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A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: The 30th Anniversary – Turner & Hooch

A-Ron’s Film Rewind Presents: “Don’t Eat The Car! Not The Car!”. A Charming But Safe Buddy Cop Canine Comedy From The Disney Owned Touchstone Pictures. “Turner & Hooch” Came Out At The Wrong Time, Starred A Dog Who Had His Own Plane & Had A Fired Director, But Still Remains A Tom Hanks Fan Favorite 30 Years Later. 

In 1980 Tom Hanks was only known as a “Bosom Buddy” on the short lived CBS tv series, by 1984 Hanks would star in his first major motion picture. Actor turned director Ron Howard director of “Splash”, gave Tom Hanks the starring role and helped launch his film career. In 1989 he starred in two of his fan favorite films the Joe Dante neighborhood dark comedy “The Burbs” and his buddy cop canine comedy “Turner & Hooch”. 

Before accepting the role of Scott Turner, Hanks was the box office king of the 80’s and 90’s. The year before “Turner & Hooch”, Tom Hanks found himself at the Academy Awards with his first Oscar nomination for best actor in Penny Marshall’s classic comedy “Big”. While big hits like “The Money Pit” and “Dragnet” lead the path to his Oscar nomination for “Big”. 

The year after “Turner & Hooch” came the flop, but cult classic “Joe Versus The Volcano”. From there on Hanks became one of Hollywood’s A-list stars. This July of 2019, his 1989 film “Turner & Hooch” turns 30 years old. Touchstone Pictures (which is owned by Disney) who released the film had acquired the screenplay for $1 million, which was the highest price ever paid by Touchstone for any script at the time. “Turner & Hooch” was one of the mediocre hits of the 1989 summer. Although “Turner & Hooch” didn’t quite become the blockbuster they had hoped due to the similarly plotted “K-9”, starring James Belushi. “K-9” was  director Rod Daniel’s (“Teen Wolf”, “The Super”) cop and canine comedy thriller, that was released three months before “Turner & Hooch”. Belushi’s film beat Hanks at the box office ranking in almost $9 million more than “Turner & Hooch”. 

While “Hooch” was deemed a sufficient moneymaker, it was clear something was amiss about “Turner & Hooch” in the months leading up to release. Movie magazines published reports about a tense set, its troubled star, and the film’s semi-violent nature had kicked up some parental complaints upon release. It seemed as though “Hooch” was destined to fail, but as I’ve learned over the years, never ever count out a dog movie.

I can only imagine what the original script actually contained before it was turned from a Walt Disney Pictures presentation, before becoming part of their adult production company Touchstone Pictures. “Turner & Hooch” originally had five screenwriters and two directors. The screenplay came down to one writer Daniel Petrie Jr, the creator and writer of “Beverly Hills Cop”. 

Actor Henry Winkler (yes The Fonz) was originally hired as to direct. Two weeks into filming, he was fired by Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg who was dissatisfied with Winkler’s work. On the October 10, 2012 edition of “The Howard Stern Show”. Winkler said of his firing from directing the film, “Let’s just say I got along better with Hooch than I did with Turner”. Taking over for Wrinkler was British and Canadian director Roger Spottiswoode, director of “Air America”, “Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot”, “The Sixth Day” and Pierce Brosnan’s second 007 film “Tomorrow Never Dies”. 

Hooch’s introduction to the film, as he sprints toward Hanks’s Scott Turner in slow motion. Hooch is turned into a comedic breeze of fur and spit, flesh bouncing up and down his canine body in a manner that accented his wild eyes and droopy spirit. It’s an unforgettable entrance, and a screen moment masterfully played by director Roger Spottiswoode, who wins over the audience in a big way right out of the gate.

Determining which breed of dog would make the perfect partner for Tom Hanks was no easy task. Dog trainer and stuntman Clint Rowe said, “We looked at 50 different breeds Airedales, Shepherds and Rottweilers. They wanted a dog that was big but not overly big.” The filmmakers settled on Beasley which was Hooch’s real name, and he was a Dogue de Bordeaux (a French mastiff). A French breed of work dog developed in the 15th century. Beasley was born on a dog kennel in Merrimac, Wisconsin owned by Peter Curley. Beasley was later purchased along with three other dogs for production of the film. 

Beasley had it written into his contract that he would get his own Learjet for transportation. The arrangement, Spottiswoode noted, was fine until there was one bumpy ride and Beasley while out promoting the film wasn’t wearing his safety belt because it didn’t fit. “The pilots completely freaked out,” Spottiswoode said. “Not that Hooch did anything wrong, but they were in this little Learjet and there was this huge dog and he started to bounce around. After the pilots landed they made it known that they didn’t want to fly him after that”. Beasley had died two years after “Turner & Hooch” premiered in 1992, at age 14.

To get the dogs to react to Hanks while filming, he had to spend time with his canine co-stars in the weeks leading up to filming to build a relationship that would be evident on camera. Hanks had said “We got along well. You know, when you make a movie with a dog, you have to work with the dog for weeks prior to shooting it. Otherwise, he won’t take his eye off the trainer. So, I would go off and play with I think actually three dogs that portrayed Hooch. It was a part too big for one dog”. Scenes with Turner walking Hooch took a lot of takes as ‘Beasley The Dog’ was so strong, Tom Hanks frequently dropped the leash.

Usually dogs in movies look at the trainer, who is standing next to the camera. “In this case the trainer taught both Hooches to look at the person who had the little clicker that made a noise,” Spottiswoode explained. “So before every take, he would give Tom Hanks the little clicker and Tom would make the click and the dog would look at him and until then on, until he handed the clicker back, the only person the dog was interested in was Tom”. 

When Rowe was asked what the hardest task for Beasley to learn was, he said that teaching the dog to grab Tom Hanks by the throat was difficult, which he didn’t expect. “Also, drinking beer,” he added. In one of the films memorable scenes Hooch destroys Turner’s home and raids his refrigerator drinking his beer. Rowe said “He can crack the can, but he wouldn’t drink the beer. So we had to use chicken soup”. 

In another memorable scene, four cameras were set-up as Spottiswoode shot Hanks and Beasley continuously for one hour in a car for the stakeout scene. After the hour, they discovered that the new car’s seat had eroded from all of Hooch’s slobber. Spottiswoode said Beasley was “sort of sinking” into the seat, which had to be cut and replaced.

Jack Nicholson, John Larroquette, Dudley Moore, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase were all considered for the role of Scott Turner. There is a tribute to Tom Hanks father’s whose real name is Amos. His name was used for the elderly man who owned Hooch that was murdered. There is also a reference in the scene of when Hooch first wakes Turner up and the time displayed on the clock is 10:02. Where 1002 is the hotel room number from Tom Hanks’ movie “Bachelor Party”.

In 2001, Hanks told Larry King that filming “Turner & Hooch” was the hardest work he ever had to do, physically and emotionally, and specifically brought up the stakeout scene. “I’m staking out a scene of a crime with my dog Hooch … We had a car on the set that was surrounded by bungee-cams, literally cameras that were hanging from bungee-cords. And the whole thing was about, whatever this dog does, I react to. We will not ask the dog to do anything specifically, this dog will just do things … And I will react. That was the hardest I’ve ever worked.”

SPOILERS: In the end of the film, with the death of Hooch it’s an act of heroism that is intended to satisfy the tear ducts as an emotional shock to the audience. Hanks juggles the dramatic turn like the massive talent he is. As “Turner & Hooch” attempts to end on an upbeat note of ending the film with an open for a sequel continuance, how could any film honestly rebuild itself after the death of a beloved character, with giving us only 4 minutes of screentime to mourn? In an interview with Spottiswoode, the filmmaker mentions they shot two endings. 

One test screening featured Hooch making a miraculous recovery from taking the bullet. In another screening, held half an hour later in the same multiplex, Hooch dies. Screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr claimed there was no difference in the ratings from the two audiences, but the group that saw Hooch die was more “passionate.” Some had said “I hated that, that was terrible”, whereas others were “But there were puppies at the end!'” Petrie said. “It provoked this passionate response. The other screening? We had none of that. It was all positive, but muted”. 

Disney head Jeffrey Katzenberg left the decision up to director Roger Spottiswoode. “I thought about it for a day,” he said, “I didn’t really want to make the decision.” He talked it over with the writers and Petrie and Tom Hanks made the decision to kill him off like it was originally written.

“I have to make a confession: I was the main proponent of killing Hooch,” Hanks said during a BBC Radio 5 interview. “It was a Disney movie and when we were putting it together I stood up at a table and pounded my fist and said, in the grand Disney tradition of “Old Yeller”, Hooch must die…and so they killed Hooch. We killed Hooch and we never should have. We should have I guess kept that doggy alive, so we wouldn’t have made the children cry”. The company Animal Makers created an exact replica of Hooch for the famous death scene. Beasley also had used a stunt double named Igor. 

A pilot for a “Turner & Hooch” television series was filmed, starring Thomas F. Wilson (Biff of “Back to the Future” fame) and Wendee Pratt. It aired on the The Magical World of Disney, but the series was not picked up. During an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, O’Brien gave Tom Hanks a preserved dog skeleton, claiming it was his old friend Hooch. As one of O’Brien’s first guests on “The Tonight Show”, Hanks improvised a song from an alleged “Turner & Hooch” stage musical. During the 2006 Academy Awards, Tom Hanks played in a sketch about acceptance speeches that ran on too long. In his comedic lengthy speech, he thanked Hooch.

Hanks was surprised to see a clip from “Turner & Hooch” in a montage of his work at a 2013 BAFTA: A Life In Pictures event, and it led to the actor remembering when they shot the bath scene. “We shot it probably 11 times, because the dog often runs off the set,” Hanks said. “You can’t keep the dog in the moment, and we weren’t trying to do a thing where the dog’s behavior was shaped by the editing. We said the dog will have to be a dog and I will have to react off that dog being a dog. So it was actually very hard work.” After the editor turned it into a “kooky” bath montage, Hanks suggested to Spottiswoode that it would be better and funnier if they just used the entirety of the one good take instead. “He put it in there and it ended up working pretty good”. 

The finished feature knows what kind of film it is and because it’s from Disney’s house of mouse, it plays it safe. It’s just unfortunate that “Turner & Hooch” has to follow so quickly after Jim Belushi’s “K-9”, which was a buddy cop canine film with a bit more edge and violence, while staying funny. 

Watching the opposites slowly come around to each other is the charm and fun of these films, especially “Turner & Hooch” which does that effectively. The growing chemistry between them is what makes the film as great as it manages to be. But it has a certain charm and is a lot of fun, as a genre film from an era that seemed to churn them out like clockwork. 

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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