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The Call of the Wild - action adventure DVD / drama DVD review
THE CALL OF THE WILD Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 2 stars
Actors: Charlton Heston, Michelle Mercier, George Eastman, Raimund Harmstorf, Maria Rohm
Director: Ken Annakin   Studio: MGM
DVD release: 18 April 2011   Runtime: 103 minutes (1 disc)
Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen, DVD-R
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 1.78:1, Audio tracks (English)

*The Call of the Wild* starring Charlton Heston on DVDBased on Jack London's classic novel of gold fever and high adventure in the frozen North, the story is told in a series of flashbacks -- by a dog. London used a dog as narrators in White Fang as well. The dog here is named Buck and, in this film, is played badly by an animal actor named Buck whose voice (barks and snarls) are dubbed, seemingly by humans hamming it up.

Indeed, this is a very strange flick. The story goes that the producer, Harry Alan Towers, was better known as a shady con man than a guy who could actually make movies. Everything in the film seems sloppy and jerry-rigged. Charlton Heston later wrote that he hadn't been involved in the making of a picture but rather a deal, and a bad one at that.

That said, the story in this version of The Call of the Wild is remarkably faithful to the novel. Buck sets up the story in flashbacks in which we learn that he was stolen by the unscrupulous gardener of a rich California judge. The gardener sells the dog into slavery, in essence, by shipping Buck to the Yukon, where there is a gold rush going on. There, he is trained as a sled dog.

Weirdly, The Call of the Wild, in its many versions, has always been billed as family fare. This version, like the novel, is incredibly violent, however, and no doubt is on PETA's list of banned films. Fortunately, most of the film (all except Heston's scenes) is so crappily photographed it's hard to tell what's going on. Couple that with the dubbing of everyone's voices (the international cast cobbled together by con man/producer Towers didn't speak much English), including the dogs, makes you wonder how this flick ever got released.

Because it fell into the public domain (apparently due to confusion about who owned the rights, though it may have been a case of aversion), a number of studios have released versions of the film. MGM's ain't bad looking, so they get a star for that.

As for film versions of Jack London stories, we are still waiting for a good one. Disney has mucked with this and other stories, doing that heinous thing Disney always does to works of literature. It's amazing, though, that no one has seriously tackled a production of The Call of the Wild or any of London's other amazing novels. Why, for instance, has The Star Rover (AKA "The Jacket") been mined by Spielberg or Tom Cruise for a spell-binding action-adventure epic spanning millennia? (Often mistaken for a reincarnation story, readers of the book know it is in fact a time-travel epic.) Ditto "To Build a Fire" (still widely anthologized, especially for high school students), a story seemingly set in the heart and heat of today's modern militia movement.

Perhaps, though, there is a hitch in our Jack London get-along. He was an individualist and a kind of libertarian, I suppose, who valued getting along by one's wits. But he was also a socialist who advocated for unions and social justice. Still, for an industry that (like London himself, in fact) takes what it wants and spits out the rest, the fiction of Jack London would seem to be a gold mine of polemical possibility and profitable fun.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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