Mean Dog Blues (1978, USA)

Mean Dog Blues - George Kennedy as Capt Omar Kinsman, with Rattler

Paul Ramsey (Gregg Henry) is happily married, blonde (a bit too blonde), and of gentle disposition. The same can be said of neither Captain Omar Kinsman (George Kennedy) or his beloved Doberman Pinscher, Rattler. You know that it will be messy when all three inevitably tangle.

Kennedy of course provides a link to another movie, 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, where the prison guards are also a little over-invested in their hounds. Mean Dog Blues falls between ‘Cool Hand’ and Dogboys (1998), a film which owes a bit to this one with its similarly intense relationship between correctional officer and dog, and featuring prisoners tasked with ‘laying tracks’ (ie running ahead of the dogs to give them practice in tracking and capturing escapees).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We start with Ramsey, a musician hoping to swing a deal in Nashville, breaking down in the desert. Well, his car does. He hitches a ride with a wealthy couple, Victor and Donna Lacey, and does some driving because Mr Lacey is tired. When they stop for food, Mrs Lacey tries to seduce him and Mr Lacey emerges some time later, drunk and insisting on taking the wheel. It’s night-time. Veering all over the road, Lacey clips a ten-year-old girl. Ramsey shoves him aside and drives back to the scene where he is duly beaten by the girl’s relatives and handed over the Police. Both Laceys make false, exculpatory statements, and although they promise to ‘fix things’, Ramsey gets 1 to 5 for causing an accident under the influence of (Mrs Lacey’s) drugs and failing to stop at the scene.

He goes to a southern chain gang prison, not unlike the one in Cool Hand, where his blondness sort of stands out. Now, Captain Kinsman needs help in running a specially mean-and-nasty chain gang prison; his team includes an ex-Vietnam Vet Sergeant Hubbell Wacker (James Wainwright) to add a bit of over-the-top discipline, and a shooter – a trusty prisoner with a gun who is on a promise of parole if he shoots an escaping colleague. Oh, and a pack of dogs, of which the fiercest and nastiest is Rattler, the Captain’s pride and joy.

Ramsey soon runs foul of the prisoners’ Mr Bigshot by trying to intervene in the rape of a young prisoner. He’s told that he won’t make it out alive, so he sensibly volunteers for the reviled role of dogboy (for which a much nastier term is used in this film), just so he can live in separate quarters to almost all of the others.

He does his training bait job well, running through swamps and over harsh terrain, giving all of the hunting dogs a good workout for 6 hours each day. Mind you, it’s a curious arrangement in that it leaves the security of the chain gang rather vulnerable with both the shooter and the dogs nicely distracted in an entirely different location every day, but no-one seems to mind. Nor is it clear why the prisoners who want to get at Ramsey can’t do so other than in the dormitory they shared, but that’s a different story.

All goes well until Sgt Wacker sexually assaults Ramsey’s wife after a visit, and then goads Ramsey about it until Ramsey smacks him in the mouth. Then the Captain’s teenage daughter, besotted with the idea of Ramsey as a professional musician, invites him into her home under some pretext and literally throws her naked body at him just as her father enters the room. Surprisingly, neither boss-man wants Ramsey around and Ramsey decides not to hang around to see what happens next; he decides to take on the dogs – and Rattler – and escape.

Very 70s, very predictable, very cliché-ridden… but diverting enough. Rattler is particularly good.

Produced by Bing Crosby, of all people.

Mean Dog Blues #2 - Gregg Henry as Paul Ramsey and Rattler Mean Dog Blues - Gregg Henry as Paul Ramsey

Posted on December 28th, 2010 at 9:12 pm. Updated on January 27th, 2013 at 12:35 pm.

#323 in the Top 500

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