By Jonathan Marlow
January 18, 2006 - 12:14 PM PST
Was it hard for him to work up against a dog like that?
You've seen a lot of pictures. Did you notice something about the dog in A Boy & His Dog?
Did I notice something?
Think about it for a second. It stands out like a sore thumb once you're aware of what I'm talking about.
The fact that the dog never looks off-screen?
He's never looking for a trainer. Never.
Particularly with animals and kids, you always see them looking off to...
They're looking for directions. The animal handlers are offstage giving them signals for what to do. That's fine, but I didn't want to do that. If you'll notice with our picture, never, never does the dog look for directions from anybody else.
And this wasn't just the case of careful cutting?
No, I can't say that it was. Let me tell you something, Jason Robards is also in the picture. During that period of time, Jason was the best actor in our business. Period. Jason and I had worked together a number of times. I loved working with him. When he came on the picture, guess he came on a little late. We did the other stuff first. He asked what he could do to help. I said, "Let me tell you something, if you can get your mark and say your lines as good as Tiger, I'll make a star out of you." And he had been around long enough, watching [Tiger, the dog], to know what I was talking about. That damn dog is phenomenal.
Usually, a picture that has such a prominent role for an animal uses more than one playing the same role. You only had the one dog.
I've worked with every kind of animal in the world, but let's go to Lassie. They always had six Lassies on the set. You want Lassie to bark, you get number two. You want Lassie to put his head on somebody's shoulder, you get number six. That's the way it is. Not only did we only have one dog, we didn't have a stand in. We used a damned stuffed dummy. A toy for the stand in! To complicate things even worse, you've seen the set. We had 58 million pounds of trash. What if he steps on a nail? What if he picks up a piece of glass? He's gone and so is the picture. You take the dog out of the picture and you've lost the picture, you've lost the story.
Did you have any trouble insuring the film for that reason or did you even have any insurance, outside of E&O, on the film?
We always carry it - you have to - but only in very small amounts. Not for the shooting itself, but for omissions and errors, theft, that sort of thing. Nothing to do with the shooting, though; we couldn't afford it. Plus the fact that there was only one man here, at that time, who was carrying completion bonds. He handled about six or seven companies. Not many of them wanted to insure motion pictures.
Of course, there's a lot of risk.
So I called him and asked him what it's going to cost me. He said, "L.Q., don't pester me. I know what you can do, for Christ's sake. I'll give you the errors and omissions and the other stuff. That's all you need. Don't mess with the rest of it and save all that money," which is what we did. Watch the dog. I've seen the picture perhaps 500 times. When I was working on it everyday, after about 50 times through, I stopped watching the picture and I watched the dog. He never failed me. Every time I watched him do something different. He was totally amazing.
Whatever happened to Tiger, the dog?
Well, of course.
To begin with, he was ill. They got him out of a pound and he had distemper. Do you know what distemper is? It's almost always fatal. Very few animals live past distemper. They managed to nurse him through. It affected his movement. It affected his heath.
When we got through with the picture, I said, "I'll buy him, you just name the price." They said, "No, you want to use him?" I said, "No, I'll make you a deal. He will not be worked in anything else. I just want to keep him, take care of him. If I do another picture where he works, I'll pay you again." They said, "No, we don't want to. He works so much, he makes so much money." I think I finally offered them $25,000 for him. Which, in 1975, was a bunch of money and they wouldn't take it. I guess, another two years later, he died.
I sat and cried like a baby when he died. You don't realize, truly, how phenomenal he was outside of the gig that I pulled to Jason, which is true. He watches only Don and if you see it on the big screen you'll see Don talking with him and he's giving him directions. Because the dog understood, I'd say, something between 60 and 100 words in English. He was like a two- or three-year-old child. So you could tell him "left," "right," "sit" and things like that.
I recall the scene where he's chasing after the boy and they've been in the boiler and the boy is going down to Topeka. He's going to the drop shaft to go down. You know he's after Quilla June and the dog's limping along behind him. I said, "Don, come a little faster, you're going too slow. Tiger, dammit, get on this side of Don, I can't see you." I'm talking to the dog. The trainer, Joe Hornok, is over here fifty to a hundred feet away, reading a magazine. He doesn't look up. The crew is not laughing; we've been on the picture now for three weeks. They know what I'm doing. They don't laugh, and I'm saying, "For Chrissakes, get on this side of him and stay closer to him!" Now, think back, when was the last time that you saw the picture?
Just a couple of weeks ago.
Okay, think back. What happens in that scene? The dog is on the left side, the camera side. He came on the other side like I told him. His nose is glued to Don's left knee. You watch him and he stays right with him. We got to the end of the dolly track and Don stopped. I just kept going, I didn't cut it. Tiger moved about five or six feet behind him, stopped, turned 180 degrees, came back to the boy and looked over his right stage shoulder with his on-stage shoulder for reference to the drop shaft. I can't even get human actors to do that! Walked over to him and put his head on Don's knee. Now do you remember that shot?
Yes, I do.
It's in the picture. Right after I talked to the damned dog! If you ever see it on a big screen, they go from there and they go to the drop shaft. The boy is at the drop shaft, he's finally figured out how to open it. The dog is seated over about ten feet. They're telling each other goodbye. The boy's saying he's going to come back as quick as he can, but he's going down and the dog is trying to talk him out of it. When the dog finally realizes he cannot talk him out of it, and the boy is going in the drop shaft, what does he do? He cries! The dog sat there and cried. Liquid came out of his eyes! I could trick him... I could've put something in his eyes. I could put a little glycerin in his eye and make it run.
But it's a continuous shot.
You realize that shot goes from the time he arrives until Don leaves. There's no place to go in and do that. The damned dog sat there and cried. He was phenomenal.
When you were shooting these scenes between Don and Tiger, did you have someone off screen reading Blood's dialogue?
Yeah, I read it.
You're next to the camera the whole time?
No, I wander around when I'm directing. Looking at things I want to look at, but a lot of people don't know this but, at the time it came out, there was an effort put forth to nominate Tiger for an Oscar. Not a Patsy [the animal equivalent of the Oscar], he won that, but for an Oscar, for supporting actor.
What came of that?
It sort of died. I poo-pooed it because that's ridiculous! You can't do that. The only one I knew of before that was Rin Tin Tin. That was 60 years earlier. I kept trying to figure out how Tiger was doing it. I finally accused the trainer of reading him the script and telling him what to do at night! We used the dummy just for camera placement and lighting, but when we were ready to go, we just turned him loose. First I showed him what to do and then I just started talking with him and that's what he would do.
There's a scene, although there's only a bit of it left in the picture. The wind is howling at something like 105 miles an hour. The boy is digging up some food that they had hid and the dog is sitting up on top of one of the places where they had dug out where the dirt is piled up. He's about 3 or 4 feet above the boy. The wind is blowing so hard we start the scene, we can barely see them, but I wanted it because of what's happening. The scene is I guess 45 seconds, maybe a minute long, in its entirety and, about ten to fifteen seconds into it, the wind blew Tiger off the dirt. I started to cut and I realized, "Wait a minute!" He just trotted back up, he didn't go over to Don and he didn't come over to me! He went back to his mark. He sat up there, we did another ten or fifteen seconds, it blew him off again. He jumped right back up and went back to the same mark. That's sequential. You couldn't trick a dog to do that. You think he can't think of that, but there he was. I just stood in total awe of him the whole time.
"I was sitting in hysterical laughter because he had actually pulled it off."
"That damn dog is phenomenal.""I would have sold my seat in hell to work with all three of them!"
"I absolutely adore Vic and Blood."
"It's one of the great moments of my life."
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In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
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