Running time: 88 min.
Release date: December 1973
There was some hesitation as to whether or not I should sit down and watch Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World. It's a family film, a children's story for the most part. There was a science fiction aspect to the plot, which is why it appeared on a list of films I had culled from IMDB.com. So I flipped a coin; heads I watch, tails I skip it for something else. It was heads. So I watched. I think my coin is defective.
This is a British film that tells the story of a sheepdog named Digby who is adopted by a little boy named Billy (Richard Beaumont). A musical montage lets us know that Billy and Digby are the best of friends and do everything together....until Billy's grandfather has had enough of the messes Digby leaves on the carpet, and he forces Billy to get rid of Digby. Billy leaves him with a friend of his mother's, Jeff Eldon, who is played by Jim Dale of Carry On fame. Jeff works at a research lab and is trying to find a way to grow roses quickly for an upcoming flower show. The lab is working on a top secret growth formula called Project X, but it hasn't been perfected yet as we see a small army of men carrying a giant cucumber through a room. Jeff decides to steal some of the formula to try on his roses at home, where eventually Digby is accidentally fed the stuff. You can guess what happens next. I mean, the title of the film is at the top of the review.
Director Joseph McGrath was previously known for being one of several directors behind the loose comedy adaptation of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale in 1967. McGrath keeps a light tone throughout the film, even with the threat of the military disposing of a giant dog in a manner that would have made PETA cringe. The movie is based on the children's book The Biggest Dog in the World by Ted Key. Adapted for the screen by Michael Pertwee with the story by Charles Isaacs, the first third of the film is littered with the typical wit and humor found in British comedies, but then the plot takes over, the laughs diminish and we're left with a family film that is devoid of anything that adults could appreciate. I mean, there are attempts at humor throughout, but the success of each gag varies depending on your age. McGrath tries to hold the movie together, but there are some editing issues, such as a scene where the character, Jeff, gets into a fistfight with Col. Masters (Dinsdale Landen) out of nowhere. This was a totally unnecessary scene that didn't add anything to the plot and contained a gag that wasn't even humorous.
The cast was quite good here, especially Jim Dale as Jeff. Dale has a career background in comedy so light-hearted material comes easily for him, and it shows on the screen. Jeff is an accident-prone goofball who has a crush on Billy's mother, Janine (Angela Douglas). Add to this, Dale's cohort from the Carry On series, Spike Milligan, who plays the German Dr. Harz. As mentioned, the first third of the film is filled with wit and humor and Milligan's Dr. Harz is at the center of it. It's just unfortunate that the character doesn't get stretched throughout the movie and is an afterthought by the end of it. This is attributed more to the screenplay needing to move the plot along and not finding a way to sustain the humor.
The story tries to provide some twists, such as a couple of thieves who see dollar signs when they spot the gigantic dog. So we have a contrivance where the dog somehow is transferred to a circus setting and eventually escapes, in a cute homage to King Kong. The plot is stretched pretty thin as it is, and this portion of the story didn't help things at all. The special effects, even for 1973, are not all that spectacular and come off as awkwardly filmed. I feel betrayed by my pocket change.
Digby: The Biggest Dog in the World has its heart in the right place and is rather harmless and innocent. However, there isn't enough material here to sustain an entire film. The humor on display in the beginning disappears and what we're left with is a film that adults cannot enjoy and children may quickly get bored with. If you're a fan of Jim Dale and Spike Milligan, check out the Carry On series and avoid this. *1/2