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Few images are more heartwarming than a boy and his dog. Timmy and Lassie. Scooby and Shaggy. Jon Snow and Ghost. Luke and R2D2.
So what might you expect if I told you about a movie with a dog and his boy struggling to survive in post-apocalyptic times?
And they can talk to each other telepathically?
And it stars a young Don Johnson? With perennial mister-nice-guy Jason Robards?
If you said "one of the darkest films I'll ever see," you're dead right.
Let's talk about A Boy and His Dog (1975).
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I stole the title and subtitle for this post from the opening crawl of the film. A Boy and His Dog is set in 2024, many years after the nuclear conflagration we were all convinced was coming in 1975 (and is still not off the table) finally happened.
Vic (Don Johnson) and his traveling partner Blood (voiced by the versatile Tim McIntire) are traveling the American southwest looking for food and women. They literally don't care how they get their hands on either.
They eventually come across a colony that's been trying to find a young, fertile, man to help them reproduce. Vic is, of course, overjoyed. He's found heaven! Then he finds out that it doesn't involve sex, that they're going to kill him after he serves his purpose, and he's a prisoner.
This kind of ironic twist is classic Harlan Ellison, who penned the novella the movie is based on. The film's ending has his finger prints on it, too. I don't want to spoil it, so I can only describe it as O. Henry in the style of Edgar Allan Poe.
In the world of A Boy and His Dog, the assassination of John Kennedy failed, which set it on a different path from ours. The movie introduces this backstory via telepathic conversations between Vic and Blood, where Blood plays the role of Vic's mentor. (Vic is an 18-year-old boy, so Blood is the brains. In any pairing involving an 18-year-old boy, the other half is the brains.) There's just enough detail to the backstory that it leaves a fan of alternate history wanting more.
But the movie is a trim 91 minutes, which is what makes it work for me. There isn't enough time to dwell on the silliness or wallow in the weirdness of the colony Vic finds toward the end. It wasn't a financial success, but A Boy and His Dog is one of the sublimely strange 70s sci-fi films that became a cult classic with a legacy.
George Miller allegedly said A Boy and His Dog was an inspiration when he wrote Mad Max and The Road Warrior. However, this assertion seems to trace back to a claim from Ellison and he was a bit of a storyteller.
But according to Jess Heinig, one of the developers on the first Fallout video game. “A Boy and His Dog inspired Fallout on many levels, from underground communities of survivors to glowing mutants." Fallout spawned 10 games (with an 11th on the way) and has a TV series on the way to Amazon Prime.
You can catch A Boy and His Dog here.