The Shaggy Dog (1959) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Through an ancient spell, a boy changes into a sheepdog and back again. It seems to happen at inopportune times and the spell can only be broken by an act of bravery....

  • A teenage boy is cursed with periodically turning into an sheepdog.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Wilbur "Wilby" Daniels (Tommy Kirk) is a 16-year-old boy who is misunderstood by his father, Wilson (Fred MacMurray). Wilson thinks Wilby is crazy half the time because of his elder son's often dangerous inventions. As a retired mailman who often ran afoul of canines, he is allergic to dogs, and he simply cannot understand why his younger son, Montgomery "Moochie" (Kevin Corcoran) would want a dog.

    Wilby and his rival Buzz Miller (Tim Constantine) go out on a school trip with an attractive exchange student who has moved in next door to Wilby, a French girl named Francesca Andrassé (Roberta Shore), to the local museum. Along with them is Allison D'Allessio (Annette Funicello), a school friend who clearly has a crush on Wilby, but he does not return her affections because he is clearly hung up on the more attractive Francesca.

    Wilby gets separated from the other three, who leave without him. Wilby encounters former acquaintance Professor Plumcutt (Cecil Kellaway) (whose newspaper Wilby used to deliver), who tells him all about mystical ancient beliefs, including the legend of the Borgia family, who used shape-shifting as a weapon against their enemies.

    On the way out, Wilby collides with a table that holds a display case of jewelry. He accidentally ends up with one of the rings in the cuff of his pants. It is the cursed Borgia ring, and no sooner does he read the inscription on it ("In canis corpore transmuto," which, unknown to Wilby, means, "Into a dog's body I change") then he transforms into Chiffon, Francesca's shaggy "Bratislavian sheepdog" . Confused, Wilby as a dog goes to Professor Plumcutt, who says he has invoked the Borgia curse upon himself, which can only be broken through a heroic act of selflessness.

    After getting chased out of his own house by his enraged father (who fails to recognize him as a dog), Wilby has a series of misadventures while he often (and uncontrollably) switches back and forth between human form and dog form. (Note: every time Wilby changes into the sheepdog, Francesca's dog disappears as long as Wilby is in his dog form). Only Moochie and Professor Plumcutt know his true identity, as Wilby has spoken to them both in dog form. While at a local school dance in his human form, dancing with Allison as his date, he accidentally transforms himself into a dog, forcing him to run and leaving the bewildered and angered Allison behind.

    The next day, Wilby, as a dog, and Moochie are talking when Francesca's butler Stefano (Jacques Aubuchon) comes out and drags Wilby into the house. Stefano and Francesca's adoptive father, Dr. Valasky (Alexander Scourby), are discussing plans to steal a government secret, and Wilby, as a dog, overhears. Unfortunately for him, he transforms into human Wilby right in front of the spies and is discovered, but not before he hears Dr. Valasky expressing his wish to get rid of his own daughter.

    The spies angrily capture Wilby and force Francesca to leave with them, leaving the human Wilby bound and gagged in the closet at once. Fortunately, Moochie sneaks into the house just after Dr. Valasky, Stefano and Francesca leave, and discovers Wilby, who is transformed into a dog, still bound and gagged in the closet. It is here that Wilby goes back to his house and reveals the secret of his transformation into a dog to his dumbfounded father, who goes to the authorities, until Wilson suddenly finds himself accused of being either crazy or a spy himself.

    When Buzz appears at the Valasky residence to take Francesca on a date, Wilby, still in his dog form, steals Buzz's hot rod automobile. Buzz reports this to Officers Hansen and Kelly, who are in disbelief (as they hear about a "shaggy dog" involved in various antics throughout the film) until they see the shaggy dog driving Buzz's hot rod. Wilson and Moochie follow Buzz and the police, who end up chasing everyone. The spies attempt to leave aboard a boat, but the police call in the harbor patrol to apprehend Dr. Valasky and stop his boat. Wilby, in his dog form, swims up and wrestles with the men, as Francesca gets knocked out of the boat. He then saves her life and drags her ashore, which finally breaks the curse. When Francesca regains her consciousness, Buzz tries to take credit for saving her. This angers Wilby, who is still a dog, so much that he attacks Buzz. Seconds later, Buzz is surprised to find himself wrestling with the real human Wilby, and the real Chiffon reappears. Since he is soaking wet, Francesca concludes that he has really saved her from the ocean and she hugs and praises Chiffon.

    Now that Wilson and Chiffon are declared heroes, Francesca is able to leave to return to Paris without her evil adoptive father and former butler, both of whom have been arrested for illegal espionage; and she gives Chiffon to the Daniels family for them to keep as her way of thanking them. Since Wilson has gotten such commendation for foiling a spy ring because of "his love of dogs", he has a change of heart over his allergy to dogs, a promise to change his ways, and a sense of humor (while he also realizes that his dog-hating attitude isn't really good anymore), so he allows Moochie to care for Chiffon as he wanted a dog all along. When Wilby approaches Allison to try to reconcile with her, she rebuffs him and reveals that she is dating a new guy with a hot-rod car. In the final shot, Wilby and Buzz decide to forget their rivalry over Francesca and resume their friendship instead without any girl in their lives to get between them.

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