#422) Clash of the Wolves (1925)

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#422) Clash of the Wolves (1925)

OR “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin”

Directed by Noel M. Smith

Written by Charles Logue

Class of 2004

The Plot: The citizens of an old west town place a bounty on a pack of wolves that terrorize their cattle, especially the pack’s leader Lobo (Rin Tin Tin). When Lobo gets a cactus thorn in his paw, he is rescued by borax prospector Dave Weston (Charles Farrell) and the two immediately bond. But rival prospector/claim jumper William Horton (Pat Hartigan) plans to take Dave’s claim, as well as his girlfriend May Barstowe (June Marlowe). Can Lobo be tamed in time to truly be man’s best friend?

Why It Matters: The NFR calls Rin Tin Tin’s Hollywood origins “one of the greatest stories in film history” and gives a very generic summary of the plot. There’s also an essay by Rin Tin Tin biographer Susan Orlean. And if that name sounds familiar, it’s the same Susan Orlean who wrote “The Orchid Thief” and was played by Meryl Streep in “Adaptation”.

But Does It Really?: Oh sure. “Clash” is on this list to represent Rin Tin Tin, the dog star of the silent era, and forerunner to Lassie. Besides, there aren’t a lot of movies on this list that center around animals, and “Clash” is a quick, harmless, fun adventure with Hollywood’s favorite German shepherd. A pass for “Clash of the Wolves”.

Everybody Gets One: While serving with the US Air Service in WWI, Lee Duncan rescued a German shepherd and her five puppies during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918. He kept two of the puppies and named then Rin Tin Tin and Nanette, after two good luck charms that French children often gave to American soldiers. By the early 1920s, Duncan had taught Rin Tin Tin a wide variety of tricks (including leaping great distances) and was determined to get the dog into show business. Rin Tin Tin made his film debut in 1922’s “The Man from Hell’s River” and became a star in 1923 with “Where the North Begins”. Over the next decade, Rin Tin Tin made 27 films and two serials. His films were so successful he even rescued the struggling Warner Bros. Studios from bankruptcy.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Clash” predates the Oscars by two years, but Rin Tin Tin has a curious Oscar connection. For years there was a rumor (perpetuated in Susan Orlean’s book) that when the ballots were tabulated for the first Oscars in 1928, Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor. The Academy, embarrassed by the prospect of giving this prestigious new award to a dog, opted to name runner-up Emil Jannings the winner instead. A 2017 article by Academy member Bruce Davis finally puts this rumor to rest. Although Jack Warner nominated the dog as a joke, his was the only vote for Rin Tin Tin.

Other notes

  • We have another title debate: Some sources call the film “The Clash of the Wolves”, while others omit the “The”. When in doubt, I go with the film itself, where the title is simply “Clash of the Wolves”.
  • Wow, that’s an epic opening. We start with a forest fire, followed by a very cinematic entrance from Lobo as the fire silhouettes his iconic profile.
  • As evident by the film’s somewhat clunky editing, Rin Tin Tin is taking offscreen directions from Lee Duncan. But then again, isn’t that what all silent movie actors were doing?
  • Shoutout to the entire human cast, saddled with the thankless job of playing supporting roles to a dog. Charles Farrell was two years away from starring alongside a real person (Janet Gaynor) in “7th Heaven”, while June Marlowe was a few years shy of playing Mrs. Crabtree in the “Our Gang” shorts.
  • Even by silent movie standards, Charles “Heinie” Conklin is a bit over-the-top as comic relief Alkali Bill. Turns out Conklin has bit parts in several NFR films: he was cast by Chaplin in both “The Gold Rush” and “Modern Times”, and appears in such early sound classics as “All Quiet on the Western Front”.
  • As in many of Rin Tin Tin’s films, the German shepherd is cast as a half-dog, half-wolf. According to Susan Orlean, the rest of Lobo’s pack were played by “an assortment of German shepherds, huskies, coyotes, and wolves.”
  • These actions sequences are pretty tough on Rin Tin Tin. We’re still 55 years away from PETA; hopefully someone’s looking out for his wellbeing.
  • Speaking of, I presume Warner Bros. had a stunt department at the time, but whoever’s getting attacked by Lobo, I hope they’re wearing padding.
  • The nice thing about dog movies is that they age far better than normal. Dogs don’t really change much over the years, so their stories have a bit more universality to them. Rin Tin Tin was also aided by starring in silent films, whose dialogue and story could be easily translated to different languages around the world.
  • Sadly, not a lot of old timey phraseology in this film’s intertitles, except for “making love”, used here in its original context meaning to woo or be amorous with. It adds some confusion to such lines as “Have you ever seen this tenderfoot making love to my daughter?”
  • Yeah you can definitely see the string manipulating Rin Tin Tin’s tail. Also be on the lookout for a fake paw that he presses against a window at one dramatic moment.
  • These filmmakers knew the secret to successful moviemaking: no matter what, end your film with a shot of adorable puppies. I had some issues with the movie but look at those cute puppies!

Legacy

  • Rin Tin Tin died in 1932 at the age of 98 (in dog years). Rin Tin Tin Jr. continued his father’s legacy in a series of films throughout the ‘30s. Future generations of Rin Tin Tin would play the part in such endeavors as television and yes, even radio.
  • The current Rin Tin Tin is a 12th generation descendent of the original dog, and makes public appearances ranging from pet owenership awareness to tributes to the original Rin Tin Tin.
  • “Clash of the Wolves” is one of only six Rin Tin Tin films still known to exist. Although “Clash” was never lost, the only available print for many years was a 16mm version used for television. A 35mm print was discovered in South Africa in 2003, and made the NFR one year later.

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