Gone to the Dogs: Two dopes and a dog
George (George Wallace), Henry (John Dobbie) and their dog Aloysius are trapped in the haunted house, the lair of master criminal Dr Sunderman. They encounter a variety of scary effects designed to frighten them away. Summary by Paul Byrnes.
Gone to the Dogs employs a series of well-worn movie comedy routines, some of which are borrowed directly from silent film. The haunted house as criminal lair premise comes straight from a 1921 Buster Keaton comedy, The Haunted House, but Hall also makes good use of design and special effects shots in this sequence. In terms of comedy, the film will try just about anything to get a laugh, as evidenced by the rising dog’s ears in this clip, followed by a reversal shot in which the dog takes shelter. These gags were already hoary in 1939, but they contribute to the film’s cheerful silliness. Although it’s not up to the standard of Let George Do It (1938), Wallace’s first film with Ken Hall, there are moments of inspired lunacy in Gone to the Dogs. Clearly George Wallace and Ken Hall were determined to have fun with this picture, Cinesound’s last before the coming of war.
Gone to the Dogs synopsis
While working as a zookeeper, George (George Wallace) accidentally invents a tonic that makes dogs run faster. He and his mate Henry (John Dobbie) are sacked for impersonating a gorilla, so they try the tonic on their landlady’s greyhound Black Beauty, an aspiring champion. It works, but George can’t remember what’s in it, so his friend Jimmy (John Fleeting), a veterinarian, has to work it out.
With a major race approaching, arch villain Gustav Sunderman (Lou Vernon) and his henchmen plan to steal Black Beauty and put another black dog in his place. George witnesses the substitution, so he and Henry and their dog Aloysius follow the gang to their hideout, in a house that’s reputed to be haunted. After many scrapes and scares, they escape, pursued by henchmen. They commandeer a plane to fly them to the dog track, where they unmask the substitution. The real Black Beauty romps home and George and Henry are heroes.
Gone to the Dogs curator's notes
Gone to the Dogs is the second of two comedies that George Wallace made with Cinesound, after Let George Do It (1938). It’s a more ambitious production, although the results are patchy. Wallace was an accomplished singer and songwriter, as well as a dancer and comedian, so this film offers a major musical song and dance interlude that features dogs, children, dancing girls and backing singers on bicycles! The humour is more slapstick, the plot more perfunctory and far-fetched.
Ken Hall was in the habit of building a story from back to front. He often came up with a finale first, then built a plot to get to it. In this one it’s a dog race, a subject that was relatively novel, because greyhound racing had only become regulated in New South Wales in 1932. Going to 'the dogs’ was a popular pastime, even a craze, by the late 1930s – hence the words in George Wallace’s song. There’s a strong resemblance between this finale and that of a film made in 1927, The Kid Stakes. That film features a children’s goat race, but the kids get to the track in the same manner as George and Henry – they commandeer an aeroplane. There is no question that Hall would have known of the earlier film, but so would many members of the audience. Hall tended to borrow freely from films he liked, although rarely was it as obvious.
The robbers’ hide-out in a haunted house is a direct 'borrow’ from Buster Keaton’s 1921 short comedy The Haunted House. The big musical production number is certainly heavily derived from the style of Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, albeit with fewer resources. Lois Green, the blonde actress who whips off her skirt, was a star of musical comedy for JC Williamson’s theatrical company. This appears to have been her only film.
Notes by Paul Byrnes