The world famous dog Benji (as himself) has been involved in a shipwreck off the coast of Oregon, and his owner Frank Inn (also as himself) is very worried about his whereabouts. He tells a television news reporter about the incident, and his fears over his pet's wellbeing, and the public brace themselves for never hearing about its exact fate. But Benji is not dead, he swims ashore that night, exhausted though alive, and settles down to sleep it off. When he awakes, he notices a cougar nearby, and observes it as a hunter suddenly fires off a shot and kills it, much to the dog's shock...
When you think about those great eighties Hollywood action stars, certain names immediately spring to mind: your Arnold Schwarzenegger, your Sylvester Stallone, your Chuck Norris, your Benji - huh, wait a sec, what's the pooch doing in that exalted company? He had been around since the seventies, although played by more than one animal, and usually found himself foiling kidnappers or being voiced by Chevy Chase, but with Benji the Hunted, there was a conscious effort to turn him into an action performer. Not that he fired a shot, but he did prove himself against both the elements and some formidable foes.
Of course, this was all carefully scripted by Joe Camp, a director who made a career out of this series of movies, and Benji's actual trainer Inn also garnered some screen time in a couple of scenes, looking more like Father Christmas than anything else, but this belonged to the creatures pretty much all the way. When Benji sees that hunter (Red Steagall) shoot the cougar, he doesn't realise that he'll be filling the role of foster parent to the dead cat's cubs, which he feels the need to look after, showing himself to be a charitable, big-hearted hound. Therefore the rest of the movie is taken up with his newfound parenting skills, which almost succeed in saving the litter.
I say almost, because there is a moment of tragedy late on, as one of the predators gets a little too close for comfort, but in the main Benji does an admirable job. This wouldn't be an eighties action movie without some bad guys for our hero to outsmart: Rocky had his Ivan Drago, John Matrix had his Bennett, and our Benj has this large, black wolf to beat, or at least make sure the cubs don't end up as its dinner. That's not the only peril he has to contend with as there are a selection of wildlife threats around the forest such as a bear, a fox, and an eagle, all out looking for a tasty morsel to keep them going through the day.
You can imagine a cougar baby would be the very dab for a wolf to fill a hole in its appetite, but it even looks to be setting its sights on the mutt as a possible meal. Not that it's all animals, as that hunter hears Benji has a reward for his safe return and ties him up when he catches him trying to steal a strung up pheasant for the cubs to eat. In true serial style, with each fresh danger we're meant to be on the edge of our seats wondering how the protagonist will escape this time, but as it plays out, you're more likely to be wondering how they managed to train all those critters to such a high standard, and that marvelling over their skill does tend to get in the way of appreciating the storyline. Benji in this is as complex a character as you can make a dog, but his movie was barely one step up from a Walt Disney nature documentary: perfectly watchable, but you were aware of the fakery involved. Music by Betty Box and Euel Box.