Home > Blogathon, Classic, Film Review > Classic Movie Dogathon: OH HEAVENLY DOG, starring Benji

Classic Movie Dogathon: OH HEAVENLY DOG, starring Benji

I’m not a dog person.

Don’t misunderstand.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Man’s BFF.  I just never had a dog when I was a kid, and none of my close friends had dogs when we were all kids, so my exposure to dogs in the so-called formative years of my life was limited.  Since then, I’ve never had that need to have a dog in my life because I’ve never had a dog in my life to begin with.

Which then begs the question: why would a non-dog person participate in a dog-themed movie blogathon?  Armchair psychologists might point to the absence of a dog in my life and interpret my participation in this event as some subconscious attempt to fill a void from my childhood and blah blah blah.

No.  It really isn’t that deep.

1980’s Oh Heavenly Dog was a no-brainer for me to write about for four reasons:

1. I am from the 1980s.

2. I am a film buff.

3. I am a writer.

4. BENJI IS ADORABLE!

So there you go.

Just as someone once described Speed as “Die Hard on a bus,” I would describe Benji as “Lassie meets Die Hard.”  Whereas Lassie was purebred and glamorous and straight out of central casting (think Arnold Schwarzenegger in any of his action movies), Benji was a scrappy mutt, with spunk for days and a requirement to overachieve in order to succeed (think Brice Willis in Die Hard).  When Lassie (like Arnold) was off to the rescue, her ultimate success was never in doubt; “Of course Lassie saves the day … she’s Lassie.”  But when Benji (like Willis) found himself in jam after jam, there wasn’t so much doubt as there was disbelief; “How did HE do THAT?”

In contemporary sports terms, Lassie = Tom Brady.  Benji = Tim Tebow.

(Now visualize Benji taking a knee, with his head lowered to a clenched fist, deep in prayer.  And scene.)

My first recollection of Benji was from his debut in 1974’s Benji, an Oscar-nominated film (Best Music, Original Song) about a stray dog who rescues two kidnapped children.  Not only had I seen the film, I had also read the novelization of the film, which my parents purchased for me via one of those monthly, grammar school, mail-order book sale deals.

Fast-forward to 1977, when the not-Oscar-nominated sequel, For the Love of Benji, was released.  In this installment, our canine hero finds himself at the center of adventure and intrigue in Greece.  Greece!  (Also fast-forward to another of those monthly, grammar school, mail-order book sale deals.)

Both of those Benji films were made by Joe Camp, a director who, while he had two other forgettable films in the 1970s (1976‘s Hawmps! and 1979‘s The Double McGuffin), made his name (and got a lot of mileage) by making all things Benji, on screens large and small, including my film choice for the Dogathon, 1980’s Oh Heavenly Dog.

Oh Heavenly Dog stars Chevy Chase as an American private investigator in London who finds himself murdered not long after being hired by bad guy Omar Sharif.  After a visit to Purgatory (really), Chase is sent back to earth with the charge of solving his own murder as his ticket into heaven.  The catch?  He returns to earth as a dog, played by Benji.  This is a huge plus in the cuteness department, but being a dog makes solving a human murder something of a challenge.  Thankfully, Chase/Benji has the gorgeous Jane Seymour, as the love interest, to help save the day.

And not that I’m one for spoilers, but really, it’s a Benji movie; of course the ending is happy.

As movies go, Oh Heavenly Dog is not good, with its greatest sin being that it is terribly boring.  This is inexcusable, given its comedic lead (Chase), its adorable star (Benji), its beautiful love interest (Seymour), its exotic villain (Sharif), and its glamorous locale (London).  This is a recipe for something sensational, but in the hands of Camp and screenwriter Rod Browning, it’s more like a bad episode of a tired sitcom that sends its leads on a shot-on-location vacation in hopes of ginning up viewers during sweeps.

Even the scenes in Purgatory, the scenes that feature Chase as the focal point, thud with indecisiveness.  First there is this heavenly vibe, with everyone dressed in flowing white garbs (which is a very kind description of high-end hospital gowns), and there is cloud-like white mist all around.  Then there is this futuristic vibe, where Purgatory’s gatekeeper has (what must have been in 1980) a beyond-the-state-of-the art computer on his desk.  And then there is this bleak, bureaucratic vibe, where everyone shuffles through what looks like your standard DMV lobby, with pneumatic tubes whisking who-knows-what to who-knows-where, and miserable people working behind desks and counters.

Pick a vision, Mr. Camp, not “All of the Above.”

To be fair, I think Oh Heavenly Dog also suffers from some poor timing.  It was made six years after Benji’s introduction, so it’s possible that the Benji train had lost so much steam that even its filmmakers were bored.  (Benji’s next adventure, Benji the Hunted, wouldn’t see the light of day for another seven years.)  It was also released two weeks before Chase’s bigger (and much better) vehicle, Caddyshack, which allows for the possibility that (a) Chase was distracted by the making of, and run-up to, the latter film; or (b) Chase wasn’t quite in his film groove yet; a groove that would come with such hits as Caddyshack, Vacation, and Fletch.  (Fletch is the most interesting of the three films to me because, like Oh Heavenly Dog, it features a lot of voiceover work by Chase, which even from a straight delivery-of-lines perspective, is worlds better than Oh Heavenly Dog.)

If you are a completist like me, and you have the need to see everything (or as much as possible) from the 1980s, or if you are a completist about movies starring dogs, or Benji, or Chase, or Seymour, then check out Oh Heavenly Dog.  Otherwise, forget the dog, embrace the gopher, and fire-up Caddyshack.

And the dog-gone fun doesn’t end with my blog!  (Dreadful pun, I know.)  Check out the rest of the furry-friended films in the Classic Movie Dogathon here!

And much thanks to Classic Movie Blog Association member Classic Film and TV Cafe for hosting this ter-ruff!-ic event!  (Did it again.  So sorry.)

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  1. Rick29
    February 19, 2012 at 10:09

    I agree that OH! HEAVENLY DOG is not a particularly good film and wastes the talent of Benji, a legitimate canine superstar at the time. But it holds interest for me because it’s a loose reverse remake of one of my favorite films: YOU NEVER CAN TELL, in which a dog is murdered and returns to Earth as a human (Dick Powell as P.I. Rex Shepard) determined to find his killer. By the way, I love your Benji as Bruce Willis analogy. Now, Benji in a DIE HARD remake…that would be interesting!

    • February 19, 2012 at 18:17

      Thanks, Rick. I’ll have to look into YOU NEVER CAN TELL; I’m not familiar with that.

      And yes, Die Hard: Benji would be epic. 8 )

  2. February 19, 2012 at 12:26

    This is the first time reading your blog entries. Not sure how I’ve missed it. Now that it’s been added to my blogroll I’ll continue on to your review.

    I didn’t have a dog myself as a kid but my parents had two poodles which I always got suckered into walking and holding on my lap during car trips every summer. When asked to have a turn walking them my response was always the same “Why do I have to, they aren’t my dogs and I don’t ever play with them?” I do like dogs but I’m not a fan of little yappy ones.

    Benji, I think I’ve seen in bits and parts and that’s because of Chevy Chase. I don’t think anyone with a sense of humor missed his early work. Sadly, I didn’t find this film funny, precious or worth watching all the way through. As you mentioned, it was before Chase ‘found his groove’. I think my sister loved this film because she loves anything with dogs in it. This is the same sister who lists “Raising Arizona” as her favorite film though. Ha Ha

    Your honest breakdown of the movie was enjoyable and a fun addition to the Dogathon with the addition of personal stories on family pets a nice bonus.

    Kudos! Or shall I say Ruff Ruff?
    Page

  3. February 19, 2012 at 16:44

    ScribeHard, your review of OH, HEAVENLY DOG was far more interesting and entertaining than the film itself! It brought me back to when I was 17 and my best high school buds were in the throes of Chevy Chase fever, back when both Chase and our high school pals were were young, eager, and cute. That said, even we found OH, HEAVENLY DOG to be kind of a hot mess, but back then, we were easy to please! (For the record, our favorite Chevy Chase movies are FOUL PLAY, FLETCH, and the underrated MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN.) Your post really hit the mark in many ways — great job!

    Now that I’ve read and enjoyed several of your reviews recently (though I didn’t always leave comments, for which I apologize; been crazy busy), I’ve taken the liberty of including your blog in the “Further Distractions” section of my classic movies blog TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED. Looking forward to more of your reviews!

    P.S.: I accidentally posted my comments about OH, HEAVENLY DOG on your ADAM’S RIB post — so sorry about that!

    • February 19, 2012 at 18:22

      I think FLETCH is my favoite Chevy Chase film. I like CADDYSHACK more, but that’s got a big cast and Bill Murray steals the show there.

      Thanks so much for the reads (and don’t sweat the comments – I know about crazy).

  4. whistlingypsy
    February 19, 2012 at 17:59

    I can’t imagine a blogathon dedicated to canines in film that wouldn’t include Benji in a starring role. The problem with being a person of “somewhat advanced years,” is discovering the films of my youth or childhood are now considered “classics,” (shudder) and taking these same films for granted. I think we can agree that “Oh Heavenly Dog” passes more as good entertainment than a classic film, but the best we can hope for from any decade is a movie that was at least fun to watch. I can remember seeing Chevy Chase for the first time in “Foul Play” (I also remember thinking Jane Seymour was beautiful and probably wanted to be her when I grew up), and then I lost interest in him and his film career. I never saw “Caddyshack” or his role as Benji’s alter ego, but your comparison of Lassie to Arnold and Benji to Bruce was hilarious and inspired.

    • February 19, 2012 at 18:25

      Thanks for the read and for sharing your thoughts, W.

      The day I realized that I was “older” … it wasn’t so much the day I heard songs from the ’80s on the local “classic rock” station; it was the day I heard songs from the ’80s on the local “oldies” station. I remember when that station flipped to oldies.

      And I guess when TCM shows films from the ’80s, it’s a sign, too. 8 )

  5. February 19, 2012 at 18:59

    Michael,

    There’s an awful lotta ‘vibe-ing’ goin’ on! Love yours though. I mean, your write-up vibe. I could never catch up to the likes of you and most of the cinephiles I’ve run into, twitter-vibe-wise, and could never even attempt to be in your category as completist. But it does the heart good to read these entries and walk away knowing so much more about film. Always.

    Aurora

    • February 19, 2012 at 22:55

      Aurora, you are an absolute dear. Thanks so much for stopping by and posting your thoughts.

  6. February 19, 2012 at 19:26

    Well, I’m not a dog person, either, but Benji would be pretty hard to resist. If only real dogs were like that! I haven’t seen this particular movie — well, frankly, I’ve never seen any Benji movie (I guess I’m un-American). Your review shows it to be a real dog (g-r-o-a-n). I love your writing style, and look forward to reading more of your stuff. I really enjoyed this, and I’m glad to get to know your blog!

  7. toto
    February 19, 2012 at 19:53

    ScribeHard, I am not very fond of “Oh Heavenly Dog” either. I like the story idea better than the execution. I second the suggestion to look for “You Never Can Tell” which is far more creative and entertaining. I enjoyed your fun post!

  8. February 20, 2012 at 08:44

    One of the things I liked about this film is how the investigation is from from a dog’s point of view. “Oh Heavenly Dog”, is a wonderul comedy and I really enjoyed stopping by your blog and reading your very entertaining movie review…

  9. February 20, 2012 at 12:13

    Watching a cute little dog go about his routine on film is never a waste of time as far as I’m concerned. You see, SH, I am a dog person and proud of it. 🙂

    I enjoyed reading your review nonetheless, waiting and hoping for some definitive moment when you would say – “But having said all that…”

    I’ve lived with dogs most of my adult life (still do, for that matter) though growing up we always had cats. Go figure.

    • February 20, 2012 at 16:56

      Thanks, Yvette! I’m glad you liked the review. And you should be proud to be a dog person. I have dog people in my extended family, and while I can’t relate to them, I certainly recognize their dog-related joy.

      As for your assertion that “Watching a cute little dog go about his routine on film is never a waste of time …,” my only response to that, at least in this day-and-age, is that that’s what YouTube is for – cute (and always fun) animal videos. When I watch a movie, I want the movie to be good, whether it’s a cute animal or a cute person on the screen.

  10. Hal
    February 20, 2012 at 13:32

    I see I’m not the only one reviewing a pick from 1980, probably the film year I most remember from my youth. 🙂

    I saw OH HEAVENLY DOG! during its original run that summer, even though at 12 I had outgrown the Benji-type family comedies, I was at that age group where we had to see all things SNL/Steve Martin related. And being a sucker for dogs myself, the flick was bearable despite the lack of CADDYSHACK-type raunch. I’d like to revisit it again—and for sure I need to check out YOU NEVER CAN TELL, which I’ve never seen.

    • February 20, 2012 at 16:58

      Thanks Hal!

      Based on my math, it sounds like you and I are about (if not exactly) the same age; and I was like you – I had to see ANY movie featuring any SNL alum. Today? Not so much. 8 )

  11. February 20, 2012 at 15:27

    I was definitely more of Benji fan growing up as opposed to Lassie who I always felt was just too goody two shoes for me, which is why I have to disagree with your Football quarterback analogy. I think you have it backwards, Benji is the scrappy guy who just goes out there and gets things done, where’s Lassie is the goody two shoes Tim Tebow who needs to pray/constantly get help from a higher power/humans. But I’m probably biased on that since I live in New England…

    • February 20, 2012 at 17:02

      Thanks, ZB!

      I vacation every year in New England, and the long-term plan is to retire there, so your home teams are my adopted teams (my home teams are the Philly teams, btw).

      I suppose if you compare the college-to-pro paths of Brady and Tebow, then yes, it would be Brady/Benji and Tebow/Lassie. I was thinking more in terms of all of Brady’s success and greatness to date (like Lassie’s), compared to Tebow’s inability to execute the position of NFL quarterback, and yet win game after game.

      Love. This. Debate.

  12. February 20, 2012 at 21:48

    I’ll be honest here: dog films usually depress the hell out of me, even the ones with good endings. Maybe because I’m afraid the dog will catch a case of Old Yeller. That said, I always had a soft spot for Benji when I was a kid.

    Like I said before, your comparison between Lassie and Benji is so hilarious. And I love “The Benji train had lost so much steam…”

    Excellent.

  13. February 21, 2012 at 07:23

    I missed this movie. Fond though I am of Benjy (going back to “Petticoat Junction”) I’ve always thought Chase was about as funny as a toothache. Thanks for adding to my movie knowledge with your fun look at the film.

  14. February 22, 2012 at 22:13

    I haven’t seen this one–I’m not the biggest fan of Chevy Chase, outside the first three Vacation movies (and I’ve never understood the appeal of Caddyshack … *sheepish smile*). Your comparison of Benji to “Lassie meets DIE HARD” cracked me up–it’s so appropriate! Enjoyed reading your review!

  15. November 27, 2014 at 00:38

    I saw this on HBO about 1982 or 1983 in repetition. I saw it with willingness because of Jane Seymour’s acting. Yes, she was good looking but that was not what me drew me to her. It was her moves and her timing. She had the swag flowing with the gloomy background of London. Yet, she had this conviction of love for the underdog. Here is a sucessful career woman with high standards yet filled with desire and yearning for love. She wasn’t put off by anything or put on heirs when things got tough. Seymour verbally and non verbally acted on this conviction without any strain or phoniness. That was she was successful in Dr. Quinn and Kay Jewlers commercials. This was a mature romantic comedy even though it involved a dog. The mistake was the selling of the movie as a non-sexual movie because it involved cursing , adult situations, and sexual symbolism. Chevy was great in this movie but he was not the lead that belonged to Jane. I still get emotional when Jane takes the bullet. In the end, when Jackie ask Mr. Browning what he wants to be called. He says Benji but Jackie decides B.J. because its more adult.

  16. August 20, 2015 at 05:04

    Frankly, I liked this film back when I was a kid of the 80’s and currently(although back then I didn’t grasp some of its themes so well). While Fletch (whole series), foul play, and seems like old times are my favorite chase movies(along with the invisible man movie he did) this movie is fun to watch over and over again. In the end it’s really not what the critics think (after all they’re paid to criticize) it’s what the individual viewer thinks and likes. I’ll grant you that it’s definately no master piece and would never be confused for a high end mental thriller, but it’s fun if you’ve got some time to kill.

  1. February 20, 2012 at 20:42

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