Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Boy and His Dog

A Boy and His Dog (L.Q. Jones, 1975) L.Q. Jones (real name Justice McQueen—his stage name is the name of the first character he played in movies) is most well-known as a quirky character actor, usually playing rangy, seedy types in westerns for the likes of directors like Sam Peckinpah—he was part of Peckinpah's stock company—and Robert Altman--he played the character based on Chet Atkins in Altman's last film, A Prairie Home Companion.

But in 1975, he also joined the director pantheon, putting together A Boy and His Dog, a low-budget high-concept picture based on the 1969 sci-fi story written by Harlan Ellison. That story, "Blood's a Rover,"* tells the story of a young adult male in a post-apocalyptic world whose only companion is a telepathic dog or "Rover," named "Blood." Blood sniffs out food and women for Vic, reads minds, and communicates telepathically...but only with "Vic." It's a bizarre story with an odd little twist, and is one of Ellison's best-known tales.

The film Jones made of it is simultaneously satiric, savage, sassy, and right on the edge of burlesque as Vic (a very young, pre-"Miami Vice" Don Johnson), and his pooch (voiced by Tim McIntire) roam their post-nuclear countryside that bears a passing resemblance to the world of Mad Max,** with mutants and squalor. The film is gritty, low on aesthetics, but bears a witty screenplay (with contributions from Ellison, Jones, and producer Alvy Moore) with clever dialogue, even if the concepts behind the movie are rather...base. At one point, Vic is lured by one of his female victims (Suzanne Benton) to an underground society of American nostalgists led by Jason Robards, who appear to have stepped right out of the River City, Iowa of The Music Man,*** except, of course, for the deranged robots, goon squads, and man-milking machines (the society is sterile and Vic is "utilized" to provide genetic material). Young Vic must make a choice between this semblance of civilization, monogamy, and the scorched-earth policies above ground.
In fact, the undergound scenes are where the movie loses a lot of steam—mostly because they don't have the prickly dynamic between Vic and Blood (Blood calls him "Albert" merely to annoy him, and has all the good lines of the movie), as Vic is something of a hormonal moron and Blood is cultured and appears well-read, with a wry sarcasm that McIntire doesn't overdo. Their scenes together have a tendency to crackle, despite Johnson's only acting against a canine co-star and the vocal component added in post-production.
Ellison's attitude towards it is rather strange, initially saying that it was a good adaptation, but then turning on it as misogynistic (especially for its gut-crunching last line). An odd sentiment from the story's creator as that is all reflected in his yarn in the first place. And yet the author has gone on and produced sequels to the original story without any attempt to disown the political incorrectness of the original. I guess he felt Jones was too blasé about subjects Ellison had second thoughts about. Still, Jones' vision of a post-holocaust nuclear society has stayed relevant for decades.  As the poster says "it's a future you may live to see!"  

And see again in movie after movie.

* Taken from a line from A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad"

** Jones' post-apocalyptic garage-sale look preceded Mad Max by three years, and The Road Warrior, which it resembles by five years.

*** All of these residents are heavily made-up in what I thought at the time was clown make-up, but I realize now is reflective of the look of rosy-cheeked painted-over family portraits. The undergrounders are heavily made-up to compensate for the lack of sun.

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