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Blu-ray review: ‘A Boy and His Dog'

Gene Triplett Published: August 24, 2013

Don’t let the title fool you. “A Boy and His Dog” is not about a constantly whining collie hanging around some kid named Jeff or Timmy. Not this low-budget 1975 sci-fi cult

classic starring a very young Don Johnson as a roving, post-apocalyptic survivor named Vic, and a shaggy, super-intelligent dog named Blood, who speaks to the protagonist telepathically (with the voice of Tim McIntire).

The landscape is desolate in the wake of World War IV, which “lasted five days,” and dangerous, thanks to gangs of murderous scavengers and horrific mutations called “screamers.” Blood warns Vic when danger is near, and alerts him to the possibility of sex with any female who might be nearby as well. In exchange, Vic finds food for Blood.

Boy and dog are constantly bickering and digging at each other, especially when Vic doesn’t heed Blood’s advice, and this endless verbal — well, telepathic — sniping supplies this dark film’s wicked humor:

“Pearls before swine,” Blood gripes. “All my directives go unregarded. Sometimes you’re just as ignorant as any other common rover. One indication of a female and it’s caution to the wind. The eyes glaze, the glands swell and the brain freezes.”

But then one day, Blood goes on point: “Hold. Female. Hundred and twenty-five yards. Solo.”

Vic meets the suspiciously compliant Quilla June (Susanne Benton), and after some marathon sex (much to Blood’s disgust) and a narrow escape from a pack of screamers, the girl persuades the boy to leave his dog behind – his only true friend in this burned-out world – as she lures him into a surreal subterranean city. This underground world is overseen by a seemingly benevolent leader, Craddock (the always excellent Jason Robards Jr.), and Vic is at first elated to find a colony of survivors, until he discovers that this place is definitely not what he’s been looking for.

Based on a prize-winning novella by Harlan Ellison, one of the most cantankerous intellectuals working in the field of speculative fiction, the film was adapted for the screen and directed by the most unlikely of individuals, L.Q. Jones, the Texas-born character actor who usually played “redneck peckerwood” types in war movies and Westerns. (Character actor Alvy Moore of “Green Acres” fame also pitched in on the screenplay.) Ellison allowed this because he had come down with a bad case of writer’s block trying to pen the screenplay himself.

The relationship between Ellison and Jones was extremely contentious at the time the film was made, which is revealed in a fascinating and sometimes hilarious conversation between the two in one of the Blu-ray/DVD set’s special features.

The film version of “A Boy and His Dog” has been criticized for certain misogynistic elements that were not in the novella, and Ellison has disavowed having anything to do with this aspect of the screenplay. But whatever its shortcomings, the film remains one of the most original, thought-provoking and pitch-black funny sci-fi fables ever made, serving as a template for all the post-apocalyptic films that followed. Its faithful cult following is well-deserved.

— Gene Triplett