Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Boy and His Dog (1975)

          Based on a story by revered sci-fi scribe Harlan Ellison, this cult-fave saga takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland—Ellison’s narrative contrives an alternate reality in which John F. Kennedy survived the events of November 22, 1963, with major ripple effects on history. In 2024, survivors wander the desolated Earth, struggling for food and water. The protagonist (not really a hero) is dim-witted teenager Vic (Don Johnson), who roams the American Southwest accompanied only by Blood, his genius-level telepathic pooch. Blood “speaks” via voiceover performed by actor Tim McIntire. Blood and Vic travel together because the boy’s physical strength and the dog’s mental abilities make them a formidable unit. As the weird story progresses, Blood and Vic end up in a subterranean community called Topeka, where Vic gets involved with Quilla (Suzanne Benton), the daughter of underground overlord Lou (Jason Robards), a boisterous megalomaniac.
          Even by comparison with earlier sequences that feature killer mutants and talking dogs, the underground bits in A Boy and His Dog are insane. Most of the Topeka residents wear garish mime makeup, and the culture beneath the Earth’s surface is built around sexless procreation. (Men get strapped to machines that extract sperm—fun!) Describing the full plot of A Boy and His Dog is more work than it’s worth, partly because the story is so complicated and partly because the mysteries of this unique film should not be revealed. Suffice to say,  A Boy and His Dog is not for every taste. Some viewers will find it too confusing, some will find it too odd, and some will find it too pretentiously allegorical. Furthermore, the film’s extremes are exacerbated by narrative and technical shortcomings.
          L.Q. Jones, a veteran character actor known mostly for Westerns (including Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 classic The Wild Bunch), directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the movie—one of only three completed projects he helmed—and he’s shaky behind the camera. The movie has visual flair, since bizarre post-apocalyptic environments are inherently interesting, but do the various elements hang together comfortably? Not really. The movie toggles between bleak drama, high comedy, and wicked satire, never settling on a consistent tone, and the final scene (which won’t be spoiled here) kicks the film into truly demented terrain. Plus, since Johnson is not a powerhouse actor, it’s odd that the most dynamic performance in the film is given by McIntire, who never appears onscreen; his impassioned vocal work, portraying every dimension of Blood’s perversely complicated personality, nearly pulls the picture together.

A Boy and His Dog: FREAKY


Peter L. Winkler said...

"the culture beneath the Earth’s surface is built around sexless procreation"

I only saw this film once, when it premiered at Filmex in Los Angeles, but I recall that the men in Topeka were sterile, which is why they used Quilla June to lure Vic below to -- ahem -- pump him.

Kevin Mac said...

I understand that Blood the Dog also portrayed none other than the Brady Bunch pooch "Tiger." Sadly, the sardonic voice is absent. Can you imagine the comments he would have had for the Brady Brood?

Unknown said...

The co-producer (with L.Q. Jones) was Alvy Moore, best known as County Agent Hank Kimball on Green Acres. Moore also appears in the film as one of the Topeka residents. Moore was Lee Marvin's best friend and an Iwo Jima veteran, also appearing as one of the gang members in 1953's The Wild One with Brando and Marvin.

Guy Callaway said...

For one release it was titled 'Psycho Boy And His Killer Dog Blood'!