In the Doghouse (1961)

This charming black-and-white comedy from Rank is a moral parable set in the world of veterinary medicine. The good-hearted but bumbling hero, played by Leslie Phillips, struggles hard to pass his veterinary exams, and, once in practice,  puts animals' needs above his own.    His roguish classmate, played by James Booth,  cheats his way through school and tailors his practice to bilking the rich and satisfying his libido.  Sliding down the slippery moral slope, Booth graduates to full-fledged criminality via an illegal horsemeat scheme.  Phillips ultimately foils the plot with the help of a Junoesque animal welfare officer, a performing chip, and the chimp's trainer, who supplies the love interest.

In the Doghouse got bad reviews.  But aside from some embarrassing chimp humor and bad slapstick near the end, it's actually quite watchable and occasionally even moving.   Phillips's virtuous vet has a disillusioning first day on the job when  one client after another asks him to kill a  healthy but inconvenient pet.    The single exception, ironically,  is a sweet little old lady whose beloved dog is so ill that  the doctor  finds himself regretfully recommending euthanasia.  

 (There's another nice scene where Phillips explains that it's cruel to force domestication on a wild creature. But the animal rights message is undercut elsewhere by the presence of the performing chimp and a tame lion.  There's no mention of vegetarianism, either. ) 

The Junoesque  animal welfare officer, played by Hattie Jacques, is a wonderful and unusual character who is everything that movie women aren't supposed to be:   plus-sized, physically powerful, butch, and in control.  When she ultimately triumphs over James Booth, giving him an over-the-knee spanking while on horseback, she becomes an embodiment of mother nature's vengeance. 

Text copyright Diana Blackwell 2002.



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