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A Boy And His Dog
cast: Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Jason Robards, and Charles McGraw, and Alvy Moore

writer and director: L.Q. Jones

87 minutes (15) 1974
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Fremantle / Arrow DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Tom Matic
Having recently viewed the roughly contemporaneous TV post-apocalypse saga Survivors, Harlan Ellison's callously amoral, near absurdist portrait of a post-nuclear holocaust America came as a welcome antidote to the home counties pieties of Terry Nation's self-sufficiency commune founders. Perhaps the Survivors character that most springs to mind when we meet the protagonist of A Boy And His Dog is the scavenging rogue Tom Price. However, given that L.Q. Jones' adaptation of Ellison's novella stars the youthful Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame, this is as a more glamorous character than the murderous, buck-toothed, lecherous wretch portrayed by Talfryn Thomas in Nation's BBC serial. No shiny rolled up sleeves for Johnson here, and Miami seems lightyears away, though vice is very much on the lad's mind: he wants to get laid, very badly.

His helpmate in this quest is an unusually gifted dog, named Blood. The dog's wry commentary on his master's urges is voiced by Tim McIntyre, who also sings the song that accompanies the closing credits, a country 'n' western-style ditty that admirably suits the tone of the film's laconically savage ending. Having a dog as a central character underlines the dog-eat-dog nature of the war of all against all that human society has become in this devastated world. Blood is on a par with his human companion in terms of his submission to bodily urges (the boy's for sex, the dog's for food), and is superior in sophistication, mental abilities and knowledge of how this future has come about. As the film opens, we hear him telepathically communicating to Albert (the name with which he taunts Don Johnson's character) the history of World War III. From the stark opening titles, it is clear that this was not the last cataclysm to have visited this planet: "World War IV lasted five days. Politicians had finally solved the problem of urban blight."

Now it's 2024, and gangs of 'rovers' roam around the scorched desert, which appears to be all that is left of America. Albert hunts alone, employing Blood to sniff out food and 'females', as well as hostiles. In the opening scene, we hear the screams of a woman being attacked in a bunker by a gang of 'rovers'. When Albert finds her body (dead or fatally wounded, it's not clear), he complains: "Hell, they didn't have to cut her! She could have been used two or three more times."

When Blood finally tracks down a live female for Albert, it seems as if the young man's bleakly functional view of women and sex may have been cured by the 'love of a good woman'. Much to Blood's chagrin, the paranormally gifted pooch finds himself playing gooseberry to the loved-up couple. However, she runs off back to her underground home, an authoritarian, patriarchal idyll ruled over by her daddy (Jason Robards), in which all the men wear checked shirts and straw hats, all the women wear Stepford style pinafores and there's a constant succession of ticker tape parades and marching bands. When Albert follows her down there, he finds to his initial joy that his virility is a valuable asset for this underground community's depleted gene pool, but is less impressed when he realises the manner in which they are intending to exploit it. By this point, the film abandons its initial gritty, understated naturalism in favour of absurdist satire, perhaps to its detriment. But A Boy And His Dog is a quintessential example of what has come to be seen as a golden age of science fiction cinema, between the overblown pomp of 2001 and the blockbusting space opera of Star Wars.
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