Old Dogs Never Die is a terrific short film filled with many beautiful moments. It’s sappy, sweet and goes down as easy as a nice cup of hot coffee.
Harry Dunn (Steven Durgarn, also Producer) is in the twilight of his life. He arises on the morning of his 71st birthday, the other side of his bed is empty, subtly establishing to us that he is a widower. You can almost hear his bones creak as he slowly hunkers out of bed. He sits alone at the dining room table and reads the morning paper. He speaks to the empty chair across from him, where his wife no doubt sat for many mornings with him. He still compliments her coffee making skills. He misses her, and seems lost in his new existence. His family comes over and brings balloons and cake, his young granddaughter Lily (Maggie Williams) dotes on him with hugs and kisses. His grown son Richard (Mark A Nash) and daughter in law (Shari Salyers Stiles) are concerned about Harry’s isolated state. Harry seems very sheltered in his emotions. At the film’s outset he doesn’t seem too happy about much of anything. Harry to me seems like Henry Fonda’s Norman Thayer from On Golden Pond, if perhaps a bit softer around the edges.
As the film progresses we discover that all Harry wants for his 71st birthday is a bicycle, and to ride one for the first time in his life. Maybe it’s something he wants to cross of the bucket list, or maybe he believes it could be something to take his mind of his misery. Whatever the case, Harry is waiting outside the bike shop, with his Granddaughter by his side, ready for it to open. With training wheels attached, Harry sets out to accomplish this simplest of goals, overtaking the obstacles both physical and emotional that come with this new endeavour. As the training wheels come off and he marches his mission into full gear, we are taken on a full forming change of emotions along with Harry, and we are most welcome along his journey.
Old Dogs Never Die hits all the right marks throughout the film’s 25 minute run time. Writer/Director Jim Dougherty and cinematographer Nathaniel Savidge use wonderfully nuanced visual cues to help propel Harry’s transformation from an elderly ne’er-do-well to a man achieving a new lease on life. Harry’s morning routines begin to fill with more fervour as each one transpires, and the film-makers masterfully convey this without any requirement of obligatory exposition. There is even a very charming and beautifully filmed montage sequence that would give young Rocky Balboa a run for his money. The performances from Williams, Nash and Stiles are all top notch, giving strong supporting turns as Harry’s loving family. Steven Durgarn is wonderful in the lead role of Harry. His performance teeters on the verge of brilliance. As Harry’s journey begins to open up and widen, Durgarn’s performance does the same. He brings an energy and command to his role that few actors of his age can bring.
Overall, Old Dogs Never Die is a film about hope, opportunity and the drive to make a change in your life no matter what your obstacles. It is lovingly made and wonderfully performed, and is a testament to what great short films can achieve in such a small narrative.