The TSL’s Grindhouse: A Boy And His Dog (dir by L.Q. Jones)


(Nearly every Saturday night, the Late Night Movie Gang and I watch a movie.  On January 20th, we watched the 1975 science fiction satire, A Boy and His Dog.)

A Boy and His Dog begins, quite literally, with a bang.  A bang followed by a mushroom cloud.  And then a second mushroom cloud.  And then another.  And another.  When the explosions finally stop, we are informed that World War IV only lasted five days.  Of course, it destroyed most of society.  The year is now 2024 and … well, things aren’t great.

(For those of you keeping track, that means we’ve got another six years left.  Enjoy them!)

The world is now a barren wasteland, an endless stretch of desert.  There are a handful of survivors but they’re not exactly the types who you would want to survive an apocalypse.  Take Vic, for instance.  Vic (played by Don Johnson) is an absolute moron.  He can’t read.  He’s not very good at thinking.  He has no conscience.  He’s someone who kills and rapes without giving it a second thought.  When Vic isn’t scavenging for food and supplies, he’s obsessing on sex.  When we first meet him, the only thing redeeming about Vic is that almost everyone else in the world is even worse than he is.

That Vic has managed to survive for as long as he has is something of a minor miracle.  Vic has been lucky enough to team up with a dog named Blood.  Blood is not only surprisingly intelligent but he’s also telepathic.  Unfortunately, the same experiment that granted him telepathy also caused him to lose his instinct as a hunter.  So, Blood and Vic have an arrangement.  Vic keeps Blood supplied with food and Blood helps Vic track down women.

Blood’s voice is provided by actor Tim McIntire and, from the minute we first hear him, it becomes obvious that Blood may be cute on the outside but, on the inside, it’s a totally different story.  Blood rarely has a good word for anyone or anything.  He delights in annoying Vic, calling him “Albert” while still demanding that Vic get him food.  He’s a surprisingly well-read dog but you wouldn’t necessarily want to get stuck in a kennel with him.  Much as with Vic, Blood’s only redeeming trait is that everyone else is marginally worse than he is.

(Sadly, if there was an apocalypse like the one that starts this movie, most of the survivors probably would be like Vic.  The only people who would survive something like that would be the people who were solely looking out for themselves.)

A Boy and His Dog is a highly episodic film, following Vic and Blood as they wander across the wasteland and bicker.  They fight other scavengers.  They spend a rather depressing night at a makeshift movie theater.  Eventually, they come across a young woman named Quilla June (Suanne Benton).  Blood dislikes her but Vic says he’s in love.  (Mostly, he’s just excited that he’s now having sex regularly.)  Eventually, through a whole series of events, Vic discovers an underground city named Topeka, where everyone wears clown makeup.  The head of the town (Jason Robards) informs Vic that his sperm will be used to impregnate 35 women.  Vic is excited until he finds out that reproduction in Topeka is a matter of artificial insemination.

(Both the wasteland and Topeka are nightmarish in their own different ways.  The wasteland is world without morality or compassion.  Topeka is a world where everyone looks like a mime, there’s always a marching band, and order is maintained by a robot wearing overalls.)

Of course, while Vic is dealing with life underground, Blood waits above ground.  By the end of the film, Vic is forced to make a choice between settling down or remaining loyal to his dog.  It all leads to a final comment from Blood that will either make you laugh or throw a shoe at your TV.  I did both.

A Boy and His Dog is a strange movie.  It definitely isn’t for everyone.  It’s a comedy but the humor is pitch black.  Still, that strangeness — along with the talent of the dog playing Blood and Tim McIntire’s savagely sarcastic voice work — is what makes the film watchable.  There’s literally no other film like A Boy and His Dog.  By the time Vic ends up in Topeka, the film has become almost a fever dream of apocalyptic paranoia and satire.  The ultimate message of the film appears to be that the apocalypse would really suck so let’s try to not blow each other up.

Who can’t get behind that?

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #52: Best Friends (dir by Noel Nosseck)


best-friends-lobby-3So, this is kind of a weird one.

If the 1975 film Best Friends is known for anything, it’s probably the poster above.  As you can see, it features two women, being watched over by a shadowy group of Native Americans.  That tagline reads: “She became the ravaged victim of a century of revenge!”

Now, it’s often said that the above image has absolutely nothing to do with the actual film.  That’s actually not quite true.  There is a very brief scene where a woman and her boyfriend are at a bar and the boyfriend goads her into doing an impromptu striptease.  Sitting in the audience are some glowering American Indians.  There is a minor confrontation but otherwise, that’s it.  Nobody becomes “the ravaged victim of a century’s revenge.”  Instead, it was simply a marketing plot, used to draw audiences to a film that might otherwise have struggled to have been seen.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Best Friends is a Crown International Production.

CIP_LogoAs for what Best Friends actually is — well, it’s not easy to say.  It’s a very odd and very dark film, one that deals with characters who are ambiguous in more ways than one.  It’s one of those films that would be forgotten if it hadn’t, by chance, been included in a few dozen Mill Creek box sets and yet, from what I can tell, it has made an impression on just about everyone who has seen it.

In many ways, it’s a film that could only have been made in the 1970s.  Pat (Doug Chapin) and Jesse (Richard Hatch) served in Vietnam together and have remained close friends in America.  Jesse is serious and centered.  Pat is wild and impulsive.  Jesse has rented an RV and plans to drive across America with his fiancée, Kathy (Susanne Benton).  Pat suddenly announces that he’s engaged to and maybe he and Jo Ella (Ann Noland) could join Jesse and Kathy on their trip.  Even though Kathy would probably rather not have to share the RV with Pat’s old air force friend and his overly unstable girlfriend, Jesse readily agrees.

Now, I know this all sounds like the setup for a celebration of bromance but Best Friends actually has something else on its mind.  From the minute that Jesse and Pat get in that RV, it becomes obvious that they don’t have as much in common as they once did.  Jesse has matured.  He’s looking forward to the future and he wants to spend his time with Kathy.  Pat, however, is still obsessed with the past and wants to spend all of his time with Jesse.

As they drive across the country, Pat’s behavior starts to become more and more obsessive.  He cruelly breaks off his engagement with Jo Ella and then appears to be personally insulted when Jesse doesn’t do the same with Kathy.  He even buys a motorcycle so that he can ride behind, in front of, or next to the RV, as if the idea of even being inside of Jesse’s domesticated world would contaminate him.

And, since this is a Crown International Picture, Pat isn’t hesitant about using violence to try to keep Jesse and Kathy apart…

So, what is Pat’s problem?  A lot of reviewers have suggested that Pat is in love with Jesse and they’re probably right.  What’s interesting is that, consider that he’s the film’s nominal hero, Jesse isn’t that sympathetic of character.  If anything, he comes across as being a wimp, a guy who says he loves his fiancée but still won’t stand up for her.  As the film progresses, Jesse’s inherent impotence becomes both more obvious and more annoying.  By the end of the film, after all of the tragedy has played out, you can’t help but feel that Jesse and Pat don’t deserve any better than each other.

Best Friends is a deliberately paced and rather haunting little film.  It’s definitely one of the best of the many films to come out of Crown International Pictures.