Friday, January 24, 2020

Classic Movie Review: A Boy and His Dog (1975)

A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Directed by: L.Q. Jones.
Written by: L.Q. Jones based on the novel by Harlan Ellison.
Starring: Don Johnson (Vic), Susanne Benton (Quilla June Holmes), Jason Robards (Lou Craddock), Tim McIntire (Blood), Alvy Moore (Dr. Moore), Helene Winston (Mez Smith), Charles McGraw (Preacher), Hal Baylor (Michael), Ron Feinberg (Fellini), Michael Rupert (Gery), Don Carter (Ken), Michael Hershman (Richard).
There is a fine line between depiction and endorsement – and it does appear to me that many people cannot tell the difference between the two. Scorsese films often get hit with this – like The Wolf of Wall Street – which some claimed liked its protagonist and his ilk, which was ridiculous. Or Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which I though was another of Eastwood’s thoughtful examinations of violence, and its after effects, but many dismissed as jingoistic war mongering. But then there is a case like 1975’s A Boy and His Dog, which undeniably depicts an incredibly misogynistic world and I think may well be misogynistic itself. The film was directed by character actor L.Q. Jones – his second, and last, film as a director. Jones seems to be trying to channel some of what made Sam Peckinpah – who directed Jones four times by the time this film was made – into a special director, but he cannot quite pull it off. The result is a film that blurs that depiction/endorsement line.
The film takes place in the future – sometime after WWIV, and the world is a Mad Max style barren wasteland, suffering from the after effects of nuclear war. Vic (Don Johnson) is a loner, who prowls around just trying to survive – his constant companion being Blood, a shaggy dog who communicates with Vic telepathically. The two of them have a deal – Vic will keep Blood fed, and Blood will keep finding women for Vic – he can sniff them out. The latest woman that Blood finds for Vic is Quilla (Susane Benton), who Blood sniffs out at a makeshift movie theater in the desert, showing old skin flicks. Vic has to fight to keep her though as a pack of men, with the same intentions as Vic, descend on them – Blood thinks he should give her to them and run. But Vic doesn’t. Soon, Susanne’s ulterior motives come to the surface – when she convinces Vic to leave a batter and bloody Blood behind, and descend into the underworld society where she came from with her. This society, while outwardly nicer – it’s basically a 1950s sitcom world – is just as misogynistic as the above world, just with a nicer veneer to it. Run by Jason Robards – having a blast in his strange makeup – things down there aren’t any better – and worse for Vic. All this leads to the movie’s shocking ending – that is, unfortunately, played for laughs.
Jones isn’t much of a director – for the most part, the film has a fairly pedestrian style, even when it descends into the underworld which should be a surreal, Lynch-ian nightmare. His best decision is to cast Don Johnson in the lead role. Johnson wasn’t quite a star yet – but he had the look of one, an All-American boy sort, and it works well for this character. When the movie begins, Johnson’s Vic is already a monster – one with a friendly face sure – but he’s an unapologetic rapist even before we meet him, which for this movie works well as it’s a reminder that the rapist is always – or even often – the creepy guy in the bushes, but the good looking guy you don’t expect. Johnson doesn’t change in the film – except maybe he gets worse – but he is very good as a horrible abuser, who likes to think of himself as a victim – right to the end.
Blood is the controlling influence on his life – so much so that it never really makes sense that Vic would live him behind to go underground. Blood controls him, dominates him, and directs him where to go. Blood also manipulates him – he is clearly the superior intellect between the two of them, and right down to the last scene, he is able to pull the strings to get Vic to do what he wants.
Where the film crosses over the line for me – where it tips its hand into being a misogynist film, and not just a film about misogyny, is really in its depiction of Quilla. She is clearly a victim – she has been victimized at her underground community, and used as a sex object by them when she is sent to the surface to find someone like Vic to come back with her. Vic also uses her as a sex object – although there is some feeling there, or else he wouldn’t follow her down (again, I’m not sure I buy that – there is very little indication anywhere elsewhere, that Vic can feel any sort of tender emotions). And yet, for the entire movie, she is portrayed as an annoying nag. When she tries, late in the film, to get Vic to rise up with her – she is dismissed as a kind of ambitious harpy who doesn’t know her place. And then, there is the shocking end of the movie (spoiler alert) – when (off-screen) Vic kills her and feeds her to Blood to keep him alive – a moment that inspires that famous final line, which is played for laughs.
In short, I think it’s pretty clear that Blood is the villain of the movie, and that Vic is his amoral lackey, following his dick wherever it leads him. And yet, I don’t think the movie knows this. You could make a version of A Boy and His Dog into a portrait of misogyny – of how the system, no matter what it is, uses and oppresses women, that in the end values everything – including dogs (super intelligent as they may be) – over women. But that’s not the movie Jones and company made. There are signs of that movie in here – and that’s a movie I would like to see.

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