Animal Actors

"Actors are cattle," Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) is reported to have said. Yet cattle can also be actors. For Howard Hawks's Red River (1948), second-unit director Arthur Rosson (1886–1960) had been having a nightmare working with a huge herd for sequences that show them moving from Texas to Abilene under the direction of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. So painful was this experience for Rosson and director Howard Hawks that Hawks finally remarked, "Go out and try to tell fifteen hundred cows what to do!" (McCarthy, 423).

Animal performances have constituted some of the most provocative moments in the history of film from its earliest days and even before: from the precinematic projections of running horses by Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) in 1878 to the scrambling dog in the Lumières' Workers Leaving a Factory (1895), National Velvet nosing past the finish line, the fluffy white cat gazing malevolently from Ernst Stavro Blofeld's lap at his next victim in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the shark mechanically snacking on Quint in Jaws (1975), Hitchcock's seagulls aloofly hovering while the town of Bodega Bay far below is consumed by flames ( The Birds , 1963), a friendly fawn peeking in at young Joey Starrett's window in Shane (1953), a deer brought back from the dead by the title character in Starman (1984), Norma Desmond celebrating the funeral of her pet monkey in Sunset Boulevard (1950), or Elliott liberating a platoon of frogs from imminent decortication and thus winning the girl of his dreams in E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982). Fans of horror and science fiction will never forget Ripley's orange cat in the finale of Alien (1979) or the uncannily smart German shepherd in The Brain from Planet Arous (1957). In Arizona Dream (1993), a snow-white sled dog saves a man from freezing on the ice, then hauls him safely home.

Screen animals can be a human's best friend. In The Birds , for example, Hitchcock marches into a pet shop with his two beloved Scottish terriers. In Turner and Hooch (1989), Tom Hanks is a detective whose working partner is a huge mutt. In Men in Black II (2002), a pug vocally animated by Danny DeVito accompanies Will Smith with a much too wry commentary on sex life. Clayton Moore (1914–1999) is never far from his noble white stallion Silver in The Lone Ranger (1956), and Bill Murray is psychically bonded to his goldfish Bob in What about Bob? (1991).

But animals can also be particularly chilling villains. Sherlock Holmes is daunted by the hound of the Baskervilles, an iridescent and wraithlike Great Dane (1939). In Strangers on a Train , (1951), Guy Haines sneaks up to Bruno's father's bedroom, only to find a growling mastiff staring him in the face. In The Boys from Brazil (1978), Dr. Josef Mengele is mauled to death by a pack of Dobermans. A stallion turns mad and vicious before killing himself in the sea in The Ring (2002).

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