You Never Can Tell (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: May 07, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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You Never Can Tell (Blu-ray Review)


Lou Breslow

Release Date(s)

1951 (April 9, 2024)


Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B-

You Never Can Tell (Blu-ray)

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Hollywood has no shortage of animal movies and comedies, but there aren’t many that combine the two. You Never Can Tell concerns a dog newly arrived in the great beyond who returns to earth to sniff out the person who caused his untimely demise.

Elderly, wealthy Andrew Lindsay has passed away and left his $6 million fortune to his beloved German shepherd King. His secretary, Ellen Hathaway (Peggy Dow, Bright Victory) learns, to her astonishment, that Mr. Lindsay appointed her as King’s guardian. She is to live with King in Mr. Lindsay’s mansion and inherit the remainder of his estate when the dog dies. Ellen likes King and is happy to care for him. She’s not happy about being besieged by fortune hunters.

A stranger, Perry Collins (Charles Drake, Harvey), shows up at the door one day with an unusual request. He had been a corporal in the military police, had worked with King, and the dog had saved his life. All he wants is to see King once again.

Ellen is charmed by the story, falls hard for Perry and accepts his proposal of marriage. Shortly thereafter, King mysteriously dies. Suspicion immediately falls on Ellen despite an utter lack of evidence. King’s spirit, now in a heavenly “Beastatory,” obtains special permission to return to earth in human form to clear Ellen’s name and bring his murderer to justice. He’s sent down in “humanimal” form as private eye Rex Shepard (Dick Powell, 42nd Street), assisted by former champion racehorse Golden Harvest, now called Goldie Harvey (Joyce Holden, Girls in the Night). By putting clues together, Rex and Goldie try to find evidence of who killed poor King. When they find an empty poison bottle, Rex asks Ellen to postpone the wedding.

Many dog-related expressions and puns are laced throughout the dialogue, and Rex has some physical business to suggest his inner canine. He snacks on kibble, uses the doggie door to enter his former home, stares longingly at a fire hydrant, and howls along with his favorite music. Goldie also has some cute moments as she grazes on lawn grass and outruns a bus she’s trying to catch. The gags are broad. Some work, others fall flat. Beastatory, a celestial refuge where the spirits of every kind of animal gather together in perfect peace, is rendered in glowing film negative. This sequence uses mostly stock footage of real animals, with voiceovers to suggest that they’re speaking. For a picture based on fantasy, the scene is rather dull and cheap-looking and could have used more visual pizzazz.

Powell, who had made a transition from the boyish tenor in 1930’s musicals to more dramatic roles, satirizes his own tough-talking private eye image and does a pretty good job in a very unusual role. Holden is low-key funny and has perfect comic timing as Goldie. She has a knack for underplaying that meshes well with the film’s preposterous premise. Second-billed Peggy Dow has a pleasant screen personality but is often overshadowed by third-billed Joyce Holden. Flame (Miraculous Journey), who plays King, has real star quality, and it’s a shame he disappears so early in the film. With close-ups that reveal what he’s thinking, King may not be able to speak, but he communicates beautifully. If you’re a dog lover, you won’t be able to resist him.

You Never Can Tell was made by Universal, the same studio that introduced Francis the Talking Mule. Both films are based on wild fantasies about animals and are inherently silly, but they have an innocent charm and lack of cynicism that’s sort of nostalgic. Clearly a B picture, You Never Can Tell nonetheless offers an enjoyable 78-minute excursion into comedy that weaves together fantasy, film noir, and mystery whodunit.

You Never Can Tell was shot by director of photography Maury Gertsman on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The Blu-ray is sourced from a 2K scan of the 35 mm fine grain. Clarity and contrast are very good, and details are well delineated, such as King’s fur, details on Ellen’s patio, Peggy Dow’s dresses, decor in Rex Shepard’s office, and shrubbery around Ellen’s house. There are occasional small dirt specks, but they do not detract from enjoyment. Most of the film was shot in the studio, with only a few exteriors to make the visuals interesting.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Sounds for comic effect include crunching as Dick Powell’s character snacks on dog kibble, a horse neighing and galloping, and Powell howling like a dog. Hans J. Salter’s score is serviceable but does little to amp up the comedy. In some outdoor scenes, dialogue is dubbed, creating a hollow quality to voices.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray from Kino Lorber include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Michael Schlesinger and Darlene Ramirez
  • Never Say Die Trailer (:55)
  • The Bank Dick Trailer (1:54)
  • Murder, He Says Trailer (2:05)
  • Bedtime for Bonzo Trailer (:55)
  • Francis in the Navy Trailer (2:22)
  • The Man in the White Suit Trailer (2:47)
  • Some Like It Hot Trailer (2:23)

Audio Commentary – Film historians Michael Schlesinger and Darlene Ramirez share this affectionate commentary about You Never Can Tell. Schlesinger notes that the film is a childhood favorite. Peggy Dow started out at Northwestern University, worked in radio and as a model, went to Hollywood, and became a contract payer at Universal Studios with fellow contract actors Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson. She made about nine films, including Undertow and Harvey. After her movie career, she married a wealthy man and the couple became philanthropists. Dick Powell started as a singer in movie musicals, turned to hard-boiled detective roles and, inspired by Desilu, became a TV studio mogul as head of Four Star Productions. He would continue to play romantic leads into the 1950s. Joyce Holden was typecast as a comedienne and had a relatively short career in movies. The commentators note that there’s no romantic implication between Rex and Goldie. Two specific studio lot locations in You Never Can Tell are pointed out—Park Lake (where Creature From the Black Lagoon was shot) and courthouse square (for a key scene in Back to the Future). Director Lou Breslow screened the film for clergymen in order to get their approval and make sure there would be no objection to the story line. Breslow worked regularly in television and feature films. The voice of the lion in the Beastatory sequence is Roy Glenn (Sidney Poitier’s father in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner). You Never Can Tell is referred to as a “shaky A picture,” which would play the bottom half of double bills in big cities and the top half of double bills in smaller cities.

You Never Can Tell is ridiculous but also appealing in a silly sort of way. One of the last screwball comedies, it’s pure fantasy, but the death of an innocent, scene-stealing canine gives it a dark edge. As you watch, you get caught up in the story and often groan at the attempts at humor rather than laugh at them. It’s the kind of picture to watch when you’re looking for a light comedy with some enjoyable performances. This is not epic moviemaking, folks, so sit back, relax, and enjoy.

- Dennis Seuling