A Boy and His Dog (1975)

The year that A Boy and His Dog is supposed to take place in - 2024 - is plastered all over the poster.  I believe that Harlan Ellison, who wrote the original, set the events a little further down the line, but as 2024 looms on the horizon it's as good a time as any to revisit this story.  It is also important to keep in mind that, although not made quite so clear in the movie, A Boy and His Dog exists in a different timeline than ours, one in which the assassination of John F. Kennedy failed and the Cold War eventually evolved into World War III.  As the prologue lets us know, however, that isn't what destroyed the world.  It was World War IV. 

Vic (Don Johnson) is a "solo," a lone wanderer born in Phoenix, Arizona in 2006, one year before World War IV.  He is accompanied by Blood (Tiger, voiced by Tim McIntire), a telepathic dog who helps keep Vic alert of danger as well as helping him find women to rape.  In exchange Vic helps find sources of food for the both of them.  Blood is highly intelligent and tries to enlighten Vic on the history of the world in hopes that he will at some point become a better person.

While watching a movie at a makeshift theater in what used to be Phoenix Blood alerts Vic that he has detected a female.  The pair follow her and find her holed up in a buried part of an old hospital.  Unfortunately, it is also a known gathering place for the radioactive Screamers, and a band of rovers have also picked up her scent.  Vic initially tries to rape her, but she gives in willingly and identifies herself as Quilla June (Susanne Benton).  After spending the night together he offers to take her on with Blood and him, while she invites him to her home in the Downunder, an artificial underground biosphere set up to look like 1950s small town America.  Blood, sensing something is up, tries to dissuade Vic from following her into the Downunder, and he soon learns the hard way that some things are too good to be true. 

The location of the action is largely changed, as well as some of the settings.  L.Q. Jones, who makes his directing debut with this film, had to raise much of the money himself.  That means instead of ruined cities it is at one point mentioned that many urban areas were buried under mudslides, thus allowing for filming in the Mojave Desert rather than elaborate sets.  It does cause some confusion on why an underground city not far from Phoenix would be called Topeka, but that carries over from the location of the novella. 

Don Johnson was quite young at the time but he is excellent in the role, and Jones's direction takes advantage of the desert settings.  Veteran actor Jason Robards appears as Quilla's father, Lee Craddock, the leader of Topeka, while a number of other character actors pop up here and there.  The focus for a good two thirds of the film is the relationship between Vic and Blood, and naturally this is the most interesting part, as the audience gets to see how so much has changed.  It is also the more influential portion of the film, having given George Miller the inspiration for Mad Max 2 and figured heavily in the Fallout video game series.  In fact, pretty much any media that features post apocalyptic survivors in a desert setting have this movie to thank for it. 

The part where the film lags is during the period in Topeka.  There is plenty that happens, but between the facepaint on everyone and the not-so-surprising reason that Craddock wanted his daughter to lure Vic down there the movie loses steam.  It does end on a darkly comic note, one that Harlan Ellison hated, even though he generally enjoyed the rest of the movie. 

This has aged quite well due to the fact that it can be viewed as an alternative history rather than a piece of speculative fiction that time finally caught up with.  It's an idea of how things could have gone had not cooler heads prevailed at one point.  The idea that we would all be wandering a radioactive wasteland and begging for scraps in our lifetimes wasn't too outlandish, not in 1969 when the novella was written, nor in 1975 when the movie was made, and definitely not while I was growing up in the 1980s.  It may be difficult for some audiences as there are no good guys in the movie, with Vic being one of the worst and Blood enabling him for survival and Quilla manipulating Vic throughout.  Still, this is not supposed to tell the story of good people, but of humans reacting in an animalistic way to the world they are forced to live in while, ironically, the animals are both more civilized and much more aware of what all has been lost. 

A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Don Johnson, Tim McIntire, Susanne Benton, Jason Robards
Director: L.Q. Jones



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