Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World

Director: Joseph McGrath
Jim Dale, Spike Milligan, Angela Douglas

I'm not the kind of person who always likes to be a wet blanket for other people. Quite often I can suspend my disbelief for a short while and enjoy experiencing an outlandish idea for entertainment purposes. But there's often a part of me that at the same time realizes that the outlandish idea in question almost certainly could not happen for various reasons in real life. For example, take the situation many different science fiction writers have used about people getting smaller and smaller in size, such as with the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. Just a little thought of the matter brings up some immediate problems with this idea. How would the person in question get rid of all the excess material in their body, like what makes up their skeleton, as they got smaller? Maybe their skeleton and other body materials might just become more compact, but would they then find themselves with an ever-stiffening body that would eventually be difficult to impossible to move? Even if those two questions could be explained with some sort of logical answer, there would still be problems if the person shrank to a really small size. Namely, with the person trying to stay healthy. How would the person eat? How would the person drink? How would the person breathe? Think about it - if they shrank to the size of someone like the Marvel superhero known as Ant Man is able to shrink at will, food, water, and air molecules in the vicinity of the person would at some point become too big to take in the person's body. True, some stories of shrinkage have the people who have been shrunk take food, water, and air with them that I assume has been also shrunk, such as in the movie Fantastic Voyage. But that would only be a temporary measure in most, if not all, cases. I can't imagine a scientific process that could pump out shrunk food, water, and air, especially on a level that would be considered affordable and efficient, at least in this day and age.

Sorry if I ruined any of your fond memories of science fiction stories involving shrinkage. Also, I am sorry if my following discussion on science fiction stories involving the opposite extreme - someone or something growing to a really enormous size - upsets you as well. Anyway, the idea of some living person or animal growing many times its normal size, from The Amazing Colossal Man to Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, has its own unique problems when you start to think about it. For starters, I think that it would take a lot of some form of energy for something to grow to an extraordinary size. And you have to get that energy from somewhere; the movie Alien, for example, never explained how the title creature grew from a mere handful of H. R. Gigerness to a more than seven-foot-tall creature in what seemed to be just a few hours. The idea of something growing to an even bigger size, such as the size of Godzilla or King Kong, is even harder to swallow when you realize even more energy would be needed. But there are additional problems with the idea of something being such an enormous size. For one thing, I read that an animal the size of Godzilla or King Kong would be an impossibility because their bone structure would not be able to support their big mass. Even if you can look beyond that, there is still the problem of being able to sustain yourself. If you were suddenly the size of Godzilla or King Kong, how would you be able to find enough food day after day to fill yourself? Most likely than not, you would consume all the food available around you in just a short time, and then once that's gone, you would starve to death quickly.

With all of those questions I have brought up, you can probably agree with me with my feeling that science will never find a way to make an animal or a human grow to a really big size... or a really small size. Sorry if what I said spoiled your fond memories of science fiction stories you Digby: The Biggest Dog In The Worldenjoyed in the past. When I do come across a science fiction story about something growing really big, I have to depend on other features about the story to make up for the nagging reality that it couldn't happen in real life. When I came across Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World, I thought there might be enough in this telling from its interesting, ahem, pedigree. It was a British movie made for family audiences, for one thing. Also, the reports I uncovered stated that it's beloved in its homeland, being shown every Christmas on television. But it's practically unknown on this side of the Atlantic despite getting an American theatrical release and the occasional play on American television, so I thought it would fit well on my web site. The movie starts off by introducing us to a young British boy named Billy (Richard Beaumont, Scrooge), who adopts an old English sheepdog from the local animal shelter and names him Digby. However, when he gets home, his mother Janine (Douglas, Carry On Cowboy) quickly decides Digby won't fit well in their household. So she asks Jeff (Dale, Pete's Dragon), her co-worker at the military laboratory she works at to take in Digby in for a while, which he agrees to do. At about the same time, Jeff decides to smuggle out of the military laboratory a new and secret growth formula so he can use it on the flowers in his garden. As you probably expected, Digby is accidentally given the growth formula, and soon he has grown to a gigantic size, and is continuing to get bigger as time passes by. Making things worse is when not long afterwards, two criminals kidnap the gigantic Digby to sell at a circus. After that happens, Billy and Jeff know they must track down Digby and reduce his size before the panicking British military steps in to eliminate him.

There's a scene in Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World where the character of Jeff, trying to hide the fact of Digby's sudden growth, tells Billy that Digby is not at his home when Billy comes by to pick Digby up. When Billy asks Jeff why he then has a dog food can in his hand, the flustered Jeff quickly says that the dog food is his lunch. A smiling Billy then says, "All right then - eat it!", which prompts the trembling and sickened Jeff to put spoonfuls of dog food in his mouth. If you are wondering if that is a general indicator of the kind of humor to be found in the movie, you are right. Oh, I admit there were a very small handful of gags in the movie I found somewhat amusing, my favorite being a comic set piece where Jeff is at a cafe and has to eat his meal with the cutlery being chained down to his table. It's not choreographed or directed for maximum impact, but it comes across as almost Chaplinesque or Keatonesque, especially when compared to almost all the other gags in the movie. I think it will be sufficient to say that the other attempts at humor include slipping on banana peels, the circus owner fainting immediately upon seeing the giant Digby, and people walking away from a helicopter crash wearing extensively torn up clothing. Yes, the level of humor here is exceedingly familiar and lame, and is executed with very little effort to try and punch it up. It should be mentioned there are also a few gags more sensitive parents might not want their children to see, such as the giant Digby urinating, a photo of an almost topless woman accidentally being shown in a slideshow during a military meeting, a thrown knife almost landing in someone's crotch, and when the ever-bumbling Jeff temporarily gets in a spastic state and unintentionally gives a Nazi salute, this last gag bringing back fond memories for the old German scientist (Spike Milligan, The Last Remake Of Beau Geste) visiting the military base.

While I am speaking about that German scientist character, I think it's a good time to talk about the next problem I had with Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World. That problem being that the characters in the movie are woefully weakly written. It seems like a few of the actors realized their characters' limitations and tried to compensate by giving exceedingly wacky performances, namely Milligan and Dale. But since their characters have no heart or any real personalities, they are about as deep as a slapstick clown you see at a circus. They become tiresome very quickly. Let me give you some examples of how weak the characters are. Janine, the mother of Billy, after being introduced early on, eventually disappears for a very long time, even when Digby has grown up and is causing havoc. And when she reappears, she doesn't seem terribly concerned about Digby being gigantic and on the loose, let alone the fact that Billy has run away from home in a quest to track down his beloved pet. For that matter, the character of Billy is also woefully inadequate. You would think that this being a family movie about a boy and his dog, there would be plenty of scenes showcasing the boy and how much he loves his dog. But strangely, in the first half of the movie, the character of Billy only has a few brief scenes, and not too many more scenes in the second half of the movie. He says he loves his dog, but we really don't see why he feels that way, since the interactions he has with Digby are very limited in number. Making it worse is that the movie makes no attempt to make Digby a dog with any kind of personality we can connect with. Quite frankly, the portrayal of Digby in this movie is just that of a stereotypical dumb English sheepdog. He shows absolutely no intelligence, and just sits around much of the time when not just lumbering slowly and awkwardly from one location to another whether he be normal sized or giant sized.

Yes, even when Digby grows to a gigantic size, he isn't any more interesting, unless you are a die-hard nitpicker who is ready to criticize the mostly inadequate ways the movie tries to depict a monster sized dog. About the only special effect that works passably is near the end of the movie, using a gigantic prop dog's mouth to depict the inside of Digby's mouth; it results in a few memorable visuals. But it seems most of the special effects budget was blown on that particular effect, because the rest of the special effects are pretty poor even for the early 1970s. The miniature sets look cheap and unconvincing, the moments using superimposing or forced perspective are obvious, and some other moments, such as when the giant Digby is supposedly dressed in a horse costume that obviously contains two human actors, are unbelievably lazy. True, director Joseph McGrath (The Magic Christian) was working with a low budget and limited resources, which might excuse him for the shabby feeling. But McGrath apparently didn't try to compensate for the low budget and low humor with anything particular. The best way to sum up his direction is by labelling it as "dumb innocence". It's not just with the feeble humor and the unbelievably goofy characters that are more stereotypes than people with unique and engaging/sympathetic/interesting personalities, but also with the storytelling as well. The unfolding story often jumps around in a devil-may-care manner with linking scenes seemingly missing or not filmed at all in the first place. In fact, it often feels like the hyperkinetic way many family films today play out. So maybe in some ways Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World was ahead of its time. But I hope very much nobody in this day and age will take that as a recommendation.

(Posted January 15, 2020)

Click here to watch the movie on YouTube... but why would you want to?

See also: Godzilla VS King Ghidora, The Mighty Kong, Sherlock: Undercover Dog