When a young actress (Kristy McNichol) adopts a stray white Alsatian she hit with her car, she soon discovers that the dog has been conditioned to attack any black person on sight. Its only chance is Keys (Paul Winfield), an animal trainer focused on breaking the dog's behaviour and finding a way to eradicate its vicious instincts.
The American release of this (American) film was hamstrung by a panicked studio (Paramount) that was out-and-out terrified by what it had on its hands - namely, nothing less than the most uncompromising look at racism in the United States up until that point.
The mode for this study is a struggling actress, played with an attractive open-faced tension by the underexposed Kristy McNichol, who hits a beautiful big pure-white german shepherd in her car one night and makes a deep connection with him after he comes between her and an attacker.
But the dog has a problem - he has been trained to attack African Americans on sight, and does so, viciously.
The question, then, is this; can racism be unlearned once it has been learned? Is the endless cycle of advice she receives to "have him put to sleep" the only advice? Or is there something more that can be done? Paul Winfield is at his best playing animal-trainer "Keys", determined to find out.
The tension is maintained superbly by occasionally obscuring the colour of the incidental characters that cross the dogs path - a person's colour is portrayed, not as incidental, but as the only thing that matters, literally. The reason is rampant, institutionalised racism. The film tells us, a persons colour only matters when the beholder is a racist. The notion that the film itself is racist is ludicrous.
Giving more away would be spoiling, but it's an absorbing and challenging movie, and recommended - though Old Yeller it ain't.