Science Fiction movies made today may be a lot of flash and spectacle, stuffed full of plastic characters with shallow motivations and even shallower personalities, backed up by a ton of CGI effects but give ‘em this: at least they’re optimistic. Science Fiction movies of the 50’s/60’s and 70’s were dour, apocalyptic, doom-laden eulogies predicting The Downfall of Mankind. More often than not these movies predicted the end of the world through Man’s Own Fault. Nuclear holocausts was practically a given. If you watch a movie made during that period you get the distinct impression that nobody thought we’d make it out of the 20th Century. 1975's A BOY AND HIS DOG is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction action/adventure with just enough social satire thrown in to give you a chuckle, set in one of the most depressing future worlds you can think of and the ending takes black comedy to a new level.
In the year 2024 Earth has not only seen World War III but World War IV as well and America is a burned out, burned up wasteland. There’s no civilization to speak of unless you want to try your luck in one of the near mythical underground cities of Downunder. But above ground Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog Blood (played by Tiger/voice by Tim McIntire) like it just fine. They enjoy pitting their wits against roving bands of marauders and scavengers, stealing food from them when they can and hunting up women for Vic to rape. One of these women Blood hunts up is Quilla June (Susanne Benton) who lives Downunder in a city called ‘Topeka’ but sneaks up to the surface from time to time for a little sexual excitement with the savages. Blood telepathically sniffs her out and Vic captures her. But he doesn’t have long to enjoy his prize before he and Blood are forced to defend her against a band of scavengers in a savage battle that leaves Blood badly hurt.
Quilla June escapes Vic and goes back Downunder. Vic is determined to follow her and leaves Blood on the surface while he makes his way Downunder. It’s not what he thinks. Under the guidance of The Committee and Mr. Craddock (Jason Robards) Topeka is like Norman Rockwell on crystal meth. There’s marching bands 24/7, parades, dances, hoedowns and everybody has their faces disturbingly painted like circus clowns. Vic is scrubbed down and cleaned up and informed that Quilla June deliberately lured him to Topeka to help with their…population problem. It’s a problem Vic is happy to help them with until he finds out he’s not going to be able to do it the old fashioned way. Quilla June and some of the young members of Topeka want to enlist Vic’s help to overthrow The Committee and Mr. Craddock so they can establish a New World Order. The revolution doesn’t go as Quilla June planned and both she and Vic are forced to return to the surface where Vic and Blood are reunited and that leads into the resolution of the relationship between Vic, Blood and Quilla June. And what a resolution it is. One that drives home the title of the movie in more ways than one.
A BOY AND HIS DOG probably won’t have much to offer most of today’s CGI happy movie going crowd but then again, it’s not that type of movie. It was made during a time when a Science Fiction Movie didn’t mean Big Explosions, $100 million dollar budgets, Big Stars and CGI effects every 30 seconds. A BOY AND HIS DOG relies on the characters and the story to engage viewers. It’s a film that has acquired Cult Movie status over the years and I think it earned that status honestly. You’re going to be amazed at how young Don Johnson looks in this one. He made this movie about 10 years before “Miami Vice” and even in this early work of his you can see flashes and hints of what made him a star later on. Considering that most of his emotional scenes are with a dog, Don Johnson does a pretty good job. A lot of their dialog is done with him speaking and Blood ‘speaking’ back telepathically and between the two of them they convinced me that they actually had a psychic rapport.
Blood is played by Tiger, whose major role everybody remembers him in is playing the family dog of “The Brady Bunch”. But here he actually gets a chance to act and I don’t say that lightly. A lot of the movie hangs on how Blood reacts to Vic and to give Tiger his credit; he’s just as much of an actor as Don Johnson. There are a lot of great scenes between them where the dog actually looks as if he’s really ‘talking’ telepathically to Johnson and having a psychic conversation with him. And Johnson adds to the realism because he treats Tiger just as he would any other actor. It’s really some nice acting here. Not great. But just enough to get across the reality of the situation. Jason Robards really doesn’t have much to do in this movie and during my research for this review I found out that he really just did the movie as a favor to the director, L.Q. Jones.
Speaking of L.Q. Jones, he’s much better known as an actor. He’s been in a ton of westerns including two of my favorites: “The Wild Bunch” and “Lone Wolf McQuade” (yes, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is a western) but he occasionally directed movies and TV shows with A BOY AND HIS DOG as his best known directorial effort. And with good reason. It’s a really good movie. Low budget, high enthusiasm, minimum SFX, high concept. The performances are good and there’s a down-and-dirty realism that you just don’t see in Science Fiction movies today. A BOY AND HIS DOG is worth a rental at least. I have it in my DVD library but I realize that it may not be to everybody’s taste but I think you ought to at least give it a viewing.
One thing I think I should advise you of, though: In our (shudder) PC obsessed society, the character of Vic may not be to everybody’s liking as no punches are pulled as he’s portrayed as a rapist and a killer. And then there’s that ending. So if you think you would be offended watching a movie with such a character as the lead, by all means pass this one by.