Great Caesar’s Movie Club review: “A Boy and His Dog”

Posted: January 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

Let’s get something out of the way right from the start: A Boy and His Dog – a 1975 film featuring the unlikely combination of Don Johnson, Jason Robards and a shaggy dog at the end of the world – is not a good movie. It is, however, an entirely AWESOME movie.

The scene is what used to be the American Southwest after both World War III and World War IV, the second being a nuclear war that lasted five days and covered the entire globe. As you might suspect, the place is a shambles.

As part of the war efforts, the various governments got into some kooky stuff including ESP and animal intelligence, which apparently gave the world Blood, a telepathic mutt who gives Johnson’s Vic tireless history lessons when he’s not bird-dogging chicks for him in exchange for food. Thanks to an unfortunate side effect of the genetic tinkering that gave him his powers, Blood has a complete inability to forage for himself.

Like most of the people who are left, Vic spends most of his time just trying to survive, stealing or scavenging food when he can and trying to hide from the many dangers lurking around the wasteland. Women are a rare treat for Vic, and through a combination of mind powers and a sensitive sniffer – and after first extorting a bowl of popcorn outta the 18-year-old horndog – Blood manages to pinpoint one at a local movie screening (good news, both popcorn and porn will survive the apocalypse).

Side note: Vic’s attitude toward women is, let’s say, fucked up. Early on in the movie he’s angry because a woman he finds in a bunker is too mutilated to have sex with; oh, and also she’s dead. However, it’s implied that the “dead” part isn’t necessarily what puts the brakes on Vic. Also, he’s a rape ’em and leave ’em kinda guy, so y’know, ick. Also also, Blood calls Vic “Albert” for some reason. Just thought I’d throw that in as a palate cleanser.

Back to the story: The girl at the screening turns out to be Quilla (Susanne Benton), and after following her into some sort of underground vault and finding out she’s Into It, the pair fight off some raiders before spending the night in a giant boiler hiding from something called Screamers.

The audience never see the Screamers, and it is one of the greatest things in the movie. From the dialogue you get the idea that Screamers used to be human, people who have been mutated by the radiation and, like the Man-Thing, make people burn at their touch. In the tradition of old B-movies with rudimentary special effects and limited budgets, the Screamers are never anything more than a vague green glow and an unholy moaning that relentlessly gets closer, and closer, and …

It’s surprisingly effective, and an imaginative way to give the audience a brief and sidelong glance at the larger world in which the movie’s set.

Back in the boiler, Blood (dryly voiced by Tim McIntire) is badly injured and takes an instant dislike to Quilla. Turns out it’s for good reason, as after spending a night of sharing bodily fluids and tales of her life in the underground town of Topeka, Quilla knocks Vic out and runs home.

Luckily, she leaves her access card behind (hmmm …) and Vic and Blood track her to the entrance to Topeka. Lured by curiosity and the promise of booty, Vic decides to follow her down, telling Blood he’ll be back with food and help. Blood thinks this a pretty bad idea, but Vic – as usual – doesn’t listen. It’s the same sort of hard-headedness that’s going to get him in trouble back in Miami.

Once in Topeka Vic finds out that – surprise – it’s all a trap. Quilla was sent as bait to bring Vic to the village because … well, Topeka needs men. Healthy, fertile men, which sounds great to Vic until he finds out inseminating 35 women is going to mean being hooked up to a sinister-looking machine and a lotta screaming. And not the good kind.

If Vic had been paying attention in the first place, he might’ve noticed Topeka is a menacing police-state (natch’). And if that didn’t give him pause, he really should’ve thought twice about the way the town looks as if it’s straight out of the 50s, with everyone wearing dungarees and face-paint that would make a mime shudder.

Topeka is so aggressively weird that it’s creepy, and nearly throws the movie off the rails by being a complete left turn from what came before. But somehow it manages to fit, and I have to give credit to Don Johnson.

(And there is a sentence I never thought I’d type.)

Johnson is bratty, crude and vibrates with an adolescent energy that borders on dangerous, and he carries it throughout and does his job – he carries the movie. It’s not an easy task, considering, but he pulls it off.

Running the show in Topeka is Jason Robards, who as Lou Craddock is kinda phoning it in but, hey, he’s Jason Robards so he’s still pretty excellent. Robards is the one who planned Vic’s abduction and is also Quilla’s father (dun DUN duuun!). When he’s not hooking kids up to insemination machines he seems to spend his day sending people to “the farm,” an unseen place that nobody ever comes back from. He does this with the help of The Committee and an unstoppable hillbilly killing machine named Michael.

Soon enough, Quilla has second thoughts and helps free Vic, who promptly goes about being a dumb-ass and wrecking the place instead of just making his get-away. Luckily, the two make it back to the surface, where they find Blood on the verge of dying. Because of his injury and non-existent foraging skills, Blood is starving to death. Quilla urges Vic to leave Blood, telling him how he’s practically dead anyway and that Vic needs to get crackin’ on being a provider for her. Blood’s voice is slowing fading from Vic’s mind.  He’s being pulled back and forth between the two and …

And then you get the craziest, wrongest ending ever. I’m not going to spoil it here, but Ho. Lee. Crap.  It’s a finale that will have you laughing and groaning at the same time, and it’s perfect. If for nothing else than the ending, A Boy and His Dog is worth watching and then inflicting on your friends – it’s that kind of movie.

Movie Clubbin’!

The United Provinces of Ivanladia

Note: A Boy and His Dog is based on a Harlan Ellison short story of the same name, and it’s definitely worth a read.

Keep an eye out for the next Movie Club selection – to be announced soon!

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4 Comments on “Great Caesar’s Movie Club review: “A Boy and His Dog””

  1. 1 Jon Briggs said at 2:26 pm on January 5th, 2011:

    Ha Ha!! I’ve always loved that ending. I thought Don
    Johnson did fine in that movie but that he was too old for the
    part. When I read the story, I pictured a literal “boy,” a kid in
    his teens. And I pictured a TOTALLY different dog. The movie mutt
    don’t look much like a Blood.

  2. 2 Jon Briggs said at 10:39 am on January 6th, 2011:

    I didn’t say anything coz I thought it was slightly
    off-topic, being a literary and not a cinematic matter, but since
    another member of yer movie club brought it up, I thought I’d chime
    in on the source of “Boy and His Dog”: Harlan Ellison. Back in
    college, I used to carry around “The Essential Ellison” like it was
    the repository of all earthly wisdom, and I have cherished memories
    of all the time I spent delving into that book. But brother, I am
    scared to revisit Ellison’s stuff. I read a story of his in an old
    “Year’s Best Horror” volume recently, and it wasn’t a “best” of
    anything by any stretch of the definition. And a couple years ago,
    I reread “Jefty Is Five,” and found that what was once poignant and
    lyrical and sweet had become contrived and manipulative and
    treacly. That coupled with Ellison’s increasingly obnoxious and
    apeshit personal behavior have me wondering if the younger me was
    screwy. I HATE THAT!!! When you think something’s really great,
    then you go back and discover you didn’t really know what you were
    talking about. I’m hoping I’ll reread another Ellison story and
    think, Hey! That still holds up! I’m not crazy!! But I balk at
    doing the experiment and running the risk of ruining all those fond

  3. 3 Maxo Romero said at 4:47 pm on January 7th, 2011:

    Y’know why the dog didn’t look much like a “Blood?” Because he was Tiger in “The Brady Bunch!” I guess it’s hard to be tough when you’ve been a Brady. Still, Sandy had an interesting take on it; she said that if Blood had been a Doberman or a Rottweiler or something just as menacing, the surprise ending wouldn’t have the same impact. She might have a point.

    And now I’m going to be obnoxious and quote my response from Facebook:

    As for Ellison, that seems to be the danger with those “warts and all” kind of anthologies, and a personal change in taste as well. I used to be really into fantasy and sci-fi at one point, and I’ve been wondering why I’ve drifted away from it almost completely. The answer: Most of it blows.

    I can’t figure out what it was I saw in it before – maybe I’m just missing the good stuff? I dig China Mieville and I still count William Gibson as one of my favorite authors, but for the most part a lot of sci-fi leaves me cold and I’ve nearly dropped fantasy altogether.

    I don’t know what all that means, but I guess I’m saying I know what you mean. I’ll still re-read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” but there is some Ellison I probably won’t read ever again.

  4. 4 SUBZERO said at 4:39 am on January 27th, 2011:

    I had the good fortune to see this movie years ago when it was on german television. I say ” good fortune ” because – like all the good stuff – it was on at 2.00 after midnight.

    I liked it, but I think I only watched it because I had read the Richard Corben comic of VIC & BLOOD.

    As for Don Johnson, did anyone notice that he looks like the guys Jose Luis Garcia Lopez draws in that Madonna movie ? Maybe that´s just me.

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