Jack London’s classic novel is given the spaghetti western treatment here. Amidst the snowy wastes of the Klondike, Native American Charlie (Daniel Martin) and his young son Mitsah (Missaele) encounter the aging Buck, canine hero of London’s other classic The Call of the Wild, and his half-wolf offspring White Fang. Although Charlie warns him to stay away from the feral hound, Mitsah befriends White Fang who repays his kindness by saving him from drowning in the icy river. Meanwhile, Charlie’s close friends, two-fisted journalist Jason Scott (spaghetti western icon Franco Nero) and tough guy architect Kurt Jansen (Raimund Harmstorf) aim to clean up the nearby prospecting town and quickly find themselves at loggerheads with local villain Charles “Beauty” Smith (John Steiner). Beauty seemingly controls the bank and the mounted police and is conning the miners out of their rightful earnings. When Charlie arrives, hoping to find his son a doctor, he is knifed by one of Beauty’s thugs, thus spurring Jason, Kurt and White Fang into action.
Lucio Fulci directed a heart-warming family movie about a cuddly canine?! Well yes actually, Fulci dabbled in an array of genres before Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) typecast him as Italy’s godfather of gore. In fact, White Fang marks an unlikely union of two exploitation titans given it was scripted by none other than Harry Alan Towers, under his usual pseudonym of Peter Welbeck. Unlike the 1991 Disney adaptation starring a young Ethan Hawke, Fulci and Towers downplay the doggy derring-do against the human drama, although White Fang does play a major part in how the story develops and heroically battles the bad guys during the exciting finale. Woven into the central conflict between heroic Franco Nero and evil John Steiner (who does effete villainy better than any other Euro-western star) are Virna Lisi as a nun who founds the new hospital in town; Fernando Rey as a disreputable, alcoholic priest who turns a blind eye to Beauty’s evildoing; and the enchanting Carole André who plays a saloon girl with a tragic secret.
Although well-acted and intelligently scripted with a winning anti-racist subtext, the film is unusually structured around these floating subplots that don’t really come together until the final third and give ostensible lead Franco Nero surprisingly little to do. Reunited with Fulci following their underrated spaghetti western Massacre Time (1966), the pair did not exactly welcome each other with open arms and at one point, the notoriously short-tempered director is alleged to have beaten Nero up. Fulci supposedly held his non-human actors in far greater esteem, but considering this is meant to be a family movie he dwells somewhat excessively on some gory dog fights. Of course that is somewhat true to form and later resurfaced when he directed what some claim was the last, great spaghetti western, Silver Saddle (1978), where star/co-producer Guliano Genma wanted a kinder, gentler fun for the family kind of movie, but Fulci wanted to up the violence quota.
The straightforward story doesn’t give Fulci much room to indulge his usual flourishes, but he tells it well and includes some quite affecting dramatic scenes. Some sources claim this was Fulci’s most financially successful movie which may come as a shock to the gorehounds but seems plausible since it spawned a sequel: The Return of White Fang (1974).
Italian director whose long career could best be described as patchy, but who was also capable of turning in striking work in the variety of genres he worked in, most notably horror. After working for several years as a screenwriter, he made his debut in 1959 with the comedy The Thieves. Various westerns, musicals and comedies followed, before Fulci courted controversy in his homeland with Beatrice Cenci, a searing attack on the Catholic church.