Finding Rin Tin Tin
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Finding Rin Tin Tin

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Heroes have been the subject of story telling since mankind began. From the stories told by the elders of a tribe to little one around the fire to the grand spectacles of film the hero has always been vital to most stories. One American hero in particular displayed every noble attribute anyone could aspire to have. He was brave, running in to danger to help others. He was loyal, trustworthy and true. He also had fur and a cold, wet nose. This hero was a German Shepard known throughout the world as Rin Tin Tin. The original dog was born towards the end of the First World War by an American service man and went on to a distinguished service record followed by an illustrious film and television career. Few human begins are able to match the impact this dog had on the moral of the American people. Even after his death in 1932 this dog remained famous. His son and subsequently other of his line would carry on the family tradition for decades. You might not think a biography film of a dog would be interesting but the film ‘Finding Rin Tin Tin’ by Danny Lerner is just that; fascinating and great fun for the whole family. Of course most of the younger members of your family may not even know the name but certainly if you are a baby boomer or one of their parents, then you grew up watching his exploits of this dog and his descendants in movies and on television. While other animal actors have taken over the spot light Rin Tin Tin’s blood line remains intact some of his descendants now work with the military and police still holding true to the standards of service set by the original. It is a rare thing when a film comes along that the whole family can watch and enjoy together. This is one such movie. The kids will love the action and the parents will get into the memories of their childhood. Besides, everybody loves watching a little puppy and adventurous dog.

David Rolland and Jim Tierney provided the script for this movie and did a great job of it. Both men are fairly new to the craft of script writing with only a couple of short film screen plays to their credits so far. From what I could gather they managed to stay fairly accurate to the actual events surrounding the discovery of Rinty, as he was know to his friends, more so than most bio-pics about people. For once script writers have enough respect for the subject and the audience to let the story stand on its own. Of course, in this case the truth is amazing enough to stand as a solid piece of cinema. The story opens in France in the closing days of World War One. Corporal Lee Duncan (Tyler Jensen) rescues a woman and her three German Shepard puppies from the Germans. Eventually he lets the mother and two of the puppies go off but in thanks for his actions the woman gives Duncan his favorite whom he named Rin Tin Tin. Trying to keep a high spirited puppy a secret at a U.S. military base is virtually impossible but Duncan gives it a try. When the commanding officer of the base finds out Duncan is told in no uncertain terms that the little dog must go. Duncan discovers that the trainer of Rinty’s mother, Nikolaus Egger (Ben Cross) is being held as a prisoner of war at the base. Initially Egger is reluctant to help one of his captors but Duncan is an affable and persuasive young man and soon Egger is training both the man and the dog. Rinty is taught tricks that prove his worth to the commander by showing that he can bring first aide to soldiers trapped in the field and use is sense of smell to locate lost men. When the war ends Duncan feels that his dog can be the next Strongheart, a famous German Shepard of the silent film era. Over the next few years Rin Tin Tin would personally star in some fourteen movies and his popularity was attributed with helping to save Warner Brothers studio. According to popular belief Rin Tin Tin died at the age of fourteen cradled in the arms of movie legend Jean Harlow.

The film was directed by Danny Lerner who knows his way around a hero flick. Of course most of his resume is filled with the production of more human variety of hero with movies like ‘Operation Delta Force’ and ‘U.S. Seals’. In more recent years he has begun to get into family friendly faire like ‘The Prince & Me 3: A Royal Honeymoon’. He also directed several movies most of which are in the war heroics genre. With all of this ‘R’ rated action behind him Lerner does an amazing job of creating a film fit for the whole family. He demonstrates that a movie can be full of action and drama without resorting to questionable language, overt violence or graphic nudity. This is like the adventure serials that many of us boomers remember from all those Saturday afternoons in our local theaters. Finally we have a film without cutesy animated talking animals, fluffy songs and other such staples of what goes for family entertainment. Lerner has given us something real that the family can gather to enjoy as a unit.

Let’s face it; the puppy that plays the young Rin Tin Tin is darn cute. You just want to take him home yourself. There is no explanation required as to why Duncan fell in love with this little guy. There is a message here that even in the grips of war a soldier is still a man who needs to find something life affirming in the midst of all the carnage around him. Tyler Jensen does an excellent job here as Rinty’s owner, Duncan. His only other screen credit was an episode of a short lived TV series called ‘Quintuplets’. Perhaps the lack of experience worked in his favor for this particular role. He has a freshness that is required for the part. Jensen comes off as the kind of man who would go the extra mile to help a woman and her puppies. He also plays Duncan as a soldier who is as dedicated to his dog as he is to his country. Many actors have stated that it is difficult to work with animals but looking at Jensen’s performance here he demonstrates a genuine bond with his canine co-star. This leaps off the screen to make the film believable and touching.

It may sound like a hackney cliché but you will find yourself laughing and crying during the course of this movie. It is real human emotion and drama even if the star walks around on four legs. There have been many dog oriented family flicks but this one stands above the rest and is something that will become a favorite for everyone in your home. The DVD release is from First Look Studios. They specialize in little independent movies that have little in the way of marketing but are well worth watching.

Posted 08/17/08

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