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American Cinematographer Magazine

A Boy and His Dog (1975)
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
First Run Features, $24.95

Taking the concept of man's best friend to its sick-joke extreme, A Boy and His Dog could only have come from the 1970s, yet it's not easily compared to other films of the decade. This low-budget curiosity piece, which has attained minor cult status, was directed by L.Q. Jones, a well regarded character actor who also dabbled briefly in producing and writing. Based on a Harlan Ellison novella, A Boy and His Dog was essentially presented and received as a B-level exploitation item, as were many science-fiction films in the pre-Star Wars era. But audiences at the time noted a singularity about the movie, and contemporary viewers might as well.

The setting is 2024, after the earth has been destroyed by World Wars III and IV. Vic (a very young and rosy-cheeked Don Johnson) leads a nomadic existence in the desert with his dog Blood, a highly intelligent pooch who talks - or, at any rate, telepathically communicates - with his master. Blood's smart-ass, inexplicably literate cadences belong to Tim McIntire (who also composed and sings the film's jaunty title song) and are delivered as straight voiceover, without any effects trickery, though the dog hits his marks with uncanny precision. The two live in vital codependency; Blood relies on Vic for food, and Vic, who is a typically horny teenager, counts on Blood to sniff out female companionship. Said companionship is gained by what might politely be called coercion, until the comely Quilla June (Susanne Benton) appears and awakens deeper yearnings in Vic. This threatens to drive a wedge between the boy and his dog.

Right from the first scene, you may find yourself wondering whether George Miller studied A Boy and His Dog long and hard before making the Mad Max movies, particularly The Road Warrior. It's the same barren, post-apocalyptic landscape, with the same violent marauders dressed in a crazy-quilt of costumes. But Jones doesn't go in for the visceral charge of Miller; his style is much more considered, even cerebral, with an oddball sense of satire to keep you on your toes. The film's second half finds Vic following Quilla June down to Topeka, an underground bastion of "civilized" society where Jason Robards rules autocratically and the residents wear white pancake makeup and outfits that look like they were pulled off the racks backstage at Hee Haw. Vic soon discovers that this whacked community wants him for his semen, because the lack of sunlight down below has rendered the male denizens infertile. In a film full of unsettling touches, the weirdest is certainly the image of the hero hooked up to a sperm-milking machine as young women in bridal garb wait in line to be wed and impregnated.

This new DVD is apparently neither a restoration nor an occasion for new extras, but a reissue of previously released elements. Yet John Morrill's widescreen cinematography is shown off to excellent effect in the letterboxed format, particularly in the first half of the film, when Johnson and the dog are continually shot in isolation against the expansive Mojave Desert horizon. The commentary track, featuring Jones, Morrill and movie critic Charles Champlin, renders some thoughtful comments from the cinematographer about composing for the Techniscope format, some interesting tidbits about the movie's production and distribution, and some Texas-sized whoppers from a twanging Jones, who claims that James Cagney expressed interest in providing Blood's voice. The only other supplements are several theatrical trailers.

Along with its casual presentation of the rape and brutalization of women, the ending of A Boy and His Dog caused a good deal of consternation among feminist viewers back in 1975. It still packs a punch, and it's still difficult to defend, even by Darwinian standards, because it pretty much puts the kibosh on procreation. But it's central to the movie's bleakly amused view of what survival might entail when civilization as we know it ceases. All a boy can depend on is his dog.

- John Calhoun

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© 2004 American Cinematographer.