return (1976) • The Boatniks (1970) • 101 Dalmatians (1996)
TV Movies: The Parent Trap II (1986) • The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972) • The Christmas Star (1986)
New to DVD: The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) • Benji the Hunted (1987) • Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)
Dwayne Hickman: A Night at the Roxbury | Guest-Starring Mary Ann Mobley: Sabrina, the Teenage Witch: The Third Season

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Reviewed January 16, 2006.