Benji is a 1974 American adventure\mystery film written, produced & directed by Joe Camp.
It is the first in a series of 5 theatrical feature films starring the golden mixed breed dog named Benji.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
The movie is about a lovable stray dog named Benji who lives in a small Texas town where he befriended many of the locals (each of who calls him by a different name;) but the people that Benji likes best is a local family, the Chapmans: local physician Dr. Chapman, who is a widowed father of two school-aged children Paul and Cindy & their housekeeper, Mary.
Benji frequently visits the Chapman residence daily and Mary & the kids keep him well fed, but they have to keep it hidden from Dr. Chapman, who is wary of feeding stray animals because of the possibility of germ issues and doesn't want a stray dog hanging around.
One day, Benji befriends another stray dog, a Maltese that Mary names Tiffany. Eventually, Dr. Chapman finds out that Mary and the kids had been feeding stray dogs and despite the kids' (especially Cindy's) tearful pleas, Dr. Chapman refuses to let the kids keep the dogs.
Meanwhile, Benji escorts Tiffany to his hideout: an old, abandoned house believed to be haunted. Three criminals and an accomplice named Linda later break in the house and bring a kidnapped Paul and Cindy into the house. Benji rushes home to "tell" Dr. Chapman and Mary of the kids' whereabouts, but he is shooed out by Mary, naturally not understanding the message Benji is trying to get across. Determined, Benji grabs the ransom note that Dr. Chapman had been showing to the police, but it gets taken away from him, leaving Benji is a loss at what to do next.
Then, Benji follows two policemen into the station, but he gets locked in and seems doomed until he accidentally turns on a drive-through intercom with his paw which gets the attention of the janitor who works there who comes back in to let him out.
Benji returns to the old house and spots a failed attempt at writing the ransom note and an idea strikes him. He grabs the crumpled note and tries to flee, but he is grabbed by one of the kidnappers. Then, Tiffany rushes out and bites the kidnapper on the shin, but she gets a vicious kick in return that severely injures her. Benji then races back to the Chapmans; but Linda, whom Benji knows has another copy of the ransom note in her purse, beats him there.
As Dr. Chapman makes small talk with Linda (who seems to be friends with the Chapmans), Benji notices the purse which Linda dangles close to the floor and tries to grab it from her. Mary begins to take him outside; but Benji bites her, freeing himself & snatches the purse from Linda, spilling its contents and they find the ransom note. Then, Dr. Chapman confronts Linda about the ransom note and she bursts into tears, knowing she's about to be defeated. The police follow Benji on foot to the kidnappers, who are arrested just as they leave the house with Paul and Cindy in tow.
Because of the dogs' heroics, Dr. Chapman allows Benji and Tiffany stay at their house for as long as they want.
- Higgins as Benji
- Patsy Garrett as Mary
- Cynthia Smith as Cindy Chapman
- Allen Fiuzat as Paul Chapman
- Peter Breck as Dr. Chapman
- Christopher Connelly as Henry
- Tom Lester as Riley
- Mark Slade as Mitch
- Deborah Walley as Linda
- Herb Vigran as Lt. Samuels
- Frances Bavier as Lady with Cat
- Edgar Buchanan as Bill
- Terry Carter as Officer Tuttle
- Larry Swartz as Floyd
The movie was filmed near Dallas, Texas.
The park scenes were filmed in Dallas, the municipal building was filmed in Denton, Texas and the outdoor scenes were filmed primarily in McKinney, Texas.
The house located at 1104 South Tennessee served as the "haunted house" where the Chapman kids were held hostage as well as serving as production headquarters during the filming. Since then, the house has since been renovated into a bed and breakfast.
The movie and the ensuing “Benji” franchise was created after Joe Camp expressed concern over the overabundance of family films released through the four wall distribution concept.
He told Variety magazine in 1977: "It has become an industry-caused thing, but the G rated classification has to some degree become if it's G, it can't be for me."
Camp observed that four-wall companies had saturated the market for “G”-rated product in response to the lowered-down quality of their films, he created “Benji.”
“Benji” grossed $39.6 million in the United States, which made it the 9th highest-grossing film of 1974 and also grossed $45 million worldwide.
The movie was given a score of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and has received mostly positive reviews from critics.
Common Sense Media described it as a film about an “adorable dog saves the day in '70s classic.”