|Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Winner|
|Produced by||David V. Picker|
|Written by||Arnold Schulman|
|Music by||Neal Hefti|
|Cinematography||Richard H. Kline|
|Edited by||Bernard Gribble|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$1.2 million|
Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood is a 1976 American comedy film directed by Michael Winner and starring Bruce Dern, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr and Art Carney. Spoofing the craze surrounding Rin Tin Tin, the film is notable for the large number of cameo appearances by actors and actresses from Hollywood's golden age many of whom had been employees of Paramount Pictures, the film's distributor.
Brief Cameo appearances
The film was originally called A Bark is Born and was based on the career of Rin Tin Tin. The story was written by Cy Howard in 1971. He hired Arnold Schulmann to write the script. It was developed by David Picker at Warner Bros who requested the title be changed so as to not clash with their upcoming version of A Star is Born. Picked changed it to Won Ton Ton the Dog that Saved Warner Bros.
Warners decided not to make the movie. Picker took the script with him when he moved to Paramount, causing the title to be changed. The owners of Rin Tin Tin sued the producers, causing Picker to insist his dog was completely fictional.
Lily Tomlin was offered the female lead but wanted her partner Jane Wagner to rewrite the script. Director Michael Winner said Tomlin "felt we mustn't go for the laugh. Well in a comedy laughs don't hurt." Tomlin left the project. Picker says Bette Midler wanted to make the film "but we couldn't come to an arrangement." Eventually Madeleine Kahn was cast.
Bruce Dern said he accepted the lead "because I've never been in a hit. This is a very funny movie."
Arnold Schulman, credited as a writer and producer, later said:
Not only did David Picker, the producer, have every word of the script rewritten, but he hired Michael Winner, the director of all the Charles Bronson Death Wish pictures, to "realize" the film, as the post-- Cahiers du Cinéma directors like to put it. It was written by me as a satire, written by God-knows-who as a slapstick farce, and directed with all the charm and wit of a chain-saw massacre. I had nothing to do with the final picture, and on that one, I was not only listed as cowriter but also as executive producer, and I couldn't get my name off! (Laughs. )
Richard Eder of The New York Times declared, "What saves the movie, a jumble of good jokes and bad, sloppiness, chaos and apparently any old thing that came to hand, is Madeline Kahn ... What she has -- as W. C. Fields and Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin had -- is a kind of unwavering purpose at right angles to reality, a concentration that she bears, Magoolike, through all kinds of unreasonable events." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety reported that "this project might have worked to a degree of whimsy. But the alchemy in the direction has turned potential cotton candy into reinforced concrete; Winner's 'Death Wish' is funnier in comparison."Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Sixty guest stars can't save 'Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood' ... from its unrelentingly crass tone and steady stream of unfunny jokes. Unquestionably, the best performance is given by an appealing German shepherd named Augustus Von Schumacher, who plays Won Ton Ton."Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars out of four and called it "a scattershot comedy that can't make up its mind whether to be 'wholesome family entertainment' or a smutty film industry in-joke. It goes both ways."
John Pym of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Michael Winner does not have Mel Brooks' frenzied gift for marshaling this sort of material; and, to make matters worse, the script attains a level of parody no higher than Ron Leibman's mincing caricature of Valentino, embellished with little more than the standard mannerisms of the familiar theatrical queen." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated, "This tacky exercise in mock nostalgia may be added to that recent, weirdly miscalculated genre that includes 'W. C. Fields and Me,' 'Gable and Lombard' and 'The Day of the Locust' ... They may be presented as uninhibited, madcap spoofs of Old Hollywood, but they tend to end up illustrating the New Hollywood at its most crass, insecure and condescending."
The film was one of five reviewed in the July 16, 1976 edition of The Times of London, where David Robinson had some particularly biting criticisms of it:
And so, reluctantly, to Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, which would have been better titled The Dog Who Savaged Hollywood. There's a case for a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Old Actors. The gimmick of Michael Winner's film is to parade a pageant of great old Hollywood names. Presumably they were persuaded to do it in the belief that the film was to be an affectionate homage to the old Hollywood. Their walk-ons suggest that they were required at the studio so briefly that there was not even time to make them up or light them, let alone explain what they were supposed to be doing; certainly aging people could hardly be filmed with less sympathy.
Indeed, you could believe that it had been done to humiliate and demean them. Yvonne de Carlo and Alice Faye are cast, or cast in, as aged secretaries, Virginia Mayo is a cleaning woman, Walter Pidgeon (and in a film like this you think of him as Walter Pidgeon and not as a character) is given one moment, hurling a stone at a dog. Carmel Myers, once the leading lady of Fairbanks, Valentino and Ramon Novarro and a star of Ben-Hur, is a walk-on.
Well, maybe they have only themselves to blame, and they have got good money for it. But the meanness is as unduckable in the treatment of the humans as in a particularly brutal (however tricked) gag of the dog, having been trained to jump through prop paper walls, hurling himself bewilderedly against real ones.
It is just a mean film (which is small recommendation for a comedy, you might think). It has a mean view of what Hollywood and its artists were and represented; it has a mean view of the achievement of the silent cinema. The audience does not have such a great time either; the film tries to conceal its deficiencies in comic ideas and comic skill by doing everything at the pace of a clockwork toy with a too-tight spring.
Vaguely pretending to be based on the real-life dog star Rin-Tin-Tin, it is particularly mean about him. He was certainly a lot more fun than this (admittedly not unlovable) counterfeit.
Just to prove how the film defames the silent cinema, there [were] currently opportunities [in London] to see the real thing. The Strong Man, even though not the best of the three films in which Frank Capra directed Harry Langdon, the elderly baby of slapstick comedy, is about a hundred times funnier than Michael Winner could ever be.