A Boy And His Dog

1975, Movie, R, 87 mins

Review

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Adapted from an award-winning novella by science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, A BOY AND HIS DOG has won a cult following of its own for its offbeat, sardonic look into the future.

In the year 2024, after WWIV has decimated much of the Earth, Vic (Don Johnson) is a scavenger who travels the wastelands with his dog, Blood (voice of Tim McIntire), who has psychic abilities and telepathically communicates with him. The two are on a constant lookout for food, though Blood frequently voices his annoyance at Vic's immature behavior and preference for seeking women. At a primitive movie show, Blood senses the presence of a female nearby, leading Vic to discover Quilla June (Susanne Benton) in an underground bunker. Before he can satisfy his desires, however, Blood senses an unfriendly pack of looters approaching, and he and Vic fend the intruders off. Strange, deadly beings called "screamers" then arrive, and the three are forced to hide out. Vic and Quilla June make love, to Blood's great disapproval, and she tries to entice him to go with her "Downunder," where society still exists.

Quilla June ultimately knocks Vic out and disappears, and Vic insists on following her Downunder, despite Blood's warnings and pleas. Once he arrives in a strange re-creation of small-town civilization, Vic is brought before the Committee, headed by Mr. Craddock (Jason Robards), Meg (Helene Winston), and Dr. Moore (Alvy Moore); Quilla June is an agent of theirs, hired to lure Vic Downunder. The Committee is looking for a healthy specimen to impregnate Downunder's women, and though Vic is at first enthusiastic about the idea, he soon discovers he is to be killed once his immediate services are finished, and escapes with Quilla June's help. She wants him to aid her and some other rebels against the Committee, but when her friends are killed, she joins Vic in returning topside. There he discovers Blood nearly dead of starvation; Quilla June insists that they leave him, but instead she winds up a meal for Blood, who then sets out with Vic into the wastelands again.

Author Ellison has gone on record stating that A BOY AND HIS DOG is one of the best and most faithful adaptations of his work to hit the screen, and as scripted and directed by L.Q. Jones, the movie's ironically humorous tone sets it apart from a large percentage of filmed science fiction. Instead of using its vision of a ravaged future in the service of life-and-death drama or as a cautionary tale, A BOY AND HIS DOG tells its story with bent humor, presenting an unlikely pair of friends who, despite their frequent arguments and individual unappealing qualities, are redeemed by their committed friendship and engaging characterizations.

Vic may have little but sex on the brain, but Johnson's performance makes it clear there are still remnants of a decent person somewhere within. Similarly, Blood's haughty personality is balanced with a quirky humanity, and McIntire voices the dog's lines with bone-dry perfection. (The remarkable performance of Tiger, the canine actor previously seen on TV's "The Brady Bunch," adds significantly to the effect.) These two characters care about each other quite a lot to the exclusion of anyone else.

Yet from its obviously ironically intended title to its wickedly funny sick joke of an ending (in which Quilla June's fate is conveyed entirely through conversation between Vic and Blood), it's clear that sentimentality is far from Jones's mind. His dialogue is frequently sharp and witty, his framing and staging are inventive, and he conveys a sense of future desolation quite well (with a scavenger-oriented production design that anticipated the MAD MAX films and their many imitators). The movie loses some of its momentum when Vic heads Downunder, however; while still visually interesting, the scenes in the underground are more conventional, and the wit of Vic and Blood's conversations is missed. Thus it is doubly a relief when Vic escapes back to the surface and the film delivers that perfect punchline. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.) leave a comment

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