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And I don’t need one other thing…except my dog.

I think everyone will agree the perfect dog has certain qualities that make him/her Man’s Best Friend: loyalty, strength, good temperament, intelligence, obedience. As a kid, I held Lassie up as the model for the perfect family dog. Trapped in the town’s abandoned coal mine? Never fear! Lassie will not only run for help, she will bring you a fresh set of clothing, a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat, and a glass of milk. Need help with your homework? Lassie won’t eat it! She will solve all those pesky word problems and write an essay on French Imperialism. WOW!

“Mom and Dad, can we pleeeeeeease get a dog?”

That’s right. You ask for Lassie and you end up with Shithead. Sure, he’s cute and scruffy. He even has moments of grand heroism fraught with danger. But most of the time, Shithead does what he wants when he wants. This includes following commands when it is convenient, and still reaping the maximum reward. Shithead is far from perfect, but he’s real. He’s the dog we all know because there’s a little Shithead in all our lives.

On December 3, 1979 the brilliant wordsmith Kittenbiscuits was born. 11 days later, Carl Reiner released his masterpiece The Jerk in honor of the occasion. Starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, and co-written by Martin and Carl Gottlieb, The Jerk tells the story of Navin R. Johnson, son of a poor black sharecropper. Patiently waiting for the day when his skin will change color to match that of his family, Navin finally learns the real truth: he is not their natural born son. Although distraught over this revelation, Navin soon comes to terms with his racial identity. He sets out to find his own way in the world, his “special purpose”, to prove to himself and his family that he is a man.

Soon into his wandering trek, Navin encounters a scruffy mutt barking at his motel room door. Navin must have always wanted a Lassie dog too, because he attempts to translate the dog’s frantic barking. Arriving at the conclusion the motel is on fire, Navin runs out in his skivvies, banging on every single door and yelling. Of course there is no fire. This dog is no Lassie and is certainly no lifesaver. Navin’s dream of owning the perfect dog blinds him from the obvious truth. It takes an outside observer to see the dog for what he really is: a shithead. In that moment, a cultural icon was born.

For the first time, audiences see a realistic portrayal of the All-American pooch. Before The Jerk, dogs in film were represented by Hollywood’s canine elite: Skippy (Asta), Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Pete the Pup, even Benji. Sadly, Shithead’s bust is not in that Hall of Fame. A travesty. The furry actor who played this character, could have stuck to the heroic canine archetype, yet he knew audiences of the 1970s would respond to a fresh approach. This unnamed dog bravely made the choice to play against type. In my humble opinion, his  gamble paid off. One of the things that makes Shithead so special, is that despite lacking the talents of the more famous dogs, he is still more intelligent than Navin.

Shithead is a free-spirit who knows what he wants and is not afraid to get it. You can imagine him saying ” Hey, man! I’m just here to have a good time.” He represents the era in which he lived. On the eve of the 1980s, he’s a dog poised to become a living legend. He defines the free, easy living of the 1970s, yet he is not afraid of embracing the excesses that lie ahead. Shithead is fully aware that nothing lasts forever. His motto is “Carpe Diem; Keep on Truckin’.”

 Make no mistake, although he does what he wants, Shithead really tries to do what he thinks is in Navin’s best interest. For example, while he is taking a bubble bath, Navin’s girlfriend Marie decides to walk out, leaving a “Dear John” letter. Without Shithead drawing his attention to it, Navin would not have seen the note. Navin quickly hops out of the tub to chase after Marie, but he has no clothing. Shithead pipes up with a suggestive bark and we hear Navin say “good thinking!” His modesty saved by his faithful dog, Navin runs after the love of his life…but it’s too late.

From rags to riches, and quickly back to rags, Shithead is mostly there for Navin. Isn’t that what all dogs are? Mostly there? They love you as long as you feed them and there’s not something stinky to chew on. When the food is scarce and when you cut yourself shaving and nothing comes out but air, don’t expect them to stick around. If you’re drowning, remember there is always a steak, medium-rare, on higher ground. A real dog, just like Shithead, will be running toward it.

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This is my contribution for the Classic Movie Dogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe. Thanks to Rick for this wonderful event! Please check out all of the participating blogs. You can find a schedule here with links to all of the contributing sites.

Related posts:

Jill Blake

Jill Blake is the owner of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Black Maria and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.

Comments

ScribeHard
Reply

Jill, I wish I wrote what you just wrote.

This is such a great piece on so many levels; it’s pitch-perfect from start to finish. And as I read it, I kept thinking, “Okay. This is my favorite part.” And then, “No no. THIS is my favorite part!”

I finally had to pick one thing, so I HAD to go with “[Sh*thead's] motto is “Carpe Diem; Keep on Truckin’.”

(First Runner-up: “Lassie will not only run for help, she will bring you a fresh set of clothing, a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat, and a glass of milk.”)

When a quotable film has a review about it that is equally as quotable, it’s gold.

Thank you for spinning this gold.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

I’m blushing. That means a lot coming from you, Michael. Thanks.

I had so much fun writing this. So happy you had even more fun reading it.

KimWilson
Reply

What an unlikely choice for the Dogathon! Loved it!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

So glad you enjoyed it. The Jerk has been a favorite for as long as I can remember. Thanks for stopping by!

Hal
Reply

I eagerly looked forward to this review when I saw THE JERK on the schedule, and you didn’t disappoint. Great job. :-) I’ve found another site to revisit.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thank you so much! I know a lot of people love The Jerk and I was a bit nervous to take on such a beloved film and canine character. It was so much fun to write. So glad you enjoyed it and I’m glad you found my blog! Thanks for hanging around!

Aurora
Reply

Jill,

Yours is a brilliant homage to sh*thead and all the sh*theads of the world!

This was one of my choices for the dogathon and I’ve never been happier someone else got to it first. I could not have paid him such a tribute! Love this movie and you do it, and the extraordinary character actor, Sh*thead, great honor.

LOVED reading this. Kudos!

Aurora

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Aurora–

You’re a class act. ;)

I had so much fun writing this. So happy you approve. I wrote this for all of us who love the movie and Shithead.

Sarah
Reply

Sh*thead was such a great dog :) He deserves the recognition. So does The Jerk! It’s one of those movies that make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

I really enjoyed reading this. Great way to start the day…..

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Sarah,

It always seems like people either really love or really hate The Jerk. For me, it’s one of the funniest movies ever made. So glad you feel the same way.

D Tenore-Bartilucci (@DorianTB)
Reply

Jill, having been a Steve Martin since his stand-up comedy days (I was a dewy lass of 16, as I recall), I immediately embraced THE JERK, and its silly goofball hilarity still cracks me up today! I loved your wry, cheeky writing style, and Shithead makes a great Everydog: not heroic or heartwarming, just a cute fuzzy dope waiting for his next meal. :-) Great review, and so perfect for the Dogathon!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Dorian–

So glad you liked it. The Jerk has been a favorite for as long as I can remember. And Shithead is a composite of all the dogs I’ve ever known and owned.

Page
Reply

Jill,
When I saw that you were reviewing The Jerk I squealed with delight! I love this crazy comedy. Bernadette Peters and that gorgeous head of hair, Steve’s scene with the ping pong paddle, thermos and his ash tray…So many quotable lines.

Then there’s shithead! What a fun dog he was and seeing him in your screen grabs wearing that cap has left me in fits of laughter even now so long after I last saw it. When Steve’s character was gathering up his things,at his lowest point and Shithead won’t go with him..just so funny.

I loved your review and the clips have me anxious to see The Jerk again! What a glorious mess of a film but one where Steve Martin let us all know he was the king of comedy during that time.

A perfect addition to the Dogathon!
Page

kittenbiscuits
Reply

I love, love, love it when Shithead growls and Navin says “I don’t need my dog.”

Kills me every time.

So glad you liked this. I love Steve Martin’s early films. The Jerk of course, but also Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains. Hilarious!

ClassicBecky
Reply

I love The Jerk, Navin, and Shithead! He is the type of dog I have always known — no Lassies in my family! I always thought the best kind of dog is a mutt. This was such a fun review, Jill, and my favorite line is “One of the things that makes Shithead so special, is that despite lacking the talents of the more famous dogs, he is still more intelligent than Navin.” Great read!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Fantastic. Mutts are the best. Our dog is a Schnauzer/Beagle mix. In other words? A mess.

I had so much fun writing this and I’m so happy that you had fun reading it. Thanks so much for checking it out!

whistlingypsy
Reply

Jill ~ may I begin by saying how nice it is to see your blog included in this canine themed blogathon. I admit, with no little trepidation, that I have never seen “The Jerk,” but your irony laced review and your particular spin on dogs makes it sound pure genius. Your introduction of Shithead as a canine whose blasé and laid back attitude perfectly mirrored the late 1970s and early 1980s philosophy is nothing short of inspired: carpe cane, dude (I can only echo Scribehard’s sentiments and say I wish I had written this review). I look forward to reading more of your wonderfully quirky posts.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Gypsy–

Thank you so much for the kind words.

I really hope you watch The Jerk, although it seems like people either love it or hate it. In my opinion, Steve Martin was, and is a pure comedic genius. You should also check out Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains. Funny stuff.

Rick29
Reply

Jill, I can emphasize with all of Shithead’s post-name antics. After all, it wasn’t him that decided to wake up everyone and tell them the motel was on fire! If anyone deserves such a name, it’s Navin. Such is the irony of life portrayed in THE JERK, the only film in which Steve Martin tried to capture his 1970s stand-up comedian persona. Thanks for again for participating in the Dogathon!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Rick-

Ha! You are absolutely right.

Thanks so much for hosting this event. I had an absolute blast revisiting an old favorite, and had an even better time writing about it.

Thanks for having me along, Rick.

dawn
Reply

Pawsome review!! Very funny performances by the whole cast and I absolutely loved the little dog.. ” Don’t call the dog “life saver”, call him “s***head” . I have to admit.. I felt a little sorry for the little guy..

I think we have this DVD somewhere in our huge collection of films.. Now, I ‘m in the mood to go hunting for it..

toto
Reply

Poor pup, named because of Navin’s blunder! I think Sh is cute but he has some challenging company to keep up with because Steve Martin is a wild and crazy guy! I haven’t seen this in 33 years and it might be time to do so again. You obviously had a hoot writing this! What a fun contribution to the Dogathon. I love that you posted a picture of Jack, too. He is adorable! I liked reading that your cat Navin also was rescued. We found our dog on a busy highway and we love her dearly!

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