“We don’t want any kind of dog — we want BENJI!”
Two motherless siblings named Paul (Allen Fluzat) and Cindy (Cynthia Smith) try unsuccessfully to convince their father (Peter Breck) and housekeeper (Patsy Garrett) to let them adopt a stray dog named Benji, who makes daily visits to a local policeman (Terry Carter), a cafe proprietor (Edgar Buchanan), and the owner (Frances Bavier) of a prissy cat. Soon, however, Benji proves invaluable in uncovering a plot by four young hoodlums (Deborah Walley, Christopher Connelly, Tom Lester, and Mark Slade) to kidnap Paul and Cindy for ransom.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
This self-described “family film” by writer-director Joe Camp — the first in a franchise of five flicks about an intrepid mutt named Benji — may have some nostalgic fans who recall it from their childhood, but it’s terribly acted, notably dubbed, and melodramatically conceived; I would be proud if my 10 year old pulled this off as a student film-making project, but big-screen material it simply ain’t. Just when you think things couldn’t get any campier or more shoddily made about the production, the ante is upped in the final third with ever more slow-motion sequences and dizziness-inducing rapid-fire flashbacks designed to tug at hearts. Special “amusement awards” go to the ’70s soundtrack, which revs up at all the key anticipated moments and will (annoyingly) stick in your head. Benji is presumably listed in Peary’s book because of its box office success as the little-film-that-could (it rated #3 in 1974), or perhaps because he actually found it an enjoyable G-rated family film — but it hasn’t held up well.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Many unintentionally hilarious sequences, especially the doggie romance montage
No; definitely skip this one unless you’re morbidly curious.