1961-1970ComedyCultRobert Downey Sr.USA

Robert Downey Sr. – Pound (1970)


There’s something liberating about director Robert Downey’s films, even when by rights they should be put on a leash by their small budgets and settings. Never was the case truer than in POUND, the kind of project that major studios would run a mile from. Long out of circulation, Downey’s film populates a dog pound with different human characters who pace about their cage, uncertain about their future. Some wait in hope for their owners to redeem them, others plot to escape, but most wait to see if they will make it to the end of the day without getting ‘The Needle’. It seems like a cute gimmick to have human characters playing dogs, but Downey has never been one to play by the rules, even if they would provide an interior logic to his story. The dog-human switcheroo isn’t as straightforward as it should be: the first camera angle inside the pound shows us the characters as dogs, the second shows them again as people. But are we still to treat them as ‘dogs’? They have a TV set in their cage; can understand human speech; and are revealed in flashbacks as having human lives outside of the pound. It doesn’t help that there’s one real mutt in there with them, and made even more confusing when the flashbacks merge into fantasies. Are the dogs imagining they are human? Are they canine reincarnations of people who have lived previous lives? Is this a form of human hell? There is an ‘afterlife’ theme which includes scenes of the pound’s inmates traveling on a train (a fairly standard death metaphor) and walking through the pearly gates. Does Downey even care about these ideas? Based on his track record, my guess is that he is just goofing around. POUND was based on Downey’s early off-off-Broadway production ‘The Comeuppance’, and it shows its stage origins – by the time the actors are all mugging and prancing about with complete abandon you may be reminded of those terrible, ‘significant’ dramatics you saw performed by art students on campus. Thankfully, Downey’s humorous approach makes his movies more accessible and less pretentious than other underground, experimental, or avant-garde productions. For example: the different breeds of dogs are represented by different ethnic types (there’s a cat and a bird thrown in, too), but it’s just a gag, not a statement. The characters don’t exploit the microcosmic setting by sharing ideologies but instead spout single-minded monologues, irrespective of what anyone else is saying. Nobody is listening to each other (just the way dogs would all yap in pound, I guess). There’s also a background story about a sniper who kills random victims in the city, complaining that “it’s too free” out there, but it’s hard to tell what this has to do with the rest of the film and we don’t take it seriously anyway (But if you want to be thrown a bone, how about ‘Freedom is an illusion’ ‘Society has gone to the dogs’, or ‘It’s a dog-eat-dog world, regardless of where you are’?) Downey’s fractured dialogue (all non-sequiturs, puns and one-liners), use of songs, wild humor, and broadly-played performances keep the first half of POUND energetic, but there are too many musical interludes and bizarre diversions in the second. Still, you can sense the fun that his stock company is having and it may get you interested in some of Downey’s other films. The director’s wife Elsie (a regular player in all his films) and two kids Allison and Robert Jr (as an angel and a puppy) add to the familial feel of the cast. It would be interesting to hear the reaction of a viewer who started watching this film halfway through and assumed that the characters were ordinary people incarcerated in a cell – now there’s someone who would have a completely different perspective on the whole thing. – Shane Burridge


Subtitles:Hebrew (hardcoded)

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