The Doberman Gang (1972)
It’s an unlikely heist flick that serves as Brando’s Pick of the Month with little in the way of star power but plenty of four legged thieves and gnashing teeth.
When a meticulously planned heist goes comically wrong in the opening stanza of this low budget affair from director Byron Ross Chudnow, the gang leader Byron Mabe turns his attentions to concocting a robbery where human error is less likely to occur. Robots? Not likely as the technology isn’t yet ready. When Mabe happens upon a gang of youths being cornered by a pack of well trained Dobermans he believes he’s found the perfect solution for his next heist.
Now along with his less than stellar partners in crime, Simmy Bow and JoJo D’Amore, Mabe needs to find a handler/trainer to assist in his outlandish idea of allowing a pack of Dobermans to rob a bank while he and his partners never set foot inside it. Hal Reed turns out to just what he requires. Reed is an ex military man who trained dogs for the military. Mabe keeps Reed in the dark as to his true intentions long enough for the film to focus on the training of six Dobermans. Had Reed noticed the names of the animals he should have guessed something was up right from the start of his employment. Located in the cages are six gorgeous dogs named, Dillinger, Floyd, Nelson, Ma Barker, Bonnie and yes Clyde. For good measure we even have a bulldog named J. Edgar for comedy relief. I see a definite theme here and so did Brando!
Injecting some drama into the plot is Julie Parrish as Mabe’s girl who figures she’s gonna earn a cut of the score and isn’t happy when Mabe offers her a paltry fee as opposed to a fifth of the take after Mabe convinces Reed to sign on to the operation. Mabe has little choice but to bring Reed into his confidence in order to train the dogs to properly carry out the heist. Dog whistles, slow motion jumps, relay courses, fangs, snarls and padded “dummies” are needed for the training sessions that see the dogs turn from gentle souls to deadly four legged killers with the use of a silent dog whistle. When Parrish finds a budding romance with Reed, things are bound to get complicated when the time comes to split the take.
All of this leads up to the heist itself which is really the whole reason for watching this film that features the debut score from Alan Silvestri who would go on to compose music for films ranging from Back to the Future to Predator to today’s films in the Avenger’s Universe. The handling of the dog’s during the on screen heist are credited to Karl Miller. He too was just getting started here but would go on to handle dogs in films such as Cujo, K-9 and the Beethoven films to name a few. The Doberman’s live up to their reputations looking extremely dangerous and aggressive towards the bank guards, tellers and customers within the bank itself. All the while being controlled by dog whistles to carry out their intended part of the heist.
Sure it’s a heist movie but I’m not talking and Brando’s not barking. Unless of course he hears the front door shut or a car on the street or…… pretty much anything I guess.
I suspect this was a film no one could decide just how to market to theater goers. While it’s light and cheerful at times with a Disney like song called Dog Gone Days playing on occasion as the Dobermans frolic and play, it turns hard at times with Mabe landing a haymaker on his girl Parrish and when those dogs cut loose with the fangs it’s a rather bloody affair. Not exactly scenes for the kiddies of 1972. Still, the director Chudnow would give the theme another go in 1973’s The Daring Dobermans and movie goers of 1976 would see the release of The Amazing Dobermans featuring Fred Astaire doing tap dance numbers with some four legged partners.
According to the trivia section of the Internet Movie Data Base …………….
This film received the first “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit ever issued to a movie by the American Humane Society, the oversight organization responsible for monitoring animal actors during productions.
According to Season 4, episode 27 of The Dog Whisperer; Cesar Milan admits this movie is his favorite. He says it has been watched by everyone in his family, at least 100 times.
Care to see this one? Brando ordered his copy along with the sequel The Daring Dobermans via the Warner Archive Collection.
And what did little Brando think of the film?
He tells me that while he shares the same colors and markings of the Dobermans, he still has nightmares after seeing them in The Boys From Brazil. Also that they are a little long of leg and have way too many sharp teeth but admits they’re well trained and if he wasn’t so short himself, he too might go into the banking business. “Did I just get photobombed again?”