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A Boy and His Dog

A Boy and His Dog(1974)

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teaser A Boy and His Dog (1974)

One of the most unusual success stories in the history of science fiction films is this adaptation of a novella (originally a 1969 short story) by writer Harlan Ellison, the prolific writer who also contributed to a number of major television shows. Frustrated by his experiences with studio executives, Ellison granted the rights to adapt his story to L.Q. Jones, a character actor familiar from such films as Major Dundee (1965), Hang 'Em High (1968), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Jones had little financial incentive to offer but he enlisted Ellison to adapt the screenplay; after all, it was a personal project for the writer who regarded the characters of frustrated teenager Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood, as two sides of his own personality.

When Ellison found himself with a case of writer's block and unable to finish the script in 1970, Jones took over due to money limitations and avowed to stick as close to the source material as possible. Virtually all of the source material's dialogue made it into the film, with a young Don Johnson (in only his fifth film role) turning in a pitch perfect performance as Vic and Tiger, the beloved family canine from TV's The Brady Bunch, embodying the sardonic Blood to an unnerving degree.

While self-termed misanthrope Ellison was extremely pleased with the adaptation of his film, he openly objected to what he perceived as excessive misogyny in Jones' dialogue between Vic and particularly Blood. Much of that material was changed (including references to its manipulative lead female character, Quilla June, as a "sow"), but Jones retained his own final line of dialogue for the unforgettable twist ending, much to Ellison's chagrin. The two eventually came to terms over that pesky line during a conversation recorded for the film's Blu-ray reissue, and as anyone who has seen the film with a few other people in attendance can attest, it's still extremely effective.

While Tiger played Blood in front of the camera, his distinctive voice was provided by multitalented Tim McIntire, a composer and musician also responsible for the jaunty title song. McIntire was chosen after Jones scoured through a tremendous number of possibilities (even considering James Cagney at one point), and even when he recorded the voice of Blood at the age of 31, he had amassed a tremendous amount of acting and songwriting credits. Tragically, his personal demons would soon claim him in 1986.

At the time of its release, the most familiar name attached to this film was Jason Robards, the formidable actor who came to prominence in A Thousand Clowns (1965). He and Jones had appeared together in two Sam Peckinpah films, The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), and Robards' star was about to rise even further soon after this film when he won back-to-back Academy Awards for Supporting Actor in All the President's Men (1976) and Julia (1977).

Cast with Robards as another notable resident of the sinister Downunder (a grim facsimile of conformist 1950s American suburbia) was Alvy Moore, a busy TV actor usually known for his comic roles in series like Green Acres. However, his film career had a decidedly darker slant; he and Jones both served as producers on the cult horror films The Witchmaker (1969) and The Brotherhood of Satan (1971) for their production company, LQ/JAF. In fact, A Boy and His Dog (1975) would be the third and final LQ/JAF production, and like its two predecessors, it was shot in scope to provide a more expansive visual sense than its meager budget would normally allow.

Independently released in 1975, A Boy and His Dog received mixed reviews and indifferent box office receipts in America; abroad it was often shown under variations of the title Apocalypse 2024 and gradually amassed a cult following, particularly thanks to college campus screenings. In 1983, an ambitious theatrical rerelease was mounted in the United States sporting the now familiar key art of a smiley face inside a mushroom cloud; inspired by the nuclear anxiety of the time over the made-for-TV film The Day After (1983), the ploy worked and garnered the film a larger audience. Subsequent cable TV airings for many years kept the fan flame alive, and with numerous home video reissues, it became entrenched as one of the most respected science fiction films of the 1970s. Since we can hope the real 2024 won't turn out like this, it's strangely comforting to know that this quirky cult gem will most likely continue to play long past the timestamp embedded in its gritty, flickering opening frames.

By Nathaniel Thompson

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