The Curmudgeon


Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Boy and his Dog

L Q Jones 1975

In L Q Jones' delightful post-apocalyptic buddy movie, the year is 2024; a decade and a half ago the politicians solved the problem of urban blight in a mere five days by starting a nuclear war; the city of Phoenix, Arizona has been buried under a layer of mud; and sixteen-year-old Vic (Don Johnson) roams the resulting desert, living on ancient canned food and trying to get laid. His companion is his dog Blood, a furry wiseacre who communicates with Vic via a telepathic bond. Blood has heard about a place beyond the desert where farming has started again ("yeah," sneers Vic, "they grow food right out of the ground, and clothes and beautiful chicks..."), but Vic seems complacently happy living hand to mouth and letting Blood sniff out females. Besides, Blood's information came from a police dog, and therefore is hardly to be trusted.

Female trouble turns up in the person of Quilla June (Susanne Benton), a perfect blonde all-American teen-angel who lures Vic away from Blood (Vic can generally be relied upon to follow his gonads rather than the voice of prudence) and into the subterranean community of Topeka, a vicious, black-skied satire of small-town America where all the inhabitants, male and female, wear plastered white make-up with rosy cheeks and where crackerbarrel homilies are broadcast over a public address system like the results of a Five-Year Plan. After suffering the indignity of a bath, and discovering to his horror that dogs in this place are tied up (a non-telepathic terrier, freed by Vic, is promptly and pointlessly interrogated for whatever he might have told it), Vic is informed by the head of the town committee (Jason Robards) that he is to be given a signal honour: life underground has rendered all the men in the community sterile, so Vic is needed to impregnate the women. Having sampled Quilla June's extensive favours, Vic greets this news with understandable enthusiasm, but the procedure is less fun than he imagines. Girls in wedding dresses queue up to sign their names next to his on a register while the town parson recites the ceremony and Vic, tied down and gagged, is mechanically milked so that the future American Wives and Mothers can be artificially inseminated.

Vic is rescued by Quilla June: as the perfect wide-eyed all-American teen-angel, she was willing to put out in return for a place on the town committee, but on returning from her mission has been patronisingly fobbed off by her elders, and has decided that it's time for the younger generation to take over and lead Topeka bowing and scraping to a better tomorrow. She has a few boys on her side, and with Vic as her armoured stooge it seems a simple matter to kill off the reigning committee and install herself at the head of a new one; but Vic has had enough and wants only to be reunited with Blood. Finally, he must make a choice about who really is man's best friend.

Animals in American films, and particularly dogs, and especially particularly talking dogs, tend towards the kind of cuteness that American film-makers also inexplicably find in babies, children, teenagers, old people, mental defectives and rodents; but the character of Blood is really rather a triumph. Ruthlessly pragmatic (when he and Vic are outnumbered by marauders soon after first meeting Quilla June, he immediately advises that they should clear out and leave her for the bad guys), addicted to popcorn and prone to histrionic displays of pique, he annoys Vic by calling him "Albert" and attempts, not very successfully, to give him a bit of character and background by rote-teaching him the names of recent presidents and the dates of the world wars. Blood's voice, as supplied by Tim McIntire, and the body-language of the canine talent are both flawless; few human mentors, not to speak of Yoda and his pestilential ilk, have been better played or less irritating.

L Q Jones, the screenwriter and director, is probably best known for his role as one of Robert Ryan's gutter-trash bounty hunters in The Wild Bunch, wherein he was the recipient of Strother Martin's renowned line: "Come on, T C - help me git his boots!" Jones' original name is Justus E McQueen, which may explain the presence in the credits of a wardrobe assistant named Steve McQueen. To the best of my recollection, the film is a pretty faithful adaptation of Harlan Ellison's original novella; the novella has been collected in a book called The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, but don't let that put you off.


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