What the What? Chevy Chase and Benji in OH, HEAVENLY DOG

By James Kenney

I found Joe Camp’s Oh, Heavenly Dog for a dollar at a flea market in Long Island (I’ll avoid the obvious joke) and took the chance because at this late date I’m interested in ALL cinema from the late 70s and early 80s (although as a kid I made no effort to see this, despite being a For the Love of Benji fan and having an early 7-year old crush on little Cynthia Smith) and it’s something my 11-year old wanted to see because he likes Chase on Community and liked the Benji films he saw.

Chevy plays an American private eye in London (for some reason) who is killed minutes after taking a case from a shifty Omar Sharif to protect a girl (also murdered) and returns in Benji’s canine body to solve the case with the help of Jane Seymour, who knows something is strange about the dog but is generally agreeable to taking him on dates and to crime scenes and such.

The film isn’t good; from the evidence, Joe Camp is a better dog trainer than director. His Benji films were all successes (I didn’t see his film about camels, Hawmps), but here the set-ups are uninspired, the pacing off, supporting characters are introduced and dropped without reason, and from the evidence, he doesn’t have much of a sense of humor. The film has the simplistic plot development of a children’s film but also allows Chase/Benji to curse a lot, lasciviously take a bubble bath with Seymour (!), and tosses out a bunch of other child-inappropriate humor, desperate I guess to try to draw in SNL crowd who braved Bill Murray’s “kid” film Meatballs. Meatballs is better.

The film could have been good; get rid of all the crude humor and the idea of a Benji solving a murder while Chase cracks wise on the soundtrack could have worked, sort of Fletch meets Homeward Bound. But the direction isn’t there, and Chase looks like rather unhealthy and as if he knows everything he is doing is dubious any time he’s physically on-screen, which amounts to about 15 minutes of the film’s running time. Chase managed to get Caddyshack and Seems Like Old Times out in 1980, so while this is an utter misfire, it obviously didn’t derail his career, or Benji’s for that matter.

A few takeaways: no, it doesn’t steal from Oh, Heavenly Dog, but I was surprised at how much Camp’s afterlife matches up with Albert Brook’s afterlife in Defending Your Life. Everyone wears white, spends time in a bureaucratic waiting station that has activities and events for the newly dead, and Chase even flirts with a fellow newly-dead blonde. I wonder if Brooks saw Dog?

Oh, Heavenly Dog also uses Paul McCartney and Wings “Arrow Through Me” as its opening credits song and then as a running motif in the score. At least that is nice, it’s a good song, if utterly lacking context in this environment.

The film has a most quizzical happily-ever-after where a dog and a cat run off together, apparently in love. So Oh, Heavenly Dog is pretty bad, but I’ve had worse experiences that cost me more than a dollar.

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