When is a dog movie strictly for the dogs? When it’s Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, that’s when!
Unleashed upon an unsuspecting public in-between the two movies that actually would save Hollywood ‒ Jaws and Star Wars ‒ this 1976 stinker probably started off with better intentions. Intended to spoof the enormous and, by today’s standards, inexplicably bizarre popularity of canine motion-picture performer Rin Tin Tin during Tinseltown’s Silent Era, this equally strange byproduct of the movie-making machine ‒ manufactured during a time when animal movies had made their anomalous return to screens ‒ was, incredibly, made by the same man who directed such Charles Bronson classics as Death Wish, The Mechanic, and Chato’s Land, Mr. Michael Winner himself.
Set in the 1920s, Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood tells the extremely dumb story of a wormy, would-be filmmaker (played by a slightly uncomfortable Bruce Dern) who can’t seem to sell his farfetched ideas about a giant shark terrorizing a coastal New England town or a little girl who gets possessed by demons to the bullheaded head of a failing film studio, as played by Art Carney. Meanwhile, an extremely intelligent German Shepherd, who has recently escaped being gassed along with several other pups at the pound, makes the acquaintance of struggling wannabe actress Madeline Kahn, who is, in all honesty, the only real reason to see this movie.
When the four-legged star saves Ms. Kahn from horny stagehand Aldo Ray (one of several dozen once-popular actors whose alleged star power was supposed to help sell tickets), Mr. Carney takes interest in the animal. This leads to the shifty Mr. Dern falsely laying claim to the mutt, christening the creature “Won Ton Ton” during an awkward, stretched-out joke involving “a Chinaman.” But then, to be perfectly frank, all of the jokes in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood are awkward and stretched-out. This, in turn, opens the doggy door to stardom for the poor poochie, who becomes so vastly popular in the industry that he even wins an Oscar.
But hey, if Leonardo can win one, right?
Alas, as just about every single person who appears in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood could tell you, fame and fortune can be pulled away from you at any minute ‒ and when a wildly loose adaptation of Custer’s Last Stand (wherein Custer survives thanks to “White man’s best friend!” ‒ which is by and far the best joke in the entire film) flops big time at the box office, the pup is put out to pasture. Will Won Ton Ton manage to re-fetch the glamourous life once more? Or will he wind up drunk in an alley with wino John Carradine? And does anyone genuinely care? These burning questions and less await you in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood.
Based on the choppy editing, I’d bet a year’s worth of dog treats that Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood was initially a much longer motion picture. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to remove what I think may be a substantial amount of footage from the final cut. But even then, the remaining 92-minute feature is as easy to sit through as is your own best friend’s euthanization. Worse still, recurring jokes about death and sex grow cumbersome once Won Ton Ton tries to hang himself, to say nothing of a little naked girl showing off in the sun (whom Joan Blondell refers to as Norma Jeane); things which could have only received a PG rating in the ’70s.
Supporting actors include Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker, Ron Leibman (as a vain, gay, transvestite Valentino-esque heartthrob), Teri Garr, and an utterly shameless Billy Barty. Dorothy Lamour, Ethel Merman, Edgar Bergen, Yvonne De Carlo, Ricardo Montalban, Jackie Coogan, Broderick Crawford, Gloria DeHaven, Johnny Weissmuller, Stepin Fetchit, Fritz Feld (and his one schtick), the (two remaining) Ritz Brothers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Cyd Charisse, Huntz Hall and William Benedict (who, sadly, do not appear together), Peter Lawford, Milton Berle, Keye Luke, Walter Pidgeon, and cult hero Doodles Weaver are among the many faces that pop up.
Look, let’s put it this way: in a time when movies about dogs were being released on a weekly basis (see: Digby, the Biggest Dog; The Shaggy D.A.; The Biscuit Eater; several installments in the successful Benji series; The Magic of Lassie; and even horror and sci-fi movies like A Boy and His Dog; Dracula’s Dog; and the TV-movie Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell), it took five years for Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood to lift his leg off of the ground. And during that whole time, apparently no one involved in the writing process could come up with better material. That, or they added in way too much (which might explain the numerous edits).
Either way, there’s no disputing Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood is a total woofer. Nevertheless, every dog has to have his day, so despite all of my jestful animosity towards the film, it’s nice to see Olive Films debut this, the worst sequel to Mondo Cane by and far, to Blu-ray (a previous DVD release by Legend Films went out of print years ago). Presented in a surprisingly nice and crisp widescreen 1.78:1 transfer, Won Ton Ton is accompanied by a mono English soundtrack and (SDH) subtitles. But that’s all the bitch wrote here: there are no special features to be found here whatsoever. It’s a case of “nothing more, nothing less.”
But then, “nothing more, nothing less” is about as apt of a description as one could write for Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, other than “It’s a pity Won Ton Ton couldn’t save himself while he was at it,” of course. At least we have been spared the horrors that would no doubt ensue were this film to achieve cult movie status (as of this writing, at least; Dog help us otherwise!). Ultimately, this dutifully dumb ditty is best recommended for die hard cinemasochists and anyone who may proudly own Snow Buddies, Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, and Look Who’s Talking Now in their home video collection; in which case, have at it, you freaks!
I’ll stick to The Littlest Hobo instead.