The Sunday Intertitle: Dog Act
Fiona’s been reading Susan Orlean’s biography Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend of the World’s Most Famous Dog, so she asked to see a Rinty movie. WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS was the uber-hound’s first starring role, and though his performance is at times prone to a beginner’s mistakes — looking off-camera for instruction, losing concentration, inappropriate tongue-lolling — the same can be said of Gene Tierney in BELLE STARR — there are some reaction shots that are simply astonishing examples of canine dramaturgy.
I’m thinking particularly of the Damiscene conversion scene where Rinty, raised by wolves, tries to kill the protagonist but then suddenly discovers his inner pooch. Quite remarkable, even more so than the beautiful intertitle preceding it. Of course, a lot of Rinty’s change of heart is produced using a variation on the famous Kuleshov effect, using the power of editing to create the impression of reactions which we don’t actually see. And the editor in charge of this is one of my off-and-on favourite filmmakers, Lewis Milestone.
Another thing that helps — the fake snow gusting in Rinty’s face makes him blink, and each blink seems like a doubt traversing his countenance. Maybe if Josh Hartnett had played only in movies set during fake snow-storms, he would still have a career.