Pet Reprieve

Snuff, already, with the cinematic dispatching of dogs

Or, maybe not. All this is by way of observing what may be a small movement against the Puppysnuff Technique in current films--the Puppysave. It's always been rarer than the Puppysnuff, though the title hound did bounce back from being gruesomely shot in Martin Ritt's Sounder, as did Tom Berenger's bright little pal after taking an arrow in Last of the Dogmen. But in two recent blockbuster films, Independence Day and A Time to Kill, pooches on the verge of being turned into fricassee were pointedly allowed to escape. Both are crowd-pleasing moments, but also more than that--they're heralds of a reversal of fortune against evil forces. They signal a turning of the tide, in favor of the good guys.

Jackie Cooper titled his autobiography Please Don't Shoot My Dog. It's a grabber, suggestive of the pathos both of the sort of roles that Cooper played as a kid and, more disturbingly, of his off-screen life as a child star. But movies now seem to be replacing this sort of emotional bushwhacking with the elation of another film icon, Judy Garland, when the resourceful Toto slips free of the clutches of the Wicked Witch: "He got away! He got away!" "More than I can say for you, my pretty!" rages the Witch. Ah, but who cares, as long as Toto's safe?

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