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A Movie A Day: Quint on THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973)
Did that goddamn fish just call me a liar?!?

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] You know, for the reputation this movie has, the relatively low rating on IMDB and the fairly ridiculous premise, I found I enjoyed it a whole lot.

THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN is a film about talking dolphins… a serious film about talking dolphins… a serious film starring George C. Scott, written by Buck Henry and directed by acclaimed stage and screen director Mike Nichols… about talking dolphins. And I liked it! I guess you can look at this as a grown up Flipper. It’s about a man and his wife who are researching dolphins, specifically one they have been raising since birth, the first live dolphin birth in captivity. They call this little guy Alpha (Pha, for short) and we come to learn that they’ve been teaching the dolphin how to talk as part of a corporate tax write-off fund in dolphin research. It starts off teaching Pha how to graduate his clicks and squeaks into mimicking English words, but by the time we’re out of the first act we realize that Pha is actually conversing. It’s not like The Brain Gremlin from GREMLINS 2 or anything… it’s still very much dolphin squeaking and simple words, but communication nonetheless…

Surrounding Scott are Trish Van Devere as his wife and partner in this research, Paul Sorvino as a shady character sniffing around this research, Fritz Weaver as the sympathizing company man, Edward Herrmann (Max from THE LOST BOYS!!) as a young and thin hand on the island assisting in the research and John David Carson (the lead in the great and underseen PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW… when’s that coming to DVD?) as another assistant. The film pulled a fast one on me, I have to admit. When it starts out we see Paul Sorvino hanging around various dolphin testing fascilities and research offices. Then he pops up at a lecture Scott is giving. The way Nichols reveals him, the way the score changes… well, it paints a bad picture. There’s my villain, I thought, but boy was I mistaken. For the first two acts I got exactly what I expected… some beautiful scenes with Scott communicating with Pha and Bea (short for Beta, a female dolphin brought in so Alpha can get some lovin’ on), some sleazy stuff of Sorvino blackmailing Fritz Weaver into giving him access to the research fascility and then… well, the film takes a radical turn and it’s suddenly a political assassination picture! What the fuck!?! I think I literally said that as I realized what the hell was going on. It’s almost a James Bond plot. A board of super rich dudes kidnap the dolphins, using a man planted in with the researchers to communicate with the creatures. See, these dolphins might be able to communicate and understand certain phrases and sentences, but they have no concept of lying or theory. To them a thing either is or it isn’t.

So when this traitor tells them they’ll see Pa (Scott) if they do some errands, they do what is asked, thinking it’s coming from the figure both of them start seeing as their parental figure. The tone of this movie is something, alright. It’s all very serious, about family dynamics and the majesty of these creatures, until it becomes an assassination plot movie and even then it’s still deadly serious, but with George C. Scott shouting orders to a dolphin. THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN falls firmly into that “I can’t believe this movie exists” category, which is a huge bonus for me. I love stuff like that. That’s why I love so many of Takashi Miike’s movies. There’s something to a movie that just shouldn’t have been made that instantly pardons damn near any fault you can find and that’s the case with this one. At least for me. Final Thoughts: Bizarre, bizarre movie, but one that kind of holds up. I was definitely emotionally invested, but then again I’m a big softie and an animal lover, so it doesn’t take many “Awwww… cute sea-puppy!” moments to win me over. Add in a completely straight lead performance by George C. Scott and you get a solid recommendation from me. I like dolphins, sue me.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Wednesday, December 3rd: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (1971)

Thursday, December 4th: THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)

Friday, December 5th: POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961)

Saturday, December 6th: MIKEY & NICKY (1976)

Sunday, December 7th: TWO MINUTE WARNING (1976)

Monday, December 8th: THE SENTINEL (1976)

Tuesday, December 9th: HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966)

Happy 6 month anniversary to AMAD! I can’t believe it’s been half a year… Tomorrow we follow Mike Nichols once more to the ‘70s classic CARNAL KNOWLEDGE… finally plug that hole in my film knowledge and I can’t wait. I love me some Jack Nicholson, especially from this era. See you folks for that one! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 3, 2008, 4:58 a.m. CST

    The original movie poster is FANTASTIC!

    by Spifftacular Squirrel Girl

    One of those rare posters that would make me want to see the movie just from it's tagline and art alone.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 4:58 a.m. CST

    dolphins taste like tuna

    by rickycoogin

    ya know

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 5:07 a.m. CST

    How many times do I have to tell you...

    by DerLanghaarige ignore these fucking imdb ratings?

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 5:10 a.m. CST

    Underrated, moving in its own way

    by Sgt.Steiner

    "Pha loves Pa!"

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 5:11 a.m. CST

    And don't tell me who Edward Herrman is!

    by DerLanghaarige

    He was in Purple Rose Of Cairo and Gilmore Girls! :)

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 5:19 a.m. CST


    by Shoegeezer

    Wasn't he prepping this movie when Sharon Tate was murdered?

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 5:19 a.m. CST

    I used to watch this movie all the time

    by Jinxo

    Back in Ohio in the 80s, the CBS affiliate for awhile had a 4 o'clock movie every afternoon and this film would pop up there pretty regularly and most of the time we'd watch it. It is a weird film but weird in a really good way.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 5:58 a.m. CST

    Pha Loves Pa!

    by DukeOfSpiders

    Pha WANTS Pa. Now.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 6:44 a.m. CST

    Glenn Ford in a top hat

    by kwisatzhaderach

    The very definition of cool.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 6:48 a.m. CST


    by ByTor

    Yeah, Polanski was supposedly in London looking for locations when Tate was killed. He came back to LA and abandoned the project. <P> Imagine how weird this movie would've been if Polanski had directed it...

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 6:49 a.m. CST

    Yeah, boy. Weird.

    by ByTor

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 7:07 a.m. CST

    Iruka no Hi!

    by ricarleite

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 8:33 a.m. CST

    i loved this movie as a kid

    by bacci40

    i kept begging my parents to get me a talking dolphin

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 8:48 a.m. CST

    "I was emotionally invested in this movie"

    by BobParr

    Quint, That is too funny. Did a single tear roll down your cheek?

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 8:51 a.m. CST

    I love some of the stuff George C Scott did in the '70s

    by skimn

    besides his iconic Patton. What was the movie about a government cover up of a nerve gas leak in a farmland area...Rage, perhaps?

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 9:44 a.m. CST

    Edward Hermann

    by Crimson Dynamo

    He was in a movie called "Harry's War" that used to run a lot on cable back in the early 80's. He inherits a tank and ends up taking on the IRS - I remember it being a fun movie

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST

    Dr. John Lilly

    by Z-Man

    Trivia: both this movie and Altered States are based on the same guy, Dr. John Lilly, who did a lot of experiments trying to communicate with dolphins and going into isolation tanks on LSD and Ketamine. I used to have a High Times magazine with a great interview with him. He said that one time he took ketamine and got in the tank with the dolphins, and they put him into the Dolphin Group Mind, but that freaked him out so bad that they took him out and put him in the Whale Group Mind, which is apparantly mellower.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 11:18 a.m. CST

    "This movie shouldn't exist."

    by Archive

    That was my response to the unholy glory that is Catwoman - a Parisian, vogue-reading, latex shirt-wearing man's black exploitation movie! It makes no sense, and belongs in a museum just for the improbable physics of it's existence.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 11:41 a.m. CST

    Maybe I will have to watch this again

    by Continentalop

    When I first saw it years ago I just couldn't get over the ridiculous nature of the premise. Maybe I took my films to seriously then, because I also hate Bugsy Malone back then and now find it enjoyable. <p> And Skimn is right, George C. Scott has some very interesting 70s movies: The Hospital, The New Centurions, The Formula, Bank Shot, and my two favorites, The Changeling and Hardcore. George C. Scott fest soon Quint!

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 12:10 p.m. CST

    Happy Anniversary Quint

    by jim

    This feature has been a welcome addition to all that is "cool". It has been great for rediscovering classics and the not-so-classics. <p>For me it's been a kick in the pants to finally get around to seeing those "I can't believe you haven't seen it" films. Some are on your list (Papillon, The Alamo, Barry Lyndon, Black Sunday) but others too like Dog Day Afternoon, The French Connection (I & II), The Conversation, Network, Falling Down, Diner. Also, there are the films I wasn't familiar with before, but sought out and thoroughly enjoyed them (The Cowboys, Start the Revolution Without Me, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane). <p>Of course, the downside is, this feature has given me MORE films that I think "I gotta see that".

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 12:15 p.m. CST

    it's a downside because where will I find the time

    by jim

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 12:58 p.m. CST

    The end of this movie broke my heart.

    by DarthCorleone

    Yeah, I'm big enough to admit it.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 1:34 p.m. CST

    Happy Aniversary Quint

    by Bloo

    good job on showing us some great movies, some not so great movies and some I can't belive you haven't seen that movies

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 2:01 p.m. CST


    by Gunslinger1919


  • Dec. 3, 2008, 2:02 p.m. CST

    is it just me or....

    by Gunslinger1919

    Did George C. Scott and Jack Klugman go to the same "Yell your lines" school of acting?

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 2:36 p.m. CST

    The Savage Is Loose

    by Guy Grand

    I'm a lowly development exec that unfortunately trolls in the reality show cesspool of the industry. But this film of George's from 1974 demands to be remade soon! Update it to the present. It's just so fucked up. And thought-provoking. Would love to helm that project myself. Anybody want to throw in with me and we go approach Trish Van Devere for the rights?

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 3:27 p.m. CST

    Training a dolphin to kill the president...

    by TroutMaskReplicant

    I hope this idea doesn't fall into the hands of any wood-be Obama assassins!

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 3:58 p.m. CST

    I, too, have a fondness for this flick

    by captaincosmos

    It used to come on every so often on cable when I was a wee lad. I grew up in a small town in wintery Maine, so the exotic locale, the dolphins and the bizarre, soft sci-fi premise made it perfect fodder for my young imagination. I loved it. Saw it again fairly recently, and while I recognized its faults, I still found it enjoyable. And whoever made the suggestion of an Day of the Dolphin / Orca double bill is a fucking genius! I am totally going to put that in the suggestion box at the New Beverly Cinema here in L.A.! Glad you enjoyed this one, Quint. Congrats on hitting this milestone and I'm looking forward to your take on The Sentinel!

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 7:19 p.m. CST

    How To Steal A Million ...

    by berserkrl

    is fun.

  • Dec. 3, 2008, 10:24 p.m. CST

    made to watch this in school

    by Staldo

    My insane seventh grade English teacher made my class watch Day of the Dolphin. I enjoyed it, especially when the horny dolphin, deprived of his mate, says "PHA WANT BEA NOW".

  • Dec. 4, 2008, 12:15 a.m. CST

    Cried Worse then the Prop 8 People

    by RosebudsStarfish

    When I was a young boy I remember seeing this (1970's) and like Darth mentioned above, I bawled like a lil bitch at the end of this film. Only this movie, Old Yeller, and Brians Song have ever made me cry. Also...Soylent Mean wrote..."I wonder if the Secret Service has a No Dolphin policy for the President." Truth is the opposite as Dolphins have been trained to aid the Secret Service during water-based operations for years. They scout out bombs and divers that arent supposed to be in the specified area.

  • Dec. 4, 2008, 7:07 a.m. CST

    Great score - Great Underwater Footage

    by Roger O Thornhil

    I saw this movie on a curved cinemascope screen in Dublin when it first came out, and I was suckered by it. "Fa love pa"

  • Dec. 4, 2008, 8:25 a.m. CST

    "It’s not like The Brain Gremlin from GREMLINS 2 or anything"

    by The Amazing G

    for some reason that made me laugh

  • Dec. 4, 2008, 12:30 p.m. CST

    "wood-be Obama assassins"

    by diverdan

    Pinnochio gone bad...killer Ents?

  • Dec. 8, 2008, 9:07 a.m. CST

    Happy Anniversary!

    by dannyocean

    See my comment on Gentleman's Agreement.