Jimmy Fox-Upton (Leslie Phillips) has been training to be a vet for some years now, mainly because he keeps failing the exams but refuses to give up and returns time and again, but what if there were light at the end of the tunnel? What if this time he gets it right? He's something of a bumbler, and embarrasses himself today by claiming a broken leg for a goldfish, but that is down to his fellow student Bob Skeffington (James Booth) feeding him the wrong information for a laugh - he'll have to watch Bob, as he notices when they're in the exam that he is cheating by having written the answers on the cuffs of his shirt sleeves. But he is not bothered about that when he gets his results: he has actually passed!
There's a lesson about perseverance there, but the only lesson In the Doghouse really wanted to impart was "Be nice to dumb animals". Capitalising on Britain's reputation as a nation of animal lovers, this was one of those movies where those with that inclination towards the beasts could indulge themselves in a spot of light, daft comedy, but there were also certain scenes where the tone was more serious, as if director Darcy Conyers wished to tug on the heartstrings at selected moments to prove there was more range here than your average Carry On, or more pertinently the average Doctor in the House sequel which this appeared to be appealing to the same audience for, not that this became a series.
Phillips of course became part of the Doctor franchise, but he was not playing his usual comically smooth lothario here, he was a shade more human thanks to his soft spot for the creatures he was asked to take care of. This could have become an ongoing concern, as there were other books in the line of funny vet stories that this was based on, penned by Alex Duncan whose efforts were overshadowed by the decidedly more rural James Herriot books; his based in fact novels were filmed too, a couple of movies but it was largely the television series that fixed the British public's idea of what a vet should be like in their minds. Herriot in those could be naïve as he learned the ropes, but he never resorted to the silly slapstick that Phillips got up to in this.
That said, his Fox-Upton (some kind of pun, well hidden in that name?) still started his practice by taking over from a retiring vet and finding his first customers want to have their dogs and cats destroyed, either because they don't want them or because they are going on holiday and don't wish to pay kennel fees. Our hero is indignant that he didn't enter this profession to kill off what he wanted to save, though then there's the tear-jerking scene where little old lady Esma Cannon brings her elderly dog in because it's not been feeling well and he realises this is one dog he will have to put down, out of compassion. She is not happy, but returns later in the film when her beloved pet is put to sleep - the vet gives her a puppy to look after instead, whereupon there is not a dry eye in the house, or that was the idea of such shameless manipulation.
With all that in mind, it should be pointed out In the Doghouse was primarily a comedy, and did get cheerfully ridiculous, mainly in the sequences with the more exotic animals. Fox-Upton is invited to look at Mr Tibbs, a cat, at its owner's house, but he was expecting a moggy with a sore paw, not an actual lion (!). Then there's the performing chimp belonging to love interest Peggy Cummins as a showgirl who cannot seem to keep the creature indoors as it regularly escapes, often into a ladies' steam bath and health spa, cue Phillips searching for it and causing screams from the customers in cliched fashion. The main setpiece was the grand finale, where dodgy Bob, having set up a rival surgery nearby that has pet psychology and a pampering parlour to fleece rich and gullible clients, becomes involved with a horse meat scam that Fox-Upton aims to nip in the bud: if you're expecting a big chase here, you would not be disappointed. All in all, inoffensive, bright, a sprinkling of saucy gags, and Hattie Jacques as an R.S.P.C.A. inspector who you suspect would be a nice love match for the protagonist if the script had been brave enough. Music by Philip Green.