Benji (1974 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joe Camp|
|Produced by||Joe Camp|
|Written by||Joe Camp|
|Music by||Euel Box|
|Edited by||Leon Seith|
|Distributed by||Mulberry Square Releasing|
|Box office||$45 million|
Benji is the first film in a series of five theatrical features about the golden mixed breed dog named Benji. It was written, produced, and directed by Joe Camp and filmed in and around Denton, Texas. Released in 1974, it was a critical and box office smash, grossing $45 million on a tight budget of $750,000. The film also received an Academy Award nomination for the Best Original Song for the theme song "I Feel Love," by Euel Box. The film was turned down for distribution by every studio in Hollywood and Camp had to form a distribution company to distribute the film worldwide, without the help of Hollywood. Yet Variety reported this was the #3 Box Office film of the year.
Benji is a lovable stray dog who lives in a small Texas town where he has befriended many local people, each of whom calls him by a different name, but the people he likes best are two school-age children (Paul and Cindy) and their housekeeper, Mary. Paul and Cindy's father, however, doesn't want a dog around the place. One day Benji befriends a stray dog (presumably a Maltese) that Mary calls Tiffany, and the kids beg their father to allow them to keep her and Benji, but he refuses. Benji escorts Tiffany to his hide-out, an apparently abandoned house. Two people later break in and bring a kidnapped Paul and Cindy into the house. Benji rushes to "tell" George and Mary of the kids' whereabouts but is shooed out. He then grabs the ransom note, but it gets taken from him and poor Benji is a loss at what to do next. He follows two policemen into the station and gets locked in and seems doomed until he accidentally turns on the drive-through intercom and the policeman lets him out. He goes back to the old house and spots a failed try at writing the ransom note and an idea strikes him. He grabs the crumpled note but is grabbed by one of the kidnappers and Tiffany rushes out and bites him and gets a vicious kick in return (she is not killed but apparently injured). Benji races back to Mary the kids' Dad, but Linda beats him there. The rest is for you to see. Camp never revealed the plot to the press but rather spoke of the essence of the movie: "It's a love story about a dog struggling against the odds to accomplish something that most people would consider to be impossible; and it's the first film ever in which a dog actually acted and expressed emotion on the screen. He was more or less the three-dimensional character in the film and the people were more or less the props. The dialog is in the eyes of the dog." Many film critics stated that Benji deserved a Best Actor Oscar for his acting.
The outdoor scenes were filmed primarily in McKinney, Texas and the house located at 1104 South Tennessee (now a bed and breakfast inn), Dowell House, served as the "haunted house" where the children were being held hostage, as well as serving as production headquarters during the filming.
The film and the ensuing franchise was created after Joe Camp expressed concern over the overabundance of family films released through the four wall distribution concept. He told Variety magazine in 1977: "It has become an industry-caused thing, but the G rated classification has to some degree become 'if it's G, it can't be for me'." Camp observed that four-wall companies had saturated the market for G-rated product; in response to the lowered-down quality of their films, he created Benji.
Benji has garnered both critical acclaim and box office success. Produced on a tight budget of only $750,000, it grossed $39.6 million in the United States, making it the ninth highest grossing film of 1974. The film grossed a total of $45 million in worldwide receipts. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, earning an 86% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
- Higgins - Benji
- Patsy Garrett - Mary
- Cynthia Smith - Cindy Chapman
- Allen Fiuzat - Paul Chapman
- Peter Breck - Dr. Chapman
- Christopher Connelly - Henry
- Tom Lester - Riley
- Mark Slade - Mitch
- Deborah Walley - Linda
- Herb Vigran - Lt. Samuels
- Frances Bavier - Lady with Cat
- Edgar Buchanan - Bill
- Terry Carter - Officer Tuttle
- Larry Swartz - Floyd
- "Benji". TCM.
- Holmlund, Chris; Wyatt, Justin, eds. (2005). "1970s distribution and marketing strategies". Contemporary American Independent Film: From the Margins to the Mainstream. Psychology Press. pp. 238–239. ISBN 0-415-25486-8. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
- "Box Office Information for Benji". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
- "Benji, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
- Benji at the Internet Movie Database
- Benji at the TCM Movie Database
- Benji at AllMovie