“Trained to kill”, on TCM Cinema: Samuel Fuller transposes Romain Gary’s “White Dog” to the screen

Is racism an incurable mental illness or a learned, treatable behavior? It is on the basis of this anthropological and philosophical questioning that White Dog is based, the film directed by Samuel Fuller (1911-1997) in 1982, based on the novel by Romain Gary (1914-1980)

“Trained to kill”, on TCM Cinema: Samuel Fuller transposes Romain Gary’s “White Dog” to the screen

Is racism an incurable mental illness or a learned, treatable behavior? It is on the basis of this anthropological and philosophical questioning that White Dog is based, the film directed by Samuel Fuller (1911-1997) in 1982, based on the novel by Romain Gary (1914-1980). ) White Dog (1970).

Emptied of the political context of the book (the struggle of black Americans for their civil rights), the film tends towards allegory. No Black Panthers here, nor race riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Fuller features a young actress (Kristy McNichol) who takes in a stray dog. It doesn't take her long to realize that he has been conditioned to attack black people. Horrified and distraught, she entrusts him to a trainer and anthropologist of color to try to eradicate the hatred that has been instilled in the animal.

It was initially Roman Polanski who was entrusted with the direction of the film. But, caught up in the morals scandal that pursued him all his life, he chose exile to escape American justice. Several years later, screenwriter Curtis Hanson suggested that Paramount hire Samuel Fuller.

A filmmaker of violence, he wrote on this theme from the age of 17, when he was a crime reporter for the New York Evening Graphic. Then he explored all the vertigo in his war films and psychological thrillers. A violence that he was also personally confronted with when he served in the American army, within the Big Red One, the 1st infantry division of the US Army, during the Second World War.

Stormy creative background

The trauma of the discovery of the gas chambers, to which he returned in the astonishing Beyond Glory (1980), never ceased to accompany this son of Jewish immigrants, born in 1911 in Massachusetts. This shock gives full meaning to a terrible scene from Trained to Kill where a dog is gassed in front of the heroine, who has come to retrieve her German shepherd from the pound. First filming the execution from a distance and in a slight blur, the camera moves closer to the window where the animal is killed. But she will stand resolutely at the threshold. All the ethics of Fuller’s direction are expressed in this sequence.

However, the author had all the difficulty in the world to impose his choice of production, in a stormy creative context. Even before the film was completed, lobbies attributed racist intentions to Fuller. During filming, he was visited by representatives of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) who wanted to ensure that the film did not violate their dignity. Fuller would eventually chase them off the board, but the damage was done. Paramount became frightened by the rumors and blocked the distribution of the film.

The theatrical release, ten years later, was sparse in the United States and reserved for rare countries like France, where, disgusted, Fuller went into exile in his turn. The film will not be released on DVD until 2008. Trained to Kill has lost none of its power or relevance. If we can fight racism, its residual hatred, the film teaches us, resists education.