Dog Eat Dog (1964)
Directors: Albert Zugsmith, Richard E. Cunha, Ray Nazarro, Gustav Gavrin
“If you’re going to do something wrong, do it big, because the punishment is the same either way.” Jayne Mansfield
The name Jayne Mansfield carries a lot of baggage. Like Sharon Tate, Jayne Mansfield conjures more than simply an actress that never reached her full potential, but the way in which she died. In the case of Mansfield, the gruesome circumstances of her death are much more the fodder of urban myth than anything cemented in reality. At age 34, Mansfield was in a rear end car collision that killed all of the passengers in the front seat, including herself. While she sustained significant head trauma, she was not decapitated as tabloids would report. Regardless of the circumstances, it was a sad end to Jane Mansfield and a career that was peppered with highs and lows. Mansfield had a run of really great starring roles, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), Kiss Them For Me (1957) and Promises! Promises! (1963) among them.
Dog Eat Dog was one of the last films Mansfield made, one among a handful of b-movies like The Fat Spy (1966) and Las Vegas Hillbillies (1966). Good parts in mainstream Hollywood roles were evaporating and Mansfield began doing more live performances, as well launching a series of publicity stunts to stay in the public’s mind (who can forget the series of photographs depicting a horrified Sophia Loren staring at Mansfield’s cleavage spilling out from the top her form-fitting dress). In fact three of her final films were documentaries that followed her (among other stars) around, filming all manner of bra malfunctions and live performances: Spree (1967), Mondo Hollywood (1967) and the Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968).
Make no mistake, Dog Eat Dog is a terrible film. The acting is uniformly awful, the pedestrian caper plot is endlessly side-tracked and strangely convoluted. The fact that four directors were behind the lens of this picture probably didn’t help make the film feel as if it were one cohesive vision. Yet, there are scenes that are so weird, so baffling, and so funny in spite of themselves, that Dog Eat Dog is oddly alluring. Clichés about not being able to look away from a car wreck aside, there really is a compulsive element at work here. Like the worst junk food, B-movies have a way of making us stick around until the last gut-busting, calorie-killing bite and Dog Eat Dog is no exception.
To be honest, what pulled me into this death-trap of movie was the opening shot; Jayne Mansfield dressed in a baby doll nightie rolling around in a bed filled with falling money. It’s an amazing shot; over-sexed, over-campy, over-the-top ridiculous. Afterall, these are the traits that all good B-movies should have: an exploitative, no-nonsense grab at the audience’s attention by any means necessary.
Dog Eat Dog surprisingly enough has many of these moments. Utterly bizarre moments that do indeed catch your attention. Just before you’re about to eject this movie from your life for good, something else unexpected happens, some other unhinged character emerges that makes you stop, dead in your tracks. The dialogue is another unpredictable part of the equation. It’s hard to know if the script was written on purpose, or if it’s simply a weird, wonderful accident that many of the lines are so funny. Who could forget Darlene’s predilection for the word “crackers” which she punctuates the beginning of any sentence with (“Crackers, you’re cute!”).
Jayne Mansfield plays Darlene, the bubbly moll of an unbalanced gangster named Dolph Kostis played by character actor Ivor Salter, who laughs constantly, at everything. It’s annoying at first, then quickly becomes disturbing, a menacing cackle that carries throughout the film, infecting other characters. Kotis, along with his partner Lylle Corbett (Cameron Mitchell ) have stolen $1 million in cash that is supposed to be heading to the Treasury Department. But Kotis apparently wants the money all for himself, and at the opening of the movie attempts to kill Corbett by running him over (a scene underpinned by a lively jazz score and Kotis’ not-stop laughter).
Kotis and Darlene escape to their hideout, a strange hotel/villa on an apparently deserted island in the Mediterranean. We soon discover that Corbett is still alive, although badly beaten and has somehow trailed the pair to the island. Corbett is clearly looking for revenge, as well as his share of the rest of the loot. Meanwhile we are introduced to even more deranged characters: hotel manager, Morelli (Aldo Camarada) and his ruthless sister, Sandra (Dody Heath); Madame Benoit (Isa Miranda) a woman who is living out her remaining years on the island and her butler, Janis. Then the situation really spirals out of control; Kotis is found dead in a goldfish pond, Morelli and Jannis are killed and the stolen money vanishes (we later find out that Sandra has taken the money and hidden it on herself, beneath her negligee, making a sort of money dress).
This over-heated series of events does have a bright spot in Cameron Mitchell; as the movie ambles along, he becomes increasingly unbalanced, sweaty and bloodied, his insane on-going laughter transferred from the late Kotis Mitchell. Darlene has by now shifted her affections to Mitchell, the stolen money still paramount to her motivation.
In a ridiculous final shoot-out/chase scene near the sea, Sandra and Corbett wrestle each other for the money as it falls from Sandra’s money dress, both drowning as they do so (this mirrors, in some respect, Darlene rolling sensually in the same cash at the beginning of the film). Darlene witnesses the struggle and decides to wade in after them and the cash, screaming “Wait for baby!” as the credits roll.
Based on a novel by Robert Bloomfield called, When Strangers Meet and filmed in Yugoslavia, the film was helmed by four directors, perhaps the reason for this cinematic mess. Albert Zugsmith, wrote and produced Sappho Darling (1968), as well as Sex Kittens Go To College, while Richard E. Cunha directed Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958) and She Demons (1958), which gives you a hint at Dog Eat Dog‘s pedigree, so to speak.
It’s difficult to actually recommend Dog Eat Dog—especially to a fan of Jayne Mansfield—when there are better films that she starred in, films that would probably be worth their time. Mansfield doesn’t so much act as employee her vapid sex kitten routine; it’s all autopilot for her, but then again it’s the same for the other actors in the film. Yet there are those certain moments, strange, funny, curious moments, that populate this casualty of a movie, that you almost forgive the rest of the film for its transgressions. Almost.
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