Mean Dog Blues (1978) / Action-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, violence, drug use, nudity and sexuality
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Gregg Henry, George Kennedy, James Wainwright, Kay Lenz, Gregory Sierra, Geno Silva, Tina Louise, William Windom, John Daniels, Felton Perry, Scatman Crothers
Director: Mel Stuart
Screenplay: George Lefferts
Review published July 23, 2005
Gregg Henry (Body Double, Payback) stars as Paul Ramsey, a musician that, through a case of mistaken identity and deliberate malice on the part of a negligent politician, ends up in a prison camp ruled by burly Captain Kinsman (Kennedy, The Eiger Sanction), his rogue assistant Sgt. Whacker (Wainwright, Joe Kidd), and a pack of hunting dogs, led a vicious Doberman named Rattler. Ramsey makes enemies quickly with the other prisoners, so he volunteers to be the man the guards use to train the dogs in how to hunt. However, as the days go by, Ramsey suspects that it is only a matter of time before the sadistic guards unleash Rattler on him, so unless he learns to "kiss ass" or be a "hard ass", he might just have to take his chances by trying to "haul ass" out of there.
Mean Dog Blues is rather predictable, as you can guess the remainder of the plot and climax forming long before the first third of the film has passed. Under the direction of Mel Stuart, the movie as a whole overcomes its formula thanks to a good deal of humor (mostly intentional), and the whimsical nature of the character actors. the would be the first film for longtime character actor Gregg Henry, doing a fine job in the physical portion of this demanding film. George Kennedy is fat and imposing, but he still can't act, which makes his portrayal of Kinsman a strangely lovable doofus, which may or may not have been the intent. Wainwright excels as the film's more surly second-in-command, providing the right amount of menace to the prison scenes required to justify putting life and limb on the line.
You're not going to get a great deal of bang for your buck here, but there is a quaint and quirky charm that permeates Mean Dog Blues that makes it an easy movie to watch, very much in the vein of a well-made exploitation flick. It's no Cool Hand Luke, but it isn't nearly as bad as many of the other sadistic prison films that permeated many theaters throughout the 1970s. Silly, but mildly enjoyable in that vein.
©2005 Vince Leo