In the Doghouse (1961)

“He charged down the street and asked me if I’d seen a monkey in woman’s clothes.”

As a fan of Leslie Phillips, and 60-era British comedies, when I came across the title of an obscure little film called In The Doghouse, I knew I wanted to watch it. From director Darcy Conyers, the film stars the versatile Phillips as naïve, principled, and compassionate veterinarian Jimmy Fox-Upton.

When the story begins, Jimmy is attempting to pass the veterinary exams once again. Stuck in veterinary college for 10 years, he’s become something of a fixture and a joke to his professors and his fellow students. But this year is different; to everyone’s amazement, he manages to pass. Jimmy’s slimy classmate, Skeffington (James Booth) passes too, by cheating.

While the idealistic Jimmy graduates and buys a humble practice from a fumbling old codger, Skeffington sees the veterinary profession as a “racket” that he intends to milk to the hilt. Jimmy struggles with thoughtless owners and abandoned animals while Skeffington, just a few streets away, caters to the pampered pets of the rich. On one level Jimmy is envious of Skeffington’s plush headquarters (which even includes a psychiatric department), but he notes that it will take a lot of sick dogs to pay the bills. Ironically, it’s Jimmy who ends up before the veterinary board on a morals charge whereas Skeffington eludes disciplinary action for advertising.

The crafty, smoking-jacketed Skeffington flirts and coddles the wealthy matrons who visit his practice, and rips them off with fakery and glib persuasion while poor Jimmy struggles to keep patients. Eventually, however, Skeffington pushes his fakery too far and ends up mixed in a scheme to illegally export horses for the French meat trade.

Hattie Jacques stars as RSCPA officer Gudgeon, and gravelly-voiced Peggy Cummins appears as chimp handler, Sally. Lance Percival has a tiny role as a policeman, and Fenella Fielding appears as one of Skeffington’s customers.

In the Doghouse really is a marvelous, charming and funny film that includes some wonderful scenes. There’s one scene for example, in which Jimmy consoles pet owner Esma Cannon, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a remarkable, touching moment that illustrates the consoling role of pets in peoples’ lives. Other scenes involves a valiant Pekingese owned by one of Jimmy’s former professors.

But there’s even more to this film as it acts as a time capsule revealing laws and attitudes of the times, and at the date of this review, the film is 48 years old. Not only does the film reveal how much veterinary medicine has changed, but it also reveals how attitudes towards animal activism have changed. In the film’s final moments, Jimmy and his friends intervene in the shipment of horses destined for French cuisine. These animals are effectively liberated. Nowadays, Jimmy, Gudgeon and Sally would be labeled as terrorists and thrown in the slammer, and yet this film made in 1961, celebrates their humanity, their ingenuity and their courage. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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