Red Dog Image

Red Dog

By Bobby LePire | March 22, 2019

The Red Dog Saloon might not be a known entity today, but it was once the biggest draw of its kind in Oklahoma City. When learning that his mother, Kim Kassen, was more than just a bartender there Luke Dick, along with Casey Pinkston, set out to chronicle her stories of the landmark haven of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. He also interviews several other dancers, the son of the deceased “Nasty” Cathy, the bouncer Tiny, and the current owner. The ensuing documentary Red Dog is the culmination of those interviews and hard work.

Founded roughly 60 years ago, the future site of the strip club did not start as such a place. The strip club was an auto mechanic shop for years beforehand. Once that closed and they transformed it into a bar, the car lift was still operational. The women of the Red Dog would dance on top of it as the main stage. Due to the chains holding off the ground, the stage would literally bounce.

It remained a staple for several years, with it still running as a bar. However, these are cold, hard facts that any Travel Channel show of famous old landmarks would dole out. Pinkston and Dick have something much grander and poignant in mind. His mom left her home at 15-years-old and lied about her age to get a job at the Red Dog. At first, she was a waitress but soon realized where the real money was. Crisscrossing interviews with Kassen, the other dancers, Tiny, and other people who were in the scene effectively paints a picture of what the hard-partying life was like in the 1970s.

“… set out to chronicle her stories of the landmark haven of sex, drugs, and rock n roll.”

To get these crazy tales across in a visually appealing way, Red Dog shows them as animated memories; if that’s the right term. Not only does this break up the monotony of talking head documentaries in a very stylish way, but it also brings a lot of levity. These animated segments rush head first into cartoon land, with zany sound effects and goofy exaggerations of the violence and drug use being discussed. It is a fun way of recreating the timeframe and as well as disarming the audience.

See, as entertaining as those animated sections are, they subtlety make everyone a bit more human. Kassen talks of going to the nearby lake in Hollis, the manager’s, blue Chevy truck. Those were some of her favorite nights hanging out with everyone. By the time she talks about the dissolution of her second marriage, the audience feels like they know her very well. Same goes for some of the other stories by the other dancers.

You might have noticed something refreshing throughout the recaps of events. Red Dog is wise to never judge these women for being strippers. At no point is their dancing or anything else they may have done judged by the filmmakers (or the other dancers, most of whom are still good friends). When asked if they had regrets, they all answered yes, but only some of those are related to the Red Dog; most of the women interviewed have fond memories of that place, and figured out whom they wanted to be and the kind of life they wanted there.

“In order to get these crazy tales across in a visually appealing way, Red Dog shows them as animated memories…”

It is great to watch a film about people that society usually deems immoral or sinful, only for the movie to turn those supposedly wicked souls into flesh and blood beings. When the time comes for everyone to discuss why or how they left the Red Dog, the audience has become so emotionally attached to these people that it is hard to hear the uncomfortable limits forced upon them.

However, the most tragic part is when “Nasty” Cathy disowns her son. His stepdad kept beating up Cathy and the then-teenage boy. After one particularly brutal attack, that was enough for him, and the son went to the cops. See, the stepdad was a professional drug dealer, growing copious amounts of cannabis in his house. Cathy never forgave her son for this act of betrayal, and by the time of her death, they did not reconcile.

Red Dog gets humorous anecdotes and emotional resonance across in a very relatable way. As a documentary though, things are a bit mixed. While the animated sections work well enough, the interviews seem to have no consistency in the way they were filmed. Some are well lit with crystal clear audio, and others are of noticeably lesser quality. This does mean that the answers to questions asked are not also heard correctly due to garbled sound. It is frustrating, but it only happens a few times.

Red Dog finds the humanity behind the booze, pills, sex, and rock n roll of one of Oklahoma City’s most acclaimed hotspots for decades. It uses animation to bolster the dramatic heart of the film (even if some of the earliest stories run together) and the interviewees are all fascinating people, whom the filmmakers are careful never to judge.

Red Dog (2019) Directed by Casey Pinkston. Written by Luke Dick. Starring Luke Dick, Kim Kassen, Tiny. Red Dog screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

8 out of 10 Dive Bars

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  1. Marilyn says:

    Rmember crazy Marilyn
    Ray. Owner Tiny.bouncer . Don. Bartender Ron Hollis bartender died 1970’s

  2. Maralynne says:

    Some may remember me. As crazy Marilyn I danced @ Red Dog
    Tight with owner 1970’s Ray Mackey. Good friends for years
    We started the Red Dog OKC on N Western. Also danced @ Red Dog NW 10th st & the Balcony on 10th
    The old Red Dog. Many memories

  3. Ric says:

    My band played at the Red Dog a lot in the mid to late 70’s.

    The manager at the time told us that he only let a group play there about once a month. We almost became a “House Band” at one time and would get calls from the manager whenever a band wasn’t going to make a gig.

    We played there sometimes twice a month, maybe more, instead of the once a month routine.

    It was a wild place and a great gig to play when we were in town. There were times when the dancers were actually on stage with us while we were playing!

    Great crowd to play for and a really fun place at the time.

    The last time I went there was many years ago and the place was pretty sedate and nothing like it was “In the good old days”!

    Great times….Great memories!

  4. Cory says:

    Late 70s early 80s I drank at the RedDog saloon ,enjoyed the sights,and a few table dances. Odly my all time top memory was,(the largest human i had ever seen) a great big native. Maybe 6 ft 10 .est.450 to 500 lb .huge head . This dude just pull up a chair at any table dance,and noone said a word.He grunted and snorted at the dancers,but pretty sure the bouncers pretended they didn’t see him.

  5. Fran Britton says:

    I just saw this movie today and LOVED it, even though I am a 70-year-old grandmother who never set foot in the Red Dog. I do live West of Oklahoma City though and have driven past it hundreds of times. I did my student teaching at a junior high just blocks away from it. I don’t know if people not from OKC will love it as much as I did, but it’s a touching, funny story of life and redemption. I recommend it highly!!!

  6. Craig Hitchcock says:

    I would have liked to have been a part of this project. I was a bouncer there in 1973 and part of 1974. I have wild stories to tell. I was shot at and run over by a gang member on his Harley. To let you know: the Red Dog Saloon was know well all the way to Montana. It was a very well know club and frequented often by city councilmen. If you ever decide to do an update let me know. Your mom may remember me .

    Craig Hitchcock
    Norman, OK

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