Review: A Boy and His Dog

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

One plunges straight into unknown territory and action in A Boy and His Dog: Tatterdemalion figures dodging about in a wasteland, shooting at one another without apparent rhyme or reason. Some kind of reconnoitering dialogue—but no lips are seen to move and, visually, spatially, we find ourselves allied with … a boy and his dog? L.Q. Jones, writer and director of the film, gets down to business at once; before we know where we are, we have moved past the weird skirmish on desolate mudflats into the weirder realization that the conversation we have been puzzling over is a telepathic interchange between Vic—that’s the young man—and Blood, a shaggy mutt who has mutated light years beyond the Disneyesque canine to whom he bears some physical resemblance. Our suspension of disbelief about a dog who “talks” fast and dirty to his more-protégé-than-master is as immediate as our delight with Blood’s kinkily risqué sense of humor, his “doubletakes” and moués of disgust and exasperation with his sex-starved friend. Conversations between the two are shot with casual expertise and possess more bite and verve than most exchanges between humans in the film (witness the inane passages between Vic and the siren from “down under” he subsequently encounters), and Tim McIntire’s (Blood’s) delivery of irreverent repartee completes the visual identification of Blood as an authentically salty personality.

“Where we are” gets clarified mostly through Blood’s dogged attempts to teach Vic some history: 2024 A.D., after World War Four has wasted the environment into featureless flatlands inhabited by marauding bands who spend their time hunting food and women—equally scarce commodities. Vic views the object of that initial running battle, a bloodied and ravished female body, and voices his sincere regret: “Why’d they have to cut her? She’d have been good for two or three more….” Not much later, Jones cuts from rats nuzzling ancient empty cans to a struggling child slung over a shoulder like so much game. But despite the genuinely lethal quality of life in 2024 A.D., Vic and Blood seem to have a pretty good time together. When not trading affectionate insults (“I hope the next time you play with yourself you go blind!” Blood ripostes at one point), they patronize the movies—grossly scratched and yellowed sex-and-violence flicks in a junkheap “town” (reminiscent of the settlement in another, low-budget but highly imaginative after-the-last-WW movie, Glen and Randa) or steal food from the local high poobah whose men pull him around the flats in a caravan that looks like an apocalyptic leftover from Fellini. In one superb shot composed of equal parts visual beauty and just plain nuttiness, the duo fill the screen in silhouette against a pink-gold sky: they lie head to head on their backs, the dog’s tongue and paws lolling ludicrously in profile against that magnificent sky, and Blood queries, just as though the world were full of possibilities, “What do you wanna do tonight?”

But into this cowboys’n’Indians, me-and-my-superdog existence comes Eve in the nubile form of Quilla June Holmes—bait to lure Vic away from Blood into a surrealistic netherworld. Blood and Quilla June are instant, natural enemies: her cooing and tickling results in an explosion of high-camp rage (“Tell this to keep its hands to itself!”), and as Vic indulges in a night of marathon lovemaking, Blood assumes pose after pose of weary disdain, cracks wise, and finally takes refuge in conjugating the Latin verb copulare for distraction. But the dog knows the idyll is seriously threatened—and it is an idyll, despite the violence and horror of their environment. Some dream of adolescence pervades the film: the rags and tatters of the denizens resemble the hodgepodge costumes conjured up for games of piracy and robber barons. No grownups spoil the games with rules or Sunday school, and there are endless adventures to be shared by a boy and a dog who combines the superiority and goodnatured bullying of a misogynistic upper-former with the canine characteristics that make dogs good to go rambling with. Quilla June’s sex, in both senses of the word, and the underworld from which she comes herald adulthood, a putting-away of childish things. But Jones and Harlan Ellison, the much-awarded sci-fi author of the original story, aren’t exactly the least quirky kids on the block (cf. especially Jones as Strother Martin’s sidekick in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and The Ballad of Cable Hogue), and thus their vision of what passes for civilization in 2024 A.D. is a darkly horrific one, like being buried alive with clown-faced killer-farmhands and man-milking machines and farms that feed on people.

To describe the film further would be to do its marvelous conclusion an injustice. Enough to say that I haven’t encountered one person who’s watched the film and failed to take considerable boyish—or girlish—delight in the fact that for once Nigger Jim’s invitation to “Come back to the raft, Huck honey” receives, in A Boy and His Dog, the response it’s always deserved. L.Q. Jones still has some problems to work out when it comes to establishing spatial relationships in action scenes; he occasionally gives us two or three shots where one would have done the job; his elliptical narrative is sometimes just plain confusing. But for the most part, A Boy and His Dog is directed cleanly and with no nonsense, and the directorial personality which informs the film is recognizably of the genuine Mad Hatter variety, with assured judgment—if not particularly good taste….

A BOY AND HIS DOG
Direction: L.Q. Jones. Screenplay: Jones, after the novella by Harlan Ellison. Cinematography: John Arthur Morrill. Art direction: Ray Boyle. Music: Tim McIntire. Production: Alvy Moore.
The players: Don Johnson, Tim McIntire (voice), Susanne Benton, Jason Robards, Helene Winston, Alvy Moore, Hal Baylor.

Copyright © 1975 Kathleen Murphy


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