The Shaggy D.A.
|The Shaggy D.A.|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Stevenson|
|Produced by||Bill Anderson|
|Written by||Don Tait|
|Based on||The Hound of Florence by Felix Salten|
Paul J. Smith|
|Cinematography||Frank V. Phillips|
Norman R. Palmer
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
The Shaggy D.A. is a 1976 American comedy film and a sequel to The Shaggy Dog (1959) produced by Walt Disney Productions. It was directed by Robert Stevenson and written by Don Tait, based on the original film and inspired by the long out-of-print Felix Salten novel, The Hound of Florence.
Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) is now a successful attorney who is married to Betty (Suzanne Pleshette), and they have a son named Brian (Shane Sinutko). Returning to the town of Medfield from a vacation, the family discovers that they have been robbed of almost all their possessions, and Wilby blames the local district attorney John Slade (Keenan Wynn), who is reputed to have connections with organized crime, particularly with warehouse owner Edward "Fast Eddie" Roshak (Vic Tayback). After being robbed a second time later that night (along with their Navy admiral neighbor, Gordon C. Brenner), Wilby vows to run for district attorney to make his town safe again.
Meanwhile, the two thugs who had robbed the Daniels', Freddie (Richard Bakalyan) and Dip (Warren Berlinger), observe the Borgia ring at the local museum and assume it might fetch a large sum, so they steal it. The ugly ring with a scarab on it can only be pawned off to local bumbling ice cream salesman, Tim, who is the owner of a large Old English Sheepdog named Elwood. Tim figures he will give the ring to his girlfriend Katrinka (Jo Anne Worley), a local roller derby star and pastry assistant.
While dressing himself in preparation for a live television broadcast to announce his candidacy, Wilby hears a report of the Borgia ring being stolen. He freezes in terror, then reveals his former shape-shifting secret to his wife, who is certain his story cannot be true; he warns her that if the inscription on the ring ("In canis corpore transmuto") [I transmute into the body of a dog] is spoken aloud he will turn into a shaggy dog. Soon afterward, Wilby is moments before his live television debut as Tim discovers the inscription on the ring and reads it aloud, causing Elwood to disappear - only to reappear moments later as he takes over Wilby’s body. Moments before the cameras roll, Brian notices that shaggy hair is growing all over his father, who reacts in horror as he realizes he is turning into a dog. He rushes from the house and cameras in his dog form and briefly confounds Tim, who can’t understand why his dog Elwood suddenly can speak. The spell wears off, and Wilby is now in his human form again and determined to find the ring as he faces the prospect of being a candidate in the public eye who never knows when he might turn into a dog.
Soon, Wilby’s fears come true as Katrinka receives the ring and once again the inscription is read, just as Wilby is giving a public address at a ladies garden club (the Daisies). Betty warns him of his shaggy condition a split-second before his canine form would become apparent to all gathered and creates a near riot while trying to escape. Once again, Tim finds Wilby in Elwood’s form and is convinced that his talking dog could make millions; when Tim wanders off momentarily, Wilby returns to his human form, leaving a silent Elwood to confound Tim further. Meanwhile, Raymond, an agent (Dick Van Patten) of Wilby’s rival, John Slade, gets suspicious and wonders why Wilby keeps disappearing.
Desperate to find the ring, the hunt leads to Katrinka, who seems to have lost it in a vat of cherry pie filling intended for a John Slade fundraiser. Offering a reward to whoever finds the ring, Katrinka and her colleagues go into a mad dash to find it, eventually escalating into a large-scale pie fight. In the pandemonium, the ring once again finds itself in the hands of the local thugs who this time attempt to pass it off to an undercover police detective. Once again in the hands of the museum, the inscription is read aloud as a point of reference; in the middle of the police station, Wilby (who had arrived to confirm the ring had been recovered) finds himself turning into Elwood once again. This time, Slade’s agent puts two and two together when he overhears the museum’s curator explaining the ring’s reputed power and how his predecessor (from the first film) told him a story of a young man that turned into a sheepdog years ago.
Slade is informed of this weakness in his rival, is dubious at first, and then invites Wilby to his office to test out the theory. He advises Wilby to withdraw his campaign. Wilby refuses and tells Slade that when he is elected, he will have him investigated regarding his criminal connections. Slade then reveals he has his ring. With a reading of the inscription, Slade is thrilled to see Wilby Daniels turn into the shaggy dog right before his eyes and makes a call to the local pound. Wilby escapes hearing Slade repeat the inscription several times, which guarantees that the spell will not wear off, and he will be trapped in a dog’s form for some time to come. Slade ignores warnings that reciting the incantation too often could cause the spell to transfer to him and keeps reciting the incantation over and over.
Wilby eventually disguises himself as a female roller-derby competitor to elude Slade, who as district attorney has the entire police force and animal control at his disposal. Eventually, Wilby is caught and taken to the local dog pound where he is able to understand the other dogs, who band together to help him escape.
With the help of Brian and Tim (who still thinks his dog Elwood can speak until Wilby tells him the truth about what really happened), Wilby gets evidence that John Slade is connected to organized crime. Wilby and Tim trick Slade into showing up at Roshak's warehouse, and Wilby uses a tape recorder to collect information that confirms Slade's wrongdoings. With the help of his dog friends from the pound, he also manages to retrieve the ring from John Slade, who unfortunately has read the inscription aloud so many times that the curse has now passed onto him, causing him to transform into a bulldog. Finally, Wilby gets elected district attorney, Slade is supposedly jailed (although it is never actually revealed), and Tim gets engaged to Katrinka. Together, they adopt Wilby’s dog friends from the pound.
The Shaggy Dog had been at that point the most profitable film produced by Walt Disney Productions and heavily influenced the studio's live-action film production for the next two decades. Using a formula of placing supernatural and/or fantastical forces within everyday mid-twentieth century American life, the studio was able to create a long series of "gimmick comedies" (a term coined by Disney historian and film critic Leonard Maltin) with enough action to keep children entertained with a touch of light satire to engage their adult chaperones. Using television actors on their summer hiatus who were familiar to audiences but did not necessarily have enough clout to receive over-the-title billing (or a large fee) from another major studio was one way these comedies were produced inexpensively; they also tended to use the same sets from the Disney backlot repeatedly. This allowed Walt Disney Productions a low-risk scenario for production, any of these films could easily make back their investment just from moderate matinee attendance in neighborhood theatres, and they could also be packaged on the successful Disney anthology television series The Wonderful World of Disney (some of these films were expressly structured for this purpose).
Occasionally Walt Disney Productions would find one of these inexpensive comedies would become a runaway success and place at or near the top of the box office for their respective release year (The Absent-Minded Professor, The Love Bug). The initial release of The Shaggy Dog in 1959 grossed more than $9 million on a budget of less than $1 million – making it more profitable than Ben-Hur, released the same year. The Shaggy Dog also performed very strongly on a 1967 re-release.
Cast and crew
Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette were frequently paired in other Disney gimmick comedies, such as Blackbeard's Ghost and The Ugly Dachshund. Keenan Wynn had played villainous Alonzo Hawk in many other Disney comedies before taking on the role of John Slade.
This is the last of 19 films Robert Stevenson directed at Disney that spanned nearly 20 years. His first was Johnny Tremain in 1957, he also directed a number of episodes for the series Disneyland. This is also Stevenson's final film. The first film that he directed was "Happy Ever After", a 1932 German musical.
The story was set in fictional Medfield, a town that (along with its eponymous Medfield College) was the setting for five other Disney gimmick comedies, including The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber and the “Dexter Riley” trilogy (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him Now You Don’t, The Strongest Man in the World).
The mythology of the Borgia ring was changed from the first film, in which young Wilby read the inscription on the ring once and then was the victim of random transformations which could only be stopped if he performed a heroic deed. In this sequel, he simply turned into a dog whenever the ring’s inscription was read aloud, and the spell would generally last from five to ten minutes. In the television movie The Return of the Shaggy Dog (1987), which takes place between the events of the original film and this sequel, the mythology changes once again: now, once the inscription is read, Wilby is trapped in dog form until it is read again. The 2006 remake with Tim Allen eschewed the situation and characters of the three initial films (and also a 1994 television remake which returned the mythology of the original 1959 film) and opted instead for a science fiction device of a man being bitten by a viral dog that infected him with a serum that affected his DNA.
The film has been seen as a light satire of American politics in the post-Watergate era, with politicians being depicted as tied to crime, and not being what they appear to be.