Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rin-Tin-Tin in Clash of the Wolves (1925)


Sometimes, it seems as though I might be the only person who notices an obscure film, though I am sure that others found themselves unexpectedly enjoying a silent movie on TCM some time ago called Clash of the Wolves (1925) starring, (fanfare...drum roll...): Rin-tin-tin.

Long before Lassie got the star treatment, Rin-tin-tin, whose adventures were based on those of the real dog who was found as a pup in a bombed out kennel in September, 1918 during WWI in France. The dog (and his sister Nénette, who unfortunately died of distemper during a voyage to the U.S.) were adopted by an American soldier, Lee Duncan. who was also an orphan. The names Rin Tin Tin and Nénette were commonly applied to woolen dolls that French children gave to American soldiers for luck.  Eventually Rin Tin Tin, became a leading star (and alleged studio saviour) at Warner Brothers in the '20s and ended his all-too-brief canine life dying in Hollywood in 1932 with, as Robert Osborne explained, his head in the lap of his next door neighbor, Jean Harlow. No, it wasn't entirely what I'd call "a dog's life."

In this silent installment of the many pictures featuring our pal Rinty, he plays Lobo, a kind of half dog-half wolf who lives with his mate and their pups in the desert high country in the American West. During the exciting first moments of the film we watch Rin-tin-tin make his intrepid way through a raging forest fire, stopping long enough to save his little family, though I must report that when Our Hero carried his puppies from the blaze to safety, the objects in his mouth were suspiciously stiff, kind of like a small stuffed dog from a toy shop. See, even back then Hollywood wasn't above going for special effects and falling a wee bit short of the mark. Nanette, the dog's ever-lovin' mate, helps to carry the kids to safety but doesn't really look all that concerned moments later when Lobo comes back from a night on the town with a large cactus thorn stuck in his paw. It seems that Our Hero fell off a cliff onto a cactus after raiding local cattle for food and being chased by some rather p.o.ed ranchers.  Nanette tries to help a bit, but eventually Rinty wanders away from his callous pack of wolves and--here's where the story gets boring...that's when the humans are introduced in earnest.
Above: Rin Tin Tin saving his thirsty friend (Charles Farrell) from death in the desert.

Charles Farrell (nice guy actor, much later to suffer amiably as My Little Margie's father), plays a not-overly-bright prospector with eyes for the local rancher's daughter (June Marlowe). Farrell finds Lobo, pulls the cactus needle from Lobo's paw, makes him some really embarassing leather booties to protect his tender paws, and even makes the dog wear a beard to hide the wolf dog's notorious identity! To his credit, Rin Tin Tin looked quite embarassed by these indignities and eventually sheds these trappings of sissified civilization in the nick of time to wreak revenge on the main bad guy by taking a flying leap off the second floor of a saloon, landing on top of the varmint and pulling the sidewinder off his horse and into the dust while gnawing on him like a rawhide chewstick!

It really was good, brief fun, and if you've recorded it, I'd recommend fastforwarding through the human intervals and focusing on the noble hound. The piano score, which was compiled by music curator Martin Marks is delightful and quite a humorous commentary on the action. The print that TCM ran of this film was clear and quite good. Too bad there were human beings recorded on the film stock though, especially alleged slapstick actor Heinie Conklin (no relation to Chester Conklin), who made me long for the "subtle" comic relief characterizations of Andy Devine.

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