You Never Can Tell

1951, Movie, NR, 78 mins

Review

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Writer-director Lou Breslow's fantasy-mystery about animals reincarnated as people is entirely suitable for children, but its peculiar undercurrents will keep adults viewers delightfully off balance.

Adopted by baked-goods millionaire Andrew Lindsay, German Shepherd King -- who served in the K-9 corps during WWII -- is enjoying a comfortable retirement worthy of a war hero. Lindsay, who has no relatives, ensures that King will continued to be looked after in the event of his death by willing the dog his $6 million fortune and making his loyal, sweet-natured secretary, Ellen Hathaway (Peggy Dow), trustee. When King dies, what's left of the estate will pass to Ellen. The story of the canine millionaire becomes a sensation -- King is inundated with fan mail, hucksters try to sell Ellen the latest in doggie luxuries and King's handsome face graces the covers of such sober national magazines as Newsweek.

Level-headed though she is, Ellen never doubts the intentions of smooth-talking Perry Collins (Charles Drake), who snows her with stories of having served with King. How could such an engaging man be a secret animal abuser who broke King's leg with a bat and staged a jeep accident to cover up his cruelty? Perry uses his wiles to win her over, and when the dog dies of strychnine poisoning shortly after Perry leaves for a business trip to Tulsa, it never occurs to her that he might be responsible. The police naturally suspect Ellen -- she's the one who stands to inherit millions.

King, meanwhile, finds himself in Beastatory, a way station where all animals must stop in their journey between the physical world and "the happy fields of fauna." A handsome lion sits in judgment over the creatures who pass through Beastatory. most pass thoprugh the gates of paradise without trouble -- animals are, after all, generous and guileless by nature -- but there is a terrible punishment reserved for those creatures who have brought shame upon the animal kingdom: They're reincarnated as human beings. King makes a special request of "His Beastship:" He wants to go back to clear Ellen -- a true friend of animals -- and expose the craven creep who killed him. He gets his wish, along with a sidekick: Race horse Golden Harvest. Unlike animals who are being punished, both will know that they're "humanimals," and the lion warns that they must return before the moon wanes -- otherwise they'll be stuck in human form until they die.

King is reborn as hard-boiled PI Rex Shepard (Dick Powell), and Golden Harvest is the honey-voiced Goldie (Joyce Holden), a leggy Kentucky filly complete with a chic hat whose bow resembles nothing so much as a pair of horse's ears. She's supposed to keep an eye on Rex, but she'd rather check in on her granddaughter, Golden Baby, who's making her own name on the track -- oh, the disillusionment when Goldie learns that races are fixed! Rex, meanwhile, realizes he's in love with Ellen and needs to come up with proof of Perry's perfidy pronto: The wedding is in two days, and the only way to stop it is to show Ellen just what kind of man her fiancé really is.

The mix of puns, sight gags (Powell eats dog kibble and can barely refrain from chasing balls) and oddly poignant romance makes journeyman writer and occasional director Lou Breslow's offbeat fantasy worth seeking out, especially for animal lovers. leave a comment

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