Before Mad Max and Fallout, there was A Boy And His Dog

A Boy And His Dog
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The post-apocalypses of both Mad Max and Fallout were anticipated by the 1975 cult film, A Boy And His Dog. We take a look back at its ideas and influence.


It’s 2024, and the human race isn’t just on the verge of extinction – it’s also gone mad. In the irradiated deserts left by World War IV, semi-feral survivors scavenge for resources, or huddle up in makeshift cinemas. Meanwhile, in bunkers below ground, a patriarchal, makeshift society tries to pretend that it’s still the Kansas of the 1950s.

Such is the world of A Boy And His Dog – a 1975 sci-fi cult oddity directed by LQ Jones on a shoestring budget. While other films had imagined what a post-apocalyptic future might look like, none were quite as outlandish or plain weird as Jones’s film, adapted from the 1969 novella by Harlan Ellison.

Nor had they been so aggressively amoral. A Boy And His Dog’s protagonist is Vic (a pre-fame Don Johnson, who’s meant to be 18 but looks much older), a scavenger who uses his super intelligent canine sidekick, Blood, to seek out females he can use to satisfy his grotesquely outsized libido. Even at the time, it was a controversial plot point, and there’s a misogynistic tone to much of the film, including a last line of dialogue that Ellison vocally detested.

In its depiction of a society that has long since sunk into mania, meanwhile, A Boy And His Dog also shares several parallels with George Miller’s Mad Max universe – in particular 1981’s Mad Max 2 (known in the US as The Road Warrior), in which Gibson’s title character has a canine sidekick much like Blood.

Don Johnson and Tiger in A Boy And His Dog (1975).

Indeed, there are all kinds of sets and images that wouldn’t look at all out of place in Miller’s later movies – there’s a scene involving a cobbled-together wagon, bearing a flamboyant tribal leader and his acolytes, that could easily have come from Mad Max’s febrile world. So did Miller really crib ideas from a 1970s cult film when he came up with his own disaster-struck world?

Ellison certainly thinks so. In a 2013 interview with The Dissolve, the author said that Miller once rang him up and thanked him for his story, which the filmmaker said he “ripped off” for The Road Warrior.

“I had George Miller call me from Australia to tell me The Road Warrior was ripped off – and he used the phrase ‘ripped off’ – from A Boy And His Dog, and that he wanted to thank me,” Ellison said. “But Road Warrior is a great movie. Many of the people who have done films like A Boy And His Dog have done homages whether they care to admit it or not, and I’m down with that. It’s part of being a great silver-maned icon of 20th-century culture.”

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, Miller has never publicly acknowledged any debt owed to A Boy And His Dog. Director LQ Jones has said in interviews (such as this one with Rotten Tomatoes) that he’d heard that Miller was influenced by his movie, though he may have been referring to Ellison’s anecdote about his phone call with the director. Whatever the truth is, A Boy And His Dog shares the same darkly sardonic tone as Miller’s work, and his aversion to explaining in detail how or why certain things have come into being.

Like a low-octane Mad Max.

Vic’s telepathic link with Blood, and the mutt’s superior intelligence, are never rationalised. Nor is it explained why the simultaneously buttoned-up and decadent underground society in their vast underground bunker are daubed in what appears to be stage makeup. They’re simply details to ponder over, and give the illusion of a much larger (and stranger) world.

While there’s little solid evidence that A Boy And His Dog’s worldbuilding inspired George Miller, one person who has acknowledged its influence is Jesse Heinig, the programmer of the first game in the Fallout videogame series. Like Jones’s film, the Fallout games imagine a post-apocalypse where society is divided between subterranean bunkers and the hard-scrabble world above. There’s also a retro-futuristic vibe to the Fallout games, a darkly satirical tone, as well as a canine companion, Dogmeat – a concept inspired by both Mad Max 2 and A Boy And His Dog.

A Boy and His Dog inspired Fallout on many levels, from underground communities of survivors to glowing mutants,” Heinig told The Escapist in 2009. “My understanding is that [Fallout designer] Scott Bennie settled on the name ‘Dogmeat’ for the character, and it’s likely that he did pick that from the story in question.”

The debt Fallout owes to A Boy And His Dog was directly referenced in the hit TV series on Amazon Prime, with the repeated nods to a fictional movie called A Man And His Dog being an allusion to Ellison’s story and its film adaptation.

Susanne Benton (left) plays Quilla, the young woman who coaxes Vic to visit her underground community. We won’t spoil what happens next here.

That this low-budget curio would have such an impact is all the more surprising given its origins. Before 1975, LQ Jones (born Justus Ellis McQueen Jr) was better known as an actor, having appeared in multiple Sam Peckinpah westerns (among them The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid) as well as TV’s Rawhide and Gunsmoke. There was little in his track record to suggest he’d be interested in writing and directing a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, and he seldom directed in the years after 1975; his other work as director included the 1964 drama-thriller The Devil’s Bedroom and a solitary episode of The Incredible Hulk in the early 1980s.

Speaking to Roger Ebert back in 1976, and even Jones seemed surprised that he got to make his distinctly warped sci-fi movie.

“I read the story and never thought it could be made into a movie,” he said. “It would have had to be triple-X. I got it down to a soft R. I was afraid of how Harlan would like it […] But I came out OK. He liked A Boy And His Dog, which was a relief, because he might have killed me.”

Ellison was initially supposed to write the adapted screenplay himself, but a severe case of writer’s block saw Jones take over. Jones diligently worked away on the script in the evenings, and eventually shot the film over the course of a month with a budget of just $400,000 he’d raised himself.

The low-budget film’s secret weapon was surely Tiger, the Hollywood canine who was a bigger star than Don Johnson at the time of shooting. Previously seen in The Brady Bunch, the trained pooch “knew 40 or 50 words” and once “did six tricks in a row, without us having to cut,” according to Jones. (Blood’s voice was later provided by Tim McIntire, an actor who also provided music for the film.)

Jason Robards (right) plays Quilla’s father, Lou. Gaudy makeup is quite fashionable in the subterranean society of Topeka.

Continuing his do-it-yourself approach, Jones also acted as A Boy And His Dog’s distributor, showing it off at sci-fi conventions and gradually rolling it out to cities in various states around North America. Although well-received at those conventions, critics for newspapers were more cautious, with reactions ranging from the positive to the borderline angry. Jones recalled his appearance on a local TV show in Canada and the female host describing his movie as “the most vulgar picture” she’d ever seen.

“…she kept going for twenty minutes,” Jones told Rotten Tomatoes. “And I didn’t have to say much; when she’d wind down, I’d goose her and up she’d go again! We finally got through the show and I said, ‘I’d like to thank you for selling my picture. Every time you called the picture vulgar, you were selling tickets!’”

Not that A Boy And His Dog was much of a hit; too odd and angular to be a surprise success in cinemas, it was instead fated to become one of those cult films that quietly burrows its way into pop culture. There was vague talk of a sequel over the years, and a spin-off TV series at NBC came close to happening around 1977, but the network wanted to get in a more famous director than LQ Jones to direct it.

A Boy And His Dog therefore stands alone as one of the most unusual and blackly comic post-apocalypses of the 1970s – a decade filled with other doomy visions of the future, including Soylent Green, Logan’s Run and Damnation Alley. As Ellison himself once pointed out, LQ Jones’s film anticipated a coming wave of similarly bleak genre films that would emerge in the 1980s and beyond.

“Clearly now, in retrospect, this film was 20 years ahead of its time,” the author told The Dissolve. “The fact that it’s been ripped off so many times to do this kind of dystopian future, both in novels and film, shows that it was… done right the first time, and that this film was a landmark.”

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