March 19, 1959 – The Live-Action Feature Film The Shaggy Dog is Released to Theaters
“This is a Shaggy Dog Story. It could have happened anywhere, or to anyone. It so happened that it happened to Wilson Daniels, a man who loved people, but hated dogs.”
On March 19, 1959, the live-action feature film The Shaggy Dog was released to theaters. The film turned out to be a huge smash for the studio, becoming one of the top grossing films of 1959. It was suggested by Felix Salter’s tale “The Hound of Florence,” with the screenplay developed by Bill Walsh and Lillie Hayward. It was directed by Charles Barton, and starred Tommy Kirk as Wilby Daniels, Fred MacMurray as Wilson Daniels, Jean Hagen as Frida Daniels, Annette Funicello as Allison, Tm Considine as Buzz, Kevin Corcoran as Moochie Daniels, Alexander Scourby as Dr. Mikhail Valasky, and Roberta Shore as Francesca Andrassy.
It’s a peaceful day in suburbia, where Wilson Daniels gets his paper and scares away a dog that’s passing by his lawn. Inside, he grouses about a dog getting a medal for pulling a baby from a burning building, but his wife Frieda, who loves dogs, tries to calm him down. Wilson was a mailman, which accounts for his disdain of “man’s best friend.” Their sons, Wilby and Moochie, are in the basement working on a missile interceptor, which goes off and shakes the entire house, destroying the china. In the basement, Wilby is trying to figure out the problem, as he hasn’t even turned the interceptor on. He and Moochie have to evacuate, as it’s too late to take it outside. Moochie clears the house of his family, and they can only watch as the missile bursts through the ceiling and shoots into space. Later, as Moochie and Wilby work on fixing the roof, Wilson demands that Wilby stops all of his experiments and gives everything away. As he steps down from the roof, he waves to his next door neighbor Allison, the most popular girl in town, who is off to place tennis with her beau Buzz. As he argues with Buzz about wanting a date with Allison, a new family moves into town, with a beautiful teenage girl speaking French.
As Wilby and Buzz continue to argue, the girl’s dog Chiffon runs across the street to greet Wilby. Buzz and Wilby return the Chiffon its owner, and an angry Allison storms away. They meet the girl, Francesca, and her father Dr. Valasky, and are invited inside. They discover various ancient artifacts all around, including a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia with a sheepdog very similar to Chiffon. When asked to take artifacts to the museum, Wilby and Buzz volunteer to give Francesca a ride. At the museum, Buzz ditches Wilby and runs off with Francesca, and Wilby stumbles across Professor Plumcutt, who has been working on an exhibit at the museum. Plumcutt shows Wilby the new exhibit about the Borgias and their use of sorcery, including shapeshifting. Wilby bumps into a table on his way out and knocks over some jewelry, leaving Plumcutt to collect the pieces as Wilby tries to find Buzz and Francesca. He has to walk the entire way home, and is furious when Buzz breezes by in his car. Later, Wilby is packing up the basement, with Moochie helping, when Wilson calls the boys up for bed. Wilby discovers a ring from the museum had landed in his pants cuff, and reads the inscription on the inside: “In canis corpore, transmuto.” He tries the ring on, and tries to translate the inscription, repeating it over and over. He is unaware that he is transforming into a dog, until he spots his own reflection; meanwhile, Chiffon disappears from Francesca’s house.
Wilby hides in his basement after completely turning into a sheepdog, but decides to try and make his way out of the house to find Plumcutt in order to reverse the transformation. He manages to make it to the museum safely, and Plumcutt isn’t surprised that Wilby was able to shapeshift. Wilby asks for help in turning back to a human, but Plumcutt tells him he doesn’t know how, although he thinks an act of heroism would break the spell. Saddened by this, Wilby walks home, spooking a cop on the way by talking to him. The next morning, Moochie wakes up and is shocked to find that his brother is a dog, and has to help hide Wilby from Wilson. Moochie is excited about what happened with his brother, and wants to keep Wilby as a pet. When Wilby tries to go downstairs for food, Frieda chases him away, unaware that it’s her son. Wilson finds Wilby in the house and goes after him with a shotgun, but fortunately for Wilby he manages to escape back to Francesca’s house. Francesca’s butler Stefano locks Wilby in a closet, as he finds the dog troublesome, but after he does, Wilby manages to change back into a boy, and Chiffon reappears in the house. Wilby then finds Moochie looking for him, but Moochie is disappointed that Wilby is a boy again.
The family is heading to a country club dance the next night, and Frieda thinks that Wilby should take Francesca to the dance. Buzz arrives to ask a favor, as Buzz has asked both Francesca and Allison to the dance, and needs Wilby to tag along to make it a foursome, although Buzz will still be taking the two girls. Unfortunately for Buzz, his plan backfires as it seems like Allison and Francesca are both after Wilby. Things get worse when Wilby starts turning into a dog in the middle of dancing with Francesca. Moochie notices and tries to pull Wilby away, and manages to sneak him into a bush before he truly changes. Wilby tries to sneak out from the country club, but Francesca spots him, thinking it’s Chiffon, and Buzz offers to catch him and take him home. Buzz chases Wilby through the parking lot, but in unable to catch him and ends up injured. In the end, Buzz ends up in hot water with both Allison and Francesca for his antics, but Francesca offers to help him clean up his wounds, with Buzz blames Wilby for the entire incident. Wilby manages to show Francesca what a jerk Buzz is, and Francesca sends him home. Worried about her dog’s latest antics, she asks her father to look after Chiffon (still unaware that it’s Wilby), and Wilby manages to overhear a conversation between Dr. Valasky, who is planning on taking an important item from the nearby missile plant out of the country. Realizing that Valasky is a spy, Wilby tries to break out of the house, using the laundry chute, but ends up stuck in the basement.
By morning, Wilby manages to break out of the basement and finds Moochie waiting for him at the front of their house. Wilby warns Moochie that Francesca’s house is full of spies, and they’ll be stealing something from the missile plant. Moochie decides to tell Wilson, but Wilson refuses to believe him. Wilby decides that it’s time to tell Wilson the truth: he’s been turned into a dog. When Wilson finds out, he faints. Wilby and Moochie then decides to go to the police, but the policemen refuse to listen. Before the pair can do anything, Wilby is taken away by Stefano. Moochie runs home to get Wilson, who is still reeling from Wilby being a dog, but agrees to help Moochie, as he now believes his story about Valasky being a spy. They head to the missile plant to warn them, but are met with derision until he mentions “Section 32,” which raises alarm bells. They take Wilson and Moochie to talk to the missile plant’s psychiatrist. Back at Valasky’s, Wilby tries to overhear more of the conversation between Valasky and Stefano, but turns back into a boy as he listens to their plans. They catch Wilby listening, and keep him as a hostage.
Wilson is grilled further, and Moochie says he doesn’t know anything, effectively having his dad take the fall for the entire thing. That night, a small item is taken from Section 32 in the missile plant, and Valasky sets his plan in motion. Francesca arrives home, and Valasky orders her to go with him when they travel overseas. When Moochie is driven home from the plant, he heads over to Francesca’s to save Wilby, and finds Valasky and his men driving away from the house. Wilby turns back into a dog right before Moochie finds him, and Moochie frees him. As they burst out the door, they run into Buzz, who had a date with Francesca, and Wilby takes his car to go rescue the piece and the girl. The police pursue Wilby, with Moochie, Buzz, and Wilson (who had just been released) pursuing the police. The police manage to pull over Wilby, but Wilby manages to get away and steal the police car to keep up his chase. Valasky notices that they’re being followed, and the strange chase continues until Valasky arrives at the docks. Wilby manages to board the ship just in time, and when Francesca is thrown overboard, Wilby jumps into the water to save her.
Wilby manages to pull her ashore, and the police are able to stop the both with Valasky. He collapses in the sand out of exhaustion, but gets riled when Buzz takes the credit for saving Francesca and fights him, but turns back into a human in the middle of their fight. Chiffon shows up and wakes up Francesca, and gets the credit for saving Francesca and recovering the stolen piece, along with Wilson. Later, Wilby and Buzz talk, deciding to repair their friendship, especially since Francesca has gone back to France, and Allison has a new boyfriend. In the end, everyone is happy, and Wilson has learned to appreciate dogs.