Dog Factory (1904) A Silent Film Review

A peculiar business has opened in 1904. They can transform dogs into sausages and back again, talk about easy storage! However, things go very wrong when a customer demands a tougher dog than what is on the menu…

Home Media Availability: Stream courtesy of the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Dogs made while you wait!

Sure, you can go to a shelter or you can go to a breeder but wouldn’t you much rather go to a dog factory to get a custom model? That is the premise of this Edison short from top director Edwin S. Porter.

Open for business!

The owners of the Dog Factory have a unique service: they turn unwanted dogs into sausages, hang them on the wall and then reverse the process, turning the sausages back into happy dogs for new owners. Business is booming! A gaggle of dogs are quickly sausaged before more customers enter. He wants a Spaniel, she wants a Dachshund, no, a Terrier, he wants a dog that can do tricks.

Things take a turn when a tough guy swaggers in and asked for a Boston Bull Terrier. Finding the little lapdog to be too puny for his taste, the tough guy demands a “Fighting Bull” and is immediately attacked by a large dog that chases him out of the shop. The customer is most definitely NOT always right.

The would-be dogfighting host under attack. Good.

This is a bit of a gruesome short, though not too bad once you realize that being turned into a sausage is a storage trick and the dogs do not seem to be harmed by it. And I particularly enjoyed seeing the backflips of a variety called the Trained Dog.

I know that it’s always a risk to analyze comedy too closely and it’s easy to kill any amusement in the process but I was curious about the thought process behind Dog Factory. In modern times, the association between dogs and sausages is generally limited to jokes about Dachshunds. (There’s a local fancier’s club that has an annual “bun run” with members’ wiener dogs and it’s by no means the only one.)

Ladies love it!

I am not the biggest fan of the Peck’s Bad Boy series by George W. Peck but it was quite enlightening when I was researching this topic. An 1890 story collection refers to a Dachshund as a “sausage dog” but an earlier story from 1883 provides the truth of the matter. The title character of the series hides a dog collar in a grocer’s sausages and then tells his victim that the farmer must have forgotten to strain the dog meat before adding it to the mixture.

The purity of foods and appropriate labeling was one of the top political issues of the era. With little regulation and money to be made, adulterated food was a major concern for American consumers. Dog meat was among the items unscrupulous butchers would add to stretch more expensive ingredients. The Pure Foods Act was passed in 1906, two years after Dog Factory was released and the understandable frenzy for pure, wholesome food helped spur a decades-long love affair between the American public and pre-packaged ingredients.

Business is booming.

It’s clear that Edwin S. Porter was having a bit of innocent fun with a very serious public health concern. The jump from “dogs into sausage” to “sausage into dogs” is an easy enough one to make and worked well with the zany humored favored by motion picture audiences of the era.

And I use the word “innocent” very consciously as mechanized butchery was a popular subject in the first decade of cinema and Porter’s take is one of the more pleasant. The 1896 Lumière film La Charcuterie mécanique eschews special effects and simply has a pig hoisted into one side of a giant box while an actor lifts sausages, spareribs and other meat items from the other side. Alice Guy’s Chapellerie et charcuterie mécaniques (1900) took things in a more surreal direction, as the sausage machine in that picture was fed kittens and puppies and produced sausages and hats. In both cases, the creatures remain sausage, there is no reprieve for them.

Manufacturing a Spaniel, my choice.

The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal praised the Porter film as “an old idea put forward in a new manner.” Hear, hear! (The sausage machine gag pre-dated cinema and could easily be accomplished with hidden panels and trapdoors during a live performance.)

Now, onto more pleasant things. The obvious question to ask is whether the dogs featured in the shop accurately reflected the most popular breeds of the time. It’s a matter of yes and no.

My own un-manufactured dogs last winter. They did not approve of this film.

The Collie had become phenomenally popular in the 1880s and achieved top dog position in the 1900s. (The 1905 British production Rescued by Rover with its Collie lead proved to be a monster hit and I am sure the breed’s popularity helped.) The dog factory offers no Collies onscreen but this was likely due to the size of the breed rather than dislike or a lack of popularity. The punchline of the picture called for a meaty bulldog to emerge and the comedic effect would have been spoiled if big, floofy Collies had made an early appearance. And think of the backs of the performers, lifting big dogs repeatedly!

The Boston Bull Terrier took up the second slot in the purebred top ten. The Dachshund did not make the list but since the Edison catalog took pains to state that the dog factory owners were German, it makes sense that the breed was included. And, no, I have no idea what a “plain dog” is supposed to be.

Ordering up a plain dog.

(The Fighting Bull looks to be an American Staffordshire Terrier or other bully breed, which were and are favored for dog fighting. However, the breed was not recognized by the AKC until 1936 and so the organization would not have tracked its popularity in the 1900s.)

Dog Factory is noted for its clever sleight of hand, but it lacks the cinematic fireworks of Edwin S. Porter’s own Dream of a Rarebit Fiend. As with many releases of the period, stagey painted sets and props were used for anything that the actors did not have to interact with. So, real sausages are hung over painted sausage links on the wall. However, the dogs were real and that’s what really matters, especially since they seem to have been such game performers.

Ordering a touch dog.

Films of this period frequently combined extreme realism with extreme artifice. Nobody seemed to mind but then again, most modern viewers happily watch CGI-enhanced reality so maybe things have not really changed much.

Dog Factory’s main gag is twisted fun and it’s an ideal picture to demonstrate the sheer weirdness of the era’s entertainment but it isn’t quite as delightful as other examples of the period.

Where can I see it?

Stream for free courtesy of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

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