Reviews

Danger Doberman / Doberman Patrol

Frank De Felitta

USA, 1973

Credits

Review by Thomas Scalzo

Posted on 15 October 2010

Source modcinema.com DVD-R

Categories 31 Days of Horror VII

Despite working with a script that feels like it was tossed together in about fifteen minutes, this made-for-TV killer dog thriller by the director of Dark Night of the Scarecrow is a heck of a lot of fun. The story centers on James Brolin and his admirable efforts to win back the affections of his daughter. (Though Brolin’s character is named Chuck Brenner, I prefer to refer to him as Brolin.) You see, Brolin is a bit of a drunk, and has made a habit of spending important family events slouched over the counter of the local bar. But this time is going to be different. He’s going to buy his daughter the doll she really wants, and he’s going to meet her for dinner at 6:30. After all, his ex-wife is moving to Mexico City that very night, and bringing the girl with her. This dinner may well be his last chance to see the girl for quite some time. He’s going to be there.

Bored with waiting for the sales clerk to hunt down the coveted doll, and no doubt fed up with his wife constantly reminding him of his failures, Brolin steps into a hallway for a smoke. Unfortunately for Jim, he doesn’t realize that it’s closing time, and in a few minutes he’ll be forgotten by the clerk and trapped inside. Nor does he foresee that the store’s security system consists of a ravenous pack of Dobermans. Or that he’ll be knocked unconscious by a pair of department store ruffians and left for dead in the bathroom. By the time he wakes up, the doors are locked and the dogs are roaming free, bloodlust evident in their surly demeanors. As the unfortunate reality of his plight sinks in, and the dogs begin to growl in furious anticipation, Brolin’s cool-as-a-cucumber ladies man persona begins its inextricable transmogrification into a disheveled and frantic mess. And then he gets bit in the leg.

Though Brolin’s ludicrous overacting as he lurches through the department store is hilarious, at times even Shatner-esque, the non-Brolin scenes of Susan and her new beau David also stand out in sharp relief. From their pat discussions of Brolin’s alcohol problems, to their protracted detective work in deducing his location, to the over-the-top earnestness with which they struggle through their repartee, every moment the pair is onscreen is highly entertaining. Especially amusing are the scenes in which Susan Clark seemingly cannot get through her lines. Whether it be a restaurant menu, a cocktail glass, or a telephone, scene after scene features the actress deliberately covering her mouth. I can’t say for sure if she actually couldn’t spit out the words on camera and had to dub them later, or just needed to hide an unconquerable pimple, but her insistence on shielding half of her face makes for some unexpectedly entertaining moments.

Ostensibly, of course, Trapped is the story of Brolin and the dogs: the goal of the film to create an atmosphere of fear within the confines of a made-for-TV movie. To this end, great use is made of an omnipresent soundtrack of barking and snarling. Even if we can’t see the mongrels, we know they are there, waiting, ready to pounce at any given moment. This constant threat, coupled with Brolin’s increasingly feeble state, establishes an appreciable anxiety. Several memorable department store set pieces also serve to keep the tension high and the tale moving. The most engaging of these involves a sweaty, pale-faced Brolin crawling out onto a perilous ledge. His plan: use a fishing rod to snag an archery set propped up on a display floor table. All he needs to do is reel in this catch and then set about launching arrows into his growling nemeses.

Aside from this and other such scenes of concentrated action, however, Brolin doesn’t have much to work with. Sure, there are ravenous dogs at every turn, but without any other humans around, his emotive opportunities are limited to exaggerated gestures and a bit of yelling. Impressively, Brolin makes the most of what he’s given, climbing on furniture, yelping at his pursuers, hobbling frantically up a flight of stairs, and in my favorite moment, delivering to a karate kick to a kiosk that gets in his way. Brolin must have realized the inanity of the film, but instead of phoning in his performance, he plays up the role with admirable gusto. Trapped may not be a great film, but the enthusiastic efforts of Brolin and the supporting cast ensure that the audience walks away happy.

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