Directed By: Michael Winner
Starring: Madeline Kahn, Bruce Dern, Art Carney
Tag line: "Introducing The Dog Who Launched 1,000 Stars"
Trivia: Don Ameche and Cesar Romero were approached for cameo roles but were unavailable
Whenever I write about a movie as bad as Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, I try to open things up with a witty remark, a brief bit of levity before launching into a tirade about how horrible the film is. This time, my heart just isn’t in it. Won Ton Ton is so incredibly inept, so outlandishly dreadful that it’s drained the life right out of me. In fact, after staring at my laptop for what seemed like an eternity, the best I could come up with is the following:
Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, an alleged 1976 comedy directed by Michael Winner, is a smoldering pile of shit.
Hollywood, 1924. Wannabe actress Estie Del Ruth (Madeline Kahn) befriends a stray German Shepherd, which follows her wherever she goes. While Estie herself has trouble landing a part in a movie, her canine companion catches the eye of studio chief J.J. Fromberg (Art Carney), who, along with struggling scriptwriter Grayson Potchuck (Bruce Dern), turns the pooch, named Won Ton Ton, into Hollywood’s newest sensation. The problem is, Won Ton Ton only listens to Estie, who therefore has to be on-set with him at all times. But Estie doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life as a dog trainer, and continues to pursue her acting career, usually with disastrous results. Her luck finally changes when she meets Rudy Montague (Ron Leibman), a Valentino-esque star of romance pictures and the biggest box-office draw in town. With his help, Estie finally hits the big time, but will her sudden success spell the end for Won Ton Ton?
The film’s cast, from its main players to those appearing on-screen for only a few seconds, reads like a Hollywood honor roll. Madeline Kahn was a very funny lady, a gifted comedienne who shined in a number of Mel Brooks movies, including Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and High Anxiety, but her performance here is more grating than anything; over-the-top one minute, seemingly bored the next. Aside from her, Won Ton Ton also features Bruce Dern, Art Carney, Phil Silvers, and Teri Garr, with cameos by the Ritz Brothers, Jackie Coogan, Andy Devine, Broderick Crawford, Henny Youngman, Rory Calhoun, John Carradine, Victor Mature, Milton Berle, and a slew of others, none of whom can save the picture from drowning in its own excesses. As for the movie itself, it relies far too heavily on slapstick, and lacks any sort of cohesive structure; scenes are slammed together with no rhyme or reason, and quite often end abruptly without any payoff. Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood does have its supporters, including fans of old-time cinema, who enjoyed seeing some of their favorites mixing it up again. Sure, I love the classics, but for me, this lame, unfunny film was pure torture.
When I think back on those movies that truly pissed me off, films so terrible they stuck in my craw for several days afterwards, very few of them were comedies. Aside from Robert Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs and Cannonball Run II (a real disappointment, seeing as the first one is a guilty pleasure of mine), the rest of the movies on that list are from other genres (though, technically, I suppose 1994’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is a horror / comedy). Well, I can now throw Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood into the mix. How a cast this good could have made a film this bad is a complete mystery.