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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World

MGM distributed a children's film produced by Elstree Studios in England in 1973. It came to America in May of 1974. Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World was marginally a sci-fi film in many of the same ways others have been over the years. A little bit of sci-fi sets up the story, which continues with fairly conventional tropes. Jim Dale stars as the good-hearted, if bumbling scientist. Agela Douglas co-stars as his love interest and Billy's mother.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Jeff Eldon is well-meaning, if somewhat accident prone scientist at a N.A.T.O. lab in England. The lab is working on a special secret formula: Project X. The formula grows foods to enormous size, so astronauts can have limitless food. The next step is an antidote that will shrink them again, for easier packing. Meanwhile, Billy, the son of the lead Project X scientist Janine, gets a fluffy english sheepdog as a pet. But, Digby pees on grandpa's carpet, so must go. Billy brings Digby to Jeff. While that was going on, Jeff stole a few grams of the Project X powder so his roses might grow bigger. Janine gives the formula to Digby unawares. Some bumbling crooks hide in Jeff's apartment, but leave their stollen silver behind when they sneak out. When the crooks return, Digby has grown to the size of a horse and scares them off. Jeff, realizing he must hid Digby, puts him in a horse trailer to take to his Aunt Ida's house. The crooks return with a trailer, planing to sell big Digby to a circus. Through comic hijinx, the trailers are switched. Digby is sold to the circus. Both Billy and Jeff see the TV commercials for the giant dog act and come to the circus. Digby is put on display, but escapes in Kong-like manner. He runs off and bothers the countryside. The government decides that Digby is a monster that must be destroyed, so they deploy the bumbling army. Billy and Jeff catch up with Digby, now hiding in a gravel pit. Jeff goes back to the lab to get some of Janine's untried antidote. He returns and gives this to Digby.(Actually Billy does this while inside a giant dog's mouth prop.) The army finally has the gravel pit surrounded. Jeff is told to get Billy out of there because the bombers are coming. A Harrier jet drops several small fireball poof bombs and everyone is sad. Jeff says he'll buy Billy a new dog, but normal-sized Digby barks and runs through the smoke to Billy. Everyone is happy. That is, until a giant chimp named Clarissa (from an early scene) shows up to chase the bumbling Colonel Masters. "Oh no. Not again…" Roll credits and ballad. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It's supposed to be fun. It's a light-hearted kids' movie aimed at seven-year-olds. While most of the humor is slapstick on the Three Stoogest order (or lower) -- someone does slip on a banana peel -- there are some little gags that can still bring a smile to a weary adult's face. Then too, adult fans of the Golden Era of sci-fi can appreciate the Giant-Something premise which was much more common in the 50s. Digby is, in part, a parody-homage to that sub-genre.

Cultural Connections
Superlatives -- Child experts say that after children become aware of the wider world around them, they tend to become fascinated with superlatives. The fastest this, the grossest that, etc. So, the Digby movie certainly played into sound child psychology. Kids would not be interested in seeing a movie about a really big dog, or the fourth largest dog in the world. But the "Biggest", would intrigue them.

Notes
Based on the Book -- Cartoonist Ted Key (famous for the Hazel cartoons) also created several children's books. One of them was "The Biggest Dog in the World" in 1960.

50s Monster For Kids -- In general, Digby is the board-book version of the classic 50s giant-monster story. Something vaguely science makes something ordinary grow to tremendous size, which then makes it a monster which frightens the rest of the wee people. The basic premise mirrors that of The Beginning of the End ('57) which has a secret plant growth experiment accidentally applied to animals -- in that case, grasshoppers. Digby is the same big-thing idea, but in a totally harmless (and fluffy) form.

Better Big -- The techniques used to make the ordinary sheep dog appear big on screen were not new, by any means, but in Digby, they were reasonably well done. One facet the director got better than others had, was the a huge dog would appear to move more slowly, since it was supposed to be physically large. "Big things" at normal speed is what usually makes a low-budget Giant-Thing movie look cheap.

Kong Homage -- Something veteran movie watchers would appreciate, was the homage to King Kong. Giant Digby is put on display in chains. He's even named "King". The promoters themselves even remark that Digby would be like King Kong, but he'd be okay because they didn't have Fay Rea atop any buildings. As per Kong, Digby is spooked and breaks his chains. The audience flee and scream, all per the Kong-esque motif.

Strangelove II -- Another something more amusing to veteran movie watchers was Spike Milligan's portrayal of German scientist Dr. Harz. It is quite reminiscent of Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove -- though more overtly comic. Harz takes up the conventional role of befuddled-neighbor, long a staple of TV sitcoms, but adds little else to the plot.

Bottom line? Digby more fun for kids in the six-to-ten age range. Most of characterizations are shallow and stereotypic. This can become tedious to adults, but obviously new and fresh enough for kids. The sci-fi part exists only as a plot necessity, with little to make one muse. Some of the comedy skits are amusing, though not perhaps enough to merit a long search to find this film to watch.

1 comment:

Pual Salazar said...

this classic movie biggest dog in the world get the attraction if you have a pet dog and if don't you will like to have one. this classic movie have a good story line of mans best friend and amazing scenes also.