Benji is, by far, the grooviest dog of the 70’s. Grossing nearly $40 million dollars after it’s release in 1974, Benji is one of the most successful dog movies of its era, and considered a classic in the genre.
The story is centered on a scruffy, stray golden mutt named Benji who’s created a niche for himself with townspeople who give him food and love as he makes scheduled appearances at the deli, the post office and various back yards.
Benji himself lives in an abandoned house just outside of town. Two children, who live in town, and their maid, (Paul, Cindy and Mary respectively), would like to take him in, but their father, Dr. Chapman, will not allow it for fear of germs, disease and because his brother was bit when they were younger.
When a gang of outlaws takes up residence in Benji’s nest, he and his girlfriend (a poodle named Tiffany), hide upstairs and spy on the bell-bottomed crooks. It just so turns out that these gangsters have kidnapped Paul and Cindy. It’s up to Benji alone to help the police and Dr. Chapman find the kids and win him over and maybe have the home he’s always dreamed of.
The film itself consists mostly of long yet moderately impressive shots of Benji travelling through the town, leaping up onto fences and the rooftop of his house, as well as doing tricks such as opening pudding cups with his teeth.
“Kidnapper 1: [Trying to solve the mystery of the disappearing pudding cups, he leaves an open container out] I’m leaving it right here. On purpose.
Kidnapper 2: And I’m sure it’ll still be there tomorrow, and on purpose, too! Now, come on, let’s go!”
The story itself could have been told in about 30 minutes, however the long filler scenes of Benji chasing the neighbor’s cat up a tree, talking to the mailman and carrying in the newspaper are all backed up by a really funky baseline and a groovy guitar riff to boot.
While kids may enjoy watching the adorable pup, there is a rather disturbing scene where one of the gun-wielding kidnappers kicks his poodle-girlfriend (seemingly to death). The film might also give the false impression that stray dogs are safe to play with. I would say the film is best for 7-8 year olds and up.
While entertaining and engaging, I give the film 2.5/4 paws up for slightly drawn out scenes that don’t relate to the plot. He’s no Lassie, but he’s cute, funny, a great actor for being non-human, and the kids will love him too!
Next week, I’ll be reviewing “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” so stay tuned!
Writen by Raymond Guarnieri (Filmmaker)