[Goat notes: a day late (and a dollar short), but the 450 update to the indices is now up–and the extensive problems caused with the movie indices when a sort went terribly wrong have all now been corrected.]
A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones, 1975)
A Boy and His Dog was—and still is—widely seen as a failed, if valiant, experiment. I’m not entirely sure why; as far as I could tell, there’s not a great deal about it that actually fails. Character actor L. Q. Jones, who acted in over one hundred movies during a five-decade (as of now, he seems to have retired; his last job in front of the camera as I write this was in 2006, though he seems to still be alive) career, only stepped behind the camera to direct a feature twice—1964’s The Devil’s Bedroom and this. Whether the decision not to direct again was his or Hollywood’s I do not know. Judging by this film, either way, it was the wrong decision.
Vic (Miami Vice‘s Don Johnson in an early role) and his dog Blood are inhabitants of a blasted, post-nuclear landscape where food and women are the most sought-after commodities, in that order. Blood, who communicates with Vic telepathically, tells tales of a place Over the Hills, where the land is still arable and existence isn’t jst a daily grind. The two of them make a pact to try and get there, just as soon as they can save up enough supplies for the journey. There is also Under—a series of communities that sprung up far beneath the surface after World War IV destroyed it. While they are ruled by zealots (they’re a grimly amusing precursor to today’s “gated communities”), life is much easier there. Or is it? Vic meets Quilla (The Last Horror Movie‘s Susanne Benton), who just may be the woman of his dreams, who’s from Under, and after an attack, Vic and Quilla get separated from Blood, and Quilla takes Vic home for some life-saving surgery. At first, the community accepts him with open arms—but the longer he stays, the more he wonders if life under the strictly-regimented gaze of Lou Craddock (Jason Robards) is really better than life on the surface.
Word on the street (at least word on IMDB) has it that Harlan Ellison began the screenplay himself, but it was taken over by Jones and producer Alvy Moore after Ellison suffered a case of writer’s block. (I find that excuse somewhat hard to believe given that Ellison is—by far—one of the most prolific American writers of the past century.) This would explain the rather naïve, black-and-white worldview the movie presents, which is probably the least Ellisonian thing about it. That said, this being mid-seventies sci-fi, expecting a subtle, shaded moral landscape would be… ridiculous, really. Even the greatest sci-fi films of the seventies were overly-simplistic in terms of their morals (Soylent Green, anyone?). I don’t necessarily ding the movie for that any more than I ding it for presenting a world in which women are, for all intents and purposes, currency. It’s a horrible idea to contemplate, but given the parameters of the world we are handed, it’s also not an implausible one. (Lord knows once we get Under, the boys get their comeuppance with a vengeance.) This, of course, makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience—but then, one assumes, as one assumes in much dystopian science fiction, that’s the idea. If you don’t find, say, A Clockwork Orange uneasy viewing, that says a great deal more about you than it does about the film, I should think.
A Boy and His Dog has faded unjustly into obscurity over the past four decades. It deserves to be rediscovered and placed on the same short shelf of seventies sci-fi-classics as many of the other films I have mentioned in this review. Both technically and artistically, this is a good, if disturbing, little movie, and it deserves much more attention than it gets. *** ½
Trailer rocks. As does the movie. You want to watch.