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 success, grossing $45 million on a budget of $500,000. The film also received an Academy Award nomination for the Best Original Song for the theme song "I Feel Love," written by Euel Box and performed by country singer Charlie Rich. 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. Despite the challenges, Variety reported that Benji ranked #3 among the top Box Office films of 1974.
Benji is a lovable stray dog living in a small Texas town where he befriends many of the locals: each calls him by a different name. The people he likes best is a local family, the Chapmans: local physician Dr. Chapman (Peter Breck), a widowed father of two school-age children, Paul and Cindy (Allen Fiuzat and Cynthia Smith, respectively); and their housekeeper Mary (Patsy Garrett). Benji visits the Chapman residence daily: Mary and the kids keep him well fed. They must keep this activity concealed from Dr. Chapman, who is wary of feeding stray animals (due to the possibility of germs) and doesn't want a stray dog hanging around.
One day Benji befriends another stray dog — a Maltese that Mary names Tiffany. Eventually, Dr. Chapman finds out that Mary and the kids had been feeding stray dogs. Despite the kids' (especially Cindy's) tearful pleas, Dr. Chapman refuses to let them keep the dogs.
Benji escorts Tiffany to his hideout — an old, abandoned house believed to be haunted. Three criminals and an accomplice named Linda (Deborah Walley) later break in and bring a kidnapped Paul and Cindy into the house. Benji rushes to "tell" Dr. Chapman and Mary of the kids' whereabouts but is shooed out by Mary, naturally not understanding the message Benji is trying to convey. Determined, Benji grabs the ransom note that Dr. Chapman had been showing to the police — but it gets taken from him, leaving him at a loss at what to do.
Benji follows two policemen to the station but gets locked in. He seems doomed until he accidentally turns on a drive-through intercom with his paw, getting the attention of a janitor who lets him out. Benji returns to the old house, spots a draft of the ransom note, and an idea strikes him. He grabs the crumpled note and tries to flee but is grabbed by one of the kidnappers. Tiffany rushes out and bites the kidnapper on the shin, but gets a vicious kick in return that severely injures her.
Benji races back to the Chapmans. Linda, who Benji knows has another copy of the ransom note in her purse, beats him there. As Dr. Chapman makes small talk with Linda (who seems to be friends with the Chapmans), Benji notices the purse which Linda dangles close to the floor. He attempts to grab it, but Mary starts to take him outside. Benji bites her, freeing himself, and snatches the purse, spilling its contents. They find the ransom note. Dr. Chapman confronts Linda and she bursts into tears, knowing she's about to be defeated.
The police then follow Benji on foot to the kidnappers, who are arrested as they leave the house with Paul and Cindy in tow. Because of the dogs' heroics, Dr. Chapman decides to let Benji and Tiffany stay at their house for as long as they want — to the joy of Paul and Cindy.
- Higgins as Benji
- Patsy Garrett as Mary
- Cynthia Smith as Cindy Chapman
- Allen Fiuzat as Paul Chapman
- Peter Breck as Dr. Chapman
- Christopher Connelly as Henry
- Tom Lester as Riley
- Mark Slade as Mitch
- Deborah Walley as Linda
- Herb Vigran as Lt. Samuels
- Frances Bavier as Lady with Cat
- Edgar Buchanan as Bill
- Terry Carter as Officer Tuttle
- Larry Swartz as Floyd
The outdoor scenes were filmed primarily in McKinney, Texas; and the house located at 1104 South Tennessee served as the "haunted house" where the Chapman kids were held hostage, as well as serving as production headquarters during the filming. The house has since been renovated into a bed and breakfast.
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.
Produced on a budget of $500,000, 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% approval rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- "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.
- "Benji (1974)". The Numbers. Retrieved August 5, 2015.
- "Box Office Information for Benji". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
- "Benji, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-13.