• Film reviews

    #594 – Heart of a Dog (1976)

    Heart of a Dog (1976)

    Film review #594

    Director: Alberto Lattuada

    SYNOPSIS: A stray dog on the streets of Moscow is taken in by noted surgeon Professor Preobrazhensky, with the intent of using him in an experimental procedure to transform him into a human being. While the experiment is a success, Bobby, as the Professor has called him, quickly becomes an uncontrollable nuisance, leading to constant tension between him and the Professor…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Heart of a Dog is a 1976 Italian comedy film based on the 1925 novel of the same name by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is the first adaptation of the film, released while the novel was still banned in its native Soviet Union, and likewise before the release of the successful 1988 film adaptation made there. The story follows the novel fairly closely, with a stray dog being taken in by Professor Philip Philipovich Preobrazhensky, a surgeon who has been performing operations to transplant animal organs into humans to replace them. His next experiment involves the reverse: transplanting human body parts into a dog. The result is that the dog transforms into a human form, but unfortunately for the Professor, his subject’s views are vastly different than his own, setting up a classed-based conflict between the two. The story is fairly close to the novel, with only a few minor changes I noticed compared to the 1987 film, which is a very strict and accurate translation. The tone is perhaps a little lighter as it is geared to more of a comedic approach to the source material, but it still has a fair amount of grit to it in reflecting the state of the Soviet Union at the time. It’s never really laugh-out-loud funny, but you certainly get the point of the scenes and what they are satirising, without it biong too direct and literal.

    The main issue with this film is actually nothing to do with the film itself: it captures the beats of the novel and its message fairly well. The problem is it just can’t compete with the version made in the Soviet Union ten years after this version: the whole point of the film relies so much on the time and place it was set, and an Italian/German co-production will never be able to compete. An issue with the film itself is that the latter half doesn’t really have too much of a direction, and is just scenes of Bobby and Philip arguing with one another about different things. The performances, including Max Von Sydow as the Professor are good, But again, in a choice between this version and the 1987 version, you’ll always choose the latter. This 1976 version does everything it needs to do, but without that context of being set in the Soviet Union and being made by those who understand and lived through the source material, this version will always come up short.