The Film: A Boy and His Dog
The Principles: Starring Don Johnson, Jason Robards, Susanne Benton, Alvy Moore and Tim McIntire as the voice of Blood. Written for the screen and directed by L.Q. Jones. Based on the Nebula award-winning novella by Harlan Ellison.
The Premise: In a post-apocalyptic 2024 A.D. an eighteen-year-old boy travels the wasteland with his telepathic dog scavenging for food and sex. They come across a bizarre underground society that is preserving the spirit of old time America and plans on using the young man to help them impregnate their women due to a sterility problem amongst the males. Unfortunately for him, it’s not in the way he had hoped for.
Is it any good?: Not only is it a brilliant entry in seventies dystopian science fiction, it’s also an enduring cult favorite and the most influential film in the popular post-apocalypse genre that followed. There is no doubt that George Miller took a lot from the aesthetics here for his Mad Max series, but A Boy and His Dog is not so much an action film as it is a darkly satirical look at society and the true meaning of friendship.
According to an opening title card preceding a series of images featuring nuclear bomb blasts, World War IV lasted only five days. A teenage boy named Vic (Don Johnson) rummages the ravaged, radioactive remains of Phoenix, Arizona with his dog Blood (Tim McIntire) searching for food and women that Vic can have sex with. You see canines have now evolved to a point where they’re actually smarter than humans and can communicate with us telepathically. This makes for a symbiotic relationship between the two in which Vic provides Blood with food to survive and Blood’s special abilities can detect such food, as well as enemies to avoid and even women for Vic to use, which are an extremely rare luxury in this male dominated, only-the-strong-survive world. It’s not so much a master-pet relationship as it is an actual friendship between two beings that care and need each other, making this a post-apocalyptic buddy flick of sorts. It also gives new meaning to the term “man’s best friend.”
In their travels they come across an attractive and disease free female named Quilla (Susanne Benton) that Vic rescues from a roaming band of raiders who have their own woman-detecting pooch in tow. After a wild gunfight Vic reaps the spoils of victory with his new and surprisingly willing lady friend, releasing an enormous amount of sexual frustration in the process. Quilla then convinces Vic that the only way to continue surviving (and getting laid) is by joining her in the underground society she comes from. Injured from a fight with the raider’s dog, Blood yearns for the two to search for the “promised land” that lies somewhere beyond the desert. This separates the boy from his dog when Vic leaves the wounded Blood to remain behind as he travels down below the surface to search for Quilla.
What he finds is a weird vision of early rural Americana that features townsfolk wearing dungarees and creepy white mime makeup. But there’s something about all the non-stop picnics, marching bands, barber shop quartets and loudspeakers continuously recounting random facts and figures almanac-style that feels as phony as the artificial sunlight making the town look like both day and night perpetually. The place is run by the authoritarian Committee who are constantly sentencing the citizens that no longer fit in to a place called “The Farm” where they will meet their end by what is reported as either an “accident” involving machinery or a “heart attack”, but will in actuality be execution performed by a smiling, murderous android dressed in overalls named Michael.
Turns out the Committee want to use the libidinous Vic to repopulate their town because years of life under the surface have rendered all the males sterile. But Vic’s enthusiasm turns to disappointment when he’s strapped to a medical table while a machine extracts his semen to be used for artificial insemination. After thirty-five women are impregnated Vic will be sent to “The Farm” and you know what. Quilla saves him because she wants Vic to kill their leader, Lou Craddock (Jason Robards), who happens to be her father. They are chased by the rampaging, neck-breaking Michael robot, but manage to escape back to the surface where they find a badly malnourished Blood still hanging on to life. Vic must now make a big choice. He can leave Blood behind and continue along the wasteland with a female that would attract deadly attention his direction, or he can figure out some way to feed Blood so he’ll get stronger and they can continue their mutually beneficial partnership. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say Vic makes the right choice, which is followed by the cruelest pun ever told. It’s one of the darkest, wickedest endings you’ll ever see.
A baby-faced Don Johnson as the always-horny hero Vic leads the cast. His performance is really impressive in that he creates a very likable protagonist who doesn’t always have the strongest sense of morality. He’s more like an animal, while Blood the dog is by far more intelligent and teaches the barbaric human a thing or two about life. Tim McIntire’s voice of the dog is spot on and provides some very necessary comic relief when needed, including the last line of the film, which is pure dark genius at its best. Jason Robards is typically great as the unnervingly calm and creepy patriarch of the freakish underworld. There’s one brief look he gives to his daughter that suggests something extremely sinister, which is actually expanded upon in the novel.
Legendary actor L.Q. Jones who had a long, successful career playing a cowboy in scores of movies and T.V. series directed it. This film has that big anamorphic widescreen look, making it very much like a crazy post-apocalyptic western in every way. The atmosphere created here is sublime. Imagery of barbaric roamers raping and killing helpless females they find, while slaves are forced to dig in huge holes in the ground to unearth canned food creates a realistically bleak environment. One of my favorite scenes takes place at an odd desert oasis where Vic takes Blood for a little fun. It’s like a post-apocalyptic drive-in movie theater that has popcorn and shows sleazy 16mm black & white “cowboy-porn” featuring random sex and violence. One of the titles is Fist Full of Rawhide and I’ve always wondered if these “films” are supposed to be old stag flicks that were pulled from the rubble or if the movie industry has somehow survived and is quite vibrant in the post-apocalypse. I prefer believing the latter.
Is it worth a look?: Oh, hell yes! It’s a visionary classic and one darkly comic science fiction film that has aged beautifully. Just to see a youthful pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson is worth checking it out alone. It’s a potent piece of work that was made independently on a low budget, but looks absolutely gorgeous and maintains a punch I doubt the big studios would have allowed. If there’s any movie that deserves a big budget remake, maybe a closer vision of Harlan Ellison’s stories, it would be this one. Although I seriously doubt it would have the same bite (sorry about the pun) that this puppy (once again, sorry) has.
Random anecdotes: Harlan Ellison began the screenplay, but relinquished his duties because of writer’s block to L.Q. Jones and producer and actor Alvy Moore, who some may remember as the incompetent Hank Kimball from the popular Green Acres television show.
One interesting thing featured in the novella that’s only referenced and briefly shown in the movie is a race of radioactively mutated creatures called “screamers” that everyone is afraid of. They are off camera in one scene where the audience can only hear their inhuman cries and see the green glow from their oozing bodies. Jones must’ve scrapped the idea of showing them due to budgetary restrictions, but it’s okay because what we get is subtle yet very effective.
Cinematic soul mates: THX 1138, Dark Star, A Clockwork Orange, Zardoz, Blade Runner, Mad Max, The Road Warrior, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and The Road.
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