One of the few things Sergio Leone didn’t pinch from Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO when he unofficially remade it as A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, was this cheeky moment:
As man-with-no-name wandering ronin Toshiro Mifune slouches up the main street of the film’s no-horse town, an intent dog hurries past, jaws clamped jealously down on a tasty morsel salvaged from some recent street-fight.
I guess cowboy films weren’t using imagery like this in the early sixties, plus in a genre dominated by gunplay rather than swordplay, the lopped limb would raise unanswerable questions. Too bad.
But Italy hadn’t finished with the right-handed dog. He makes another appearance in scene one of Lucio Fulci’s nauseatingly effective NEW YORK RIPPER, emerging from a bush to startle his walker with a tidbit retrieved from the undergrowth.
NYR is indeed an extremely offensive film, with the typical giallo misanthropy and misogyny turned up to eleven. When it was submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (not Censorship, no no!), director James Ferman not only banned it outright, he personally escorted the print back to the airport to make sure it left the country without corrupting and depraving anybody en route.
While director Lucio Fulci’s previous employment as a DOCTOR may explain his extremely high tolerance for scenes of gore and suffering, it does make me worry slightly for his patients. They’d be better off with seeing nice Dr. Miller down the corridor.
The dog wasn’t through yet. He pads his way out of a bank in David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART, another gory forelimb clenched triumphantly in his canines, pay-off to a gruesome and somewhat dislikeable joke that kind of mars the film, arguably Lynch’s most cynical and unpleasant. (Lynch, as always, finds real sympathy for his protagonists, but it’s offset by a callous treatment of the film’s little people, of which the dog incident is a strong example.) It IS, however, proof that Lynch does watch movies and draw inspiration from them. It’s easy to see the director as a complete original, or somebody more influenced by the other arts than by film history, which may be somewhat true, but he also picks up moments from a wide range of movies and recycles them in an interesting way. I was struck by a moment in Michael Tolkin’s THE NEW AGE where Peter Weller meets a strange monk-like man in black at a party. The basics of the scene undeniably form the basis for Robert Blake’s terrifying entrance into LOST HIGHWAY.
Taking the mutt full circle, Philip Kaufman quotes the Kurosawa scene directly as part of a karaoke scene in RISING SUN, based on Michael Crichton’s anti-Japanese crime thriller. The fact that karaoke machines don’t usually screen extracts from classic Japanese cinema tells you everything you need to know about the accuracy of this strident warning about the dangers of Japanese cultural influence. My friend Kiyo expressed an interest in the film at the time saying that he wondered if Sean Connery’s character would speak Japanese with an Osaka accent, “Because people in Osaka shpeak like thish.” But when he saw it, his only reaction was, “Sean Connery’s Japanese fucking crap!”
It’s tempting to come up with more roles for man’s right-hand dog. At the start of Polanski’s MACBETH, the three witches bury a severed arm on a beach. I’d like to think our doggy pal (I’m going to name him MURDO) is lurking just outside the frame of Gilbert Taylor’s Panavision lens, waiting to trot over and dig up his evening’s meal.