Behave Yourself (1951)

More straight-up farce than genuine canine-caper movie, Behave Yourself was a supposed vehicle for the talents of Farley Granger and Shelley Winters. While a dog is central to the silly nonsense that kills this not-so-relaxing time-waster of a movie, the pooch ‘Archie’ is not much of a draw, just a catalyst for the well-rehearsed writing that turned out this style of high-speed hit. Maybe it’s not really a canine-caper film, but a goofy crime caper, or even a conjugal comedy. It’s fast moving and it was also made hella quick too.

While not a perennial favourite, canine capers are at least a Hollywood stock. Cf: The Amazing Dobermans (1976) (An ex-con man and his five trained Dobermans help a Treasury Department agent stop a racketeer and his gang — with Fred Astaire!) / Dog Gone (2008)(A courageous boy battles a gang of bumbling thieves to rescue a dog carrying a fortune in stolen diamonds.) UK Obscurants may hunt for Britain’s own contributions to the genre, which include The Gay Dog (1954) (not ‘gay’ as in homosexual, sadly. “Jim Gay loves his racing greyhound but, out of town, he finds a dog with a better chance to win.” Starring Wilfred Pickles, Petula Clarke and Jon Pertwee!)

Farley Granger, best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock (Rope and Strangers on a Train being his crowning achievements) larks around as the imbecile husband, mad for marital consummation with his perfect American wife, Shelley Winters. He’s goofy, he’s a goon, he’s hapless: ‘pick up anything for you darling? Milk, butter, gin?’ He buys a night gown for his wife: ‘The neckline might be kinda low, but you got the furniture for it baby!’

 

 

It appears Granger talks like this because he’s been waiting for sex for two years, under the evil watch of his cliché of a mother in law. Of course he gets it in the end, why wouldn’t he? But there are a helluva heap of corpses for him to cross before he gets there — enough for this to be classed as tragedy, as opposed to comedy. Or conjugal-crime-canine-caper-comedy to be exact.

By the time he made Behave Yourself, Granger had hit all the career highs he ever would, and Shelley Winter had a great future. Granger seems to have only been able to turn on the genius for Hitchcock and Shelley Winters was fated to be a Hollywood wifelet for a little longer, before she started to pick up more important roles. At the end of Behave Yourself, Farley Granger takes the law into his own hands, and he carries Shelley over his shoulders, up the stairs.

That’s no spoiler, but maybe it would be a spoiler to tell you that there’s not that much dog in the film at all. But is this film ever laden down with hoods! You got Elisha Cook Jnr, who became one of Hollywood’s best known character actors (read about him Electra Glide in Blue here) and you got Marvin Kaplan, whose voice you will definitely know, as he was Choo-Choo in Top Cat (Boss Cat) and Uncle Pooch in Wild at Heart (1990) if you are a real collector.

 Here are two of my favourites, Elisha Cook Jnr and Lon Chaney

Also included among the hoods is Lon Chaney Jr, who is overacting to the point of being terrifying — you would hate to be beaten up by somebody so large and stupid-seeming — and this is not intended to horrify; and my favourite, Hans Conried, who was really known as a voice artist, and voiced many a favourite, including Captain Hook in Disney’s 1963 Peter Pan. Conried here attempts an English accent, presumably to play along with the supremely double chinned Francis Sullivan.

 

 

So don’t watch Behave Yourself for the dog, or even for Shelley Winters — even though you will hear the immortal line: ‘Get him you idiot! GET THAT DOG!’ I would watch Behave Yourself for the hoods. Shelley Winters doesn’t get out of second gear in Behave Yourself. She does the American wife bit; tall, desirable, safe and sensible, and with not much more to say. The hoods however are a great array; see for yourself in the opening and closing credits, follow this link here to YouTube, opens in a new window.

The art of farce would appear on the surface to involve the complex layering of misunderstanding, and you may believe that this can go on indefinitely. It can’t. The real art to farce is making your commotion palatable and possible to follow — only just. Behave Yourself manages in a meagre 80 minutes to transcend this. There’s a point where the struts that are holding up your understanding of this house of cards will buckle, and you will cease to care, somewhere around the third set of bodies.

At one point in every farce the audience need have the complexities laid out for them. Often the lead character is trying to explain something to the police. There are a couple of missing frames here and there in this rather dodgy print, but cinephiles enjoy that. It causes reflection on the deeper processes and logics of preservation, no bad thing when so much has been lost already.

 

 

Speaking of lost, I haven’t mentioned the plot much, but that’s because I didn’t get it. There is a trained dog who is shipped to Los Angeles by crooks, with message that if dog is walked on Wilshire Boulevard, he will lead the villains to their criminal contact. There seem to be so many things wrong with this idea that as I suggested above, it’s better to give up.  

Also, fans, Wilshire is 16 miles long and the instructions don't indicate what area of this street dog is to be walked or even which side, meaning the dog would potentially have to be walked 32 miles. Now you are armed, you can enjoy this for yourself. It also appears to be out of copyright, so get it where and when you can — and if you like it, why not re-release it yourself?