A Boy and His Dog is a 1975 American science fiction comedy thriller film produced and directed by L.Q. Jones, who co-wrote the script with Alvy Moore. The film stars Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Ron Feinberg, and Jason Robards.
The film was distributed in the United States by LQ/JAF Productions and in the United Kingdom by Anglo-EMI Film Distributors. The film's script is based on the 1969 cycle of narratives by fantasy author Harlan Ellison titled A Boy and His Dog.
The film concerns a teenage boy (Vic) and his telepathic dog (Blood), who work together as a team in order to survive in the dangerous post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Southwestern United States. On August 6, 2013, Shout! Factory released the film on DVD and Blu-ray.
|A Boy and His Dog|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||L. Q. Jones|
|Based on||A Boy and His Dog|
by Harlan Ellison
|Cinematography||John Arthur Morrill|
|Edited by||Scott Conrad|
|Distributed by||LQ/JAF Productions|
Set in a post-nuclear war Earth in the year 2024, the main character, Vic (Don Johnson) is an 18-year-old boy, born in and scavenging throughout the wasteland of the former southwestern United States. Vic is most concerned with food and sex; having lost both of his parents, he has no formal education and does not understand ethics or morality. He is accompanied by a well-read, misanthropic, telepathic dog named Blood who helps him locate women in return for food. Blood cannot forage for himself due to the same genetic engineering that granted him telepathy. The two steal for a living, evading bands of marauders, berserk androids, and mutants. Blood and Vic have an occasionally antagonistic relationship (Blood frequently annoys Vic by calling him "Albert" for reasons never made clear in the movie, but rather in an interview later on with Harlan Ellison, where he says “When he [Blood] calls him ‘Al’ or ‘Albert,’ he is referring to the Albert Payson Terhune dog stories, whereas a traditional boy and his dog relationship is turned upside down in this movie.”), though they realize that they need each other. Blood wishes to find the legendary promised land of "Over the Hill" where aboveground utopias are said to exist, though Vic believes that they must make the best of what they have.
Searching a bunker for a woman for Vic to rape, they find one, but she has already been severely mutilated and is on the verge of death. Vic displays no pity, and is merely angered by the "wastefulness" of such an act as well as disgusted by the thought of satisfying his urges with a woman in such a condition. They move on, only to find slavers excavating another bunker. Vic steals several cans of their food, later using them to barter for goods in a nearby shantytown settlement.
That evening, while watching old vintage stag films at a local outdoor movie house, Blood claims to smell a woman, and the pair track her to a large underground warehouse. There, they meet Quilla June Holmes (Susanne Benton), a scheming and seductive teenage girl from "Downunder", a society located in a large underground vault. Unknown to the pair, Quilla June's father, Lou Craddock (Jason Robards), had sent her above ground to "recruit" surface dwellers. Blood takes an instant dislike to her, but Vic ignores him. After Vic saves Quilla June from raiders and mutants, they have repeated sex. Eventually, though, she takes off secretly to return to her underground society. Vic, enticed by the thought of women and sex, follows her, despite Blood's warnings. Blood remains at the portal on the surface.
Downunder has an artificial biosphere, complete with forests and an underground city, which is named Topeka, after the ruins of the city it lies beneath. The entire city is ruled by a triumvirate known as "the Committee", who have shaped Topeka into a bizarre caricature of pre-nuclear war America, with all residents wearing whiteface and clothes that harken back to the rural United States prior to World War II. Vic is told that he has been brought to Topeka to help fertilize the female population and is elated to learn of his value as a "stud". Then he is told that Topeka meets its need for exogamous reproduction by electroejaculation and artificial insemination, which will not allow him to feel the pleasure or release that he seeks. Anybody who refuses to comply or otherwise defies the Committee is sent off to "the farm" and never seen again. Vic is then told that when his sperm has been used to impregnate 35 women, he will be sent to "the farm".
Quilla June helps Vic escape because she wants him to kill the Committee members and destroy their android enforcer, Michael (Hal Baylor), so that she can usurp power. Vic has no interest in politics or remaining underground, only wishing to return to Blood and the wasteland, where he feels at home. The rebellion is quashed by Michael, who crushes the heads of Quilla June's two co-conspirators before Vic disables him. She proclaims her "love" for Vic and decides to escape to the surface with him, realizing that her rebellion has been undone and that the Committee has decreed that she is to be sent to "the farm".
On the surface, Vic and Quilla June discover Blood is starving and near death. She pleads with him to abandon Blood, forcing Vic to face his feelings. Vic decides that his loyalties lie with Blood. This results, off-camera, in her being killed and her flesh cooked, so that Blood can eat and survive. Blood thanks Vic for the food, and they both comment on Quilla June, with Vic stating it was her fault to follow him, and Blood joking that she did not have bad "taste". The film ends with the boy and his dog walking off into the wasteland together.
Harlan Ellison, the author of the original novella A Boy and His Dog, started the screenplay but encountered writer's block, so producer Alvy Moore and director L. Q. Jones wrote the script, with Wayne Cruseturner, who was uncredited. Jones' own company, LQ/Jaf Productions (L. Q. Jones & Friends), produced the film. They filmed the movie near Coyote Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert. The Firesign Theater was also involved with the writing of the script.
James Cagney's voice was considered as the voice of Blood, but was dropped because it would have been too recognizable and prove to be a distraction. Eventually, after going through approximately six hundred auditions, they settled on Tim McIntire, a veteran voice actor who also did most of the music for the film. McIntire was assisted in composing the music by Ray Manzarek (misspelled in the film credits as Manzarec), formerly of The Doors.
McIntire sang the main theme. Latin American composer Jaime Mendoza-Nava provided the music for the Topeka underground segment.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 75% approval rating based on 32 reviews and an average rating of 6.6/10. The site's consensus states: "An offbeat, eccentric black comedy, A Boy and His Dog features strong dialogue and an oddball vision of the future." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a mixed 2.5 stars out of a possible 4 in his contemporary review, writing that Ellison's novella "seemed almost to defy filming" but nonetheless Jones managed to offer "a sort of wacky success". Richard Eder of The New York Times wrote that the realistic world set up the beginning and the underground community introduced later "don't really work together; their contrast, and a ridiculous ending, shatter the picture. And the talking dog chews up the pieces." Variety called the film "a turkey" and "an amateurish blend of redneck humor, chaotic fight scenes, and dimwitted philosophizing." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and wrote, "Rather than illuminate the present through a glance at a possible future, 'A Boy and His Dog' is simply a dim-witted collection of tired sex gags and anti-American imagery." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times praised the film as "an offbeat delight" with performances that "have that comfortable naturalness often detectable when an actor is directing other actors." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post panned the film as a "shoddy, puerile science-fiction parable" that "mistakes juvenile facetiousness for wit and glorifies a juvenile concept of freedom, which means making it in the wild, away from such unmanly encumbrances as civilization and girls."
The film won the 1976 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation at MidAmeriCon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, not far from the real Topeka. Johnson won the Golden Scroll for Best Actor, which was shared with James Caan for his performance in Rollerball. In 2007, it ranked #96 on Rotten Tomatoes "Journey Through Sci-Fi" (100 best-reviewed science fiction films).
The film was not commercially successful at the time of its release. It has, however, developed a cult following over the years and also inspired the video game series Fallout "on many levels, from underground communities of survivors to glowing mutants." On the film's DVD audio commentary, Jones states that Ellison was generally pleased with the film, with the exception of some lines of dialogue. Ellison particularly objected to the film's final line, in which Blood said of Quilla, "Well, I'd say she certainly had marvelous judgement, Albert, if not particularly good taste." Ellison referred to it as a "moronic, hateful chauvinist last line, which I despise."
Rumors have abounded over the years regarding a sequel, but it has never materialized. On the film's DVD audio commentary, L. Q. Jones states that he had started to write a script sequel to the film that would have picked up right where the first film ended and featured a female warrior named Spike, and we would have seen this world through the eyes of a female instead of a male. (This happens in Ellison's story, Blood's a Rover, when Blood partners with Spike after the ostensible death of Vic). Jones and Ellison collaborated on this short-lived effort. Ellison, however, has denied that development went beyond a short "what if?" conversation, and that any efforts were solely that of Jones. According to Cult Movies 2, Jones had a sequel planned called A Girl and Her Dog, but the plan was scrapped when Tiger, the dog who portrayed Blood, died. In a December 2003 interview, Jones claimed that he has been repeatedly approached to make a sequel, but funding is always an issue.