I've been trying to come up with a catchy opening statement on CHALLENGE TO WHITE FANG for over a week now and give up. These are quite simply some of the strangest movies ever made. Who was the intended audience? Just like with his earlier WHITE FANG (1973), with the same basic cast & crew, Lucio Fulci has cooked up a populist entertainment that's way too violent for the kiddies and a bit to cutesy for adults, when people aren't being tortured and burned alive that is. While missing the nudity & sex of an exploitation film these are hardly all-age adventures, at least in their unedited forms.
Both of Fulci's White Fang films were part of a mini-fad that was one of the variants Italian film producers tried to squeeze some life out of their spaghetti western industry. There were maybe a dozen of these things made between 1973 and 1977 or so -- Alpine adventures set in the gold rush era Klondike with plucky kids and an intelligent, resourceful wolfhound as the star of the film. They usually bring in a ringer for an action hero (Merizio Merli, Ron Ely, Doug McClure or in this case, Franco Nero, wearing what appears to be one of Farrah Fawcett's old fur coats) and a stock trade bad guy (Jack Palance, Henry Silva, or John Steiner as we have here) and come up with all sorts of fascinating adventures for the dog to have while the humans stand around cheering him on.
Hence the confusion that these were for kids. Kids love dogs and the films always have a young boy for the hound to bond with, maybe a pretty nun or some other female lead for the dads to quietly lust over, though romance with the action hero is out of the question. So you'd think this would be fun for the whole family until the town drunk is beaten senseless, the hapless Indian family is murdered in cold blood, and the child terrorized by big greasy bad guys who get a kick out of torturing cripples. The bullets fly, the bodies pile up, and White Fang gets to do clever things like figure out that someone is cheating at poker.
If there are any saving graces to this outing it is that White Fang is not forced to fight any other animals for the benefit of the camera, though he does get chased around, kicked, beaten with ax handles and thrown out of burning buildings. We can only hope that they asked the dog to sign a release form first. He's also depicted as fighting off a golden eagle that attacks the plucky young boy for some reason that I missed taking wildlife biology, leading to one of the most bizarre gore effects sequences ever staged where the doggie performer is festooned with a truly twisted zombie makeup effect to have it appear as though the bird scratched his eyes out. I imagine that was one of the parts cut from the prints imported to North America in the 1970s.
The film culminates in a preposterous dog sled race finale that took a few cues from BEN HUR with the two sled riders battling it out as they hurtle across the wilderness. The credits here cite Canada as one of the filming locations but I don't know, somehow I doubt they would have imported the whole cast & crew from Europe just to film a movie about a kid and his dog. WHITE FANG was filmed in Austria and I'd say that looks like the same town set, but it really doesn't matter. The whole thing is marvelously fake and tacky, which is half of the fun of this little sub-genre of spaghetti westerns. I think they are fascinating and this is probably one of the better examples with no apparent harm coming to the animal performers for once. The people, though, boy they get battered around some. Looks like it was a tough, physical shoot under adverse conditions. It's a marvel the film was even made at all, and I dare say you couldn't come up with anything like it today.