The Day of the Dolphin (1973)

PG | 104-105 mins | Drama | December 1973

Director:

Mike Nichols

Writer:

Buck Henry

Producer:

Robert E. Relyea

Cinematographer:

William Fraker

Editor:

Sam O'Steen

Production Designer:

Richard Sylbert

Production Company:

Icarus Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

Buck Henry is credited twice in the opening credits; first, his above-the-title credit, then a second credit that reads: “Written by Buck Henry.” According to news items, United Artists purchased Robert Merle’s best-selling French novel in Apr 1969 and hired Roman Polanski to write, direct and produce the screen adaptation. Although filming was scheduled to begin in late 1969 in Florida and San Diego, Polanski, whose wife and unborn son were murdered in Aug 1969 by the Manson Family, was replaced by Franklin Schaffner in Feb 1970. Walter Mirisch’s production company took over from United Artists at that time, and Roger O. Hirson was hired as screenwriter. By Mar 1972, however, Avco Embassy had acquired the property, and Mike Nichols replaced Schaffner as director. Henry, who had collaborated with Nichols on The Graduate (1967, See Entry) and Catch-22 (1970, See Entry) replaced Hirson. Although a Mar 1972 DV item noted that Richard A. Roth was the project’s new producer, Robert E. Relyea is credited as producer onscreen and in reviews. The extent of Roth’s contribution to the final film, if any, has not been determined.
       In Nov 1972, George C. Scott and his wife, Trish Van Devere, were announced as the film’s co-stars. The Day of the Dolphin marked their second screen appearance together. Although Scott had worked previously with Nichols on three stage productions, The Day of the Dolphin was their first film collaboration. Filming took place in Galleon Bay and Treasure Cay on Abaco Island in the Bahamas and in Florida. According to publicity ... More Less

Buck Henry is credited twice in the opening credits; first, his above-the-title credit, then a second credit that reads: “Written by Buck Henry.” According to news items, United Artists purchased Robert Merle’s best-selling French novel in Apr 1969 and hired Roman Polanski to write, direct and produce the screen adaptation. Although filming was scheduled to begin in late 1969 in Florida and San Diego, Polanski, whose wife and unborn son were murdered in Aug 1969 by the Manson Family, was replaced by Franklin Schaffner in Feb 1970. Walter Mirisch’s production company took over from United Artists at that time, and Roger O. Hirson was hired as screenwriter. By Mar 1972, however, Avco Embassy had acquired the property, and Mike Nichols replaced Schaffner as director. Henry, who had collaborated with Nichols on The Graduate (1967, See Entry) and Catch-22 (1970, See Entry) replaced Hirson. Although a Mar 1972 DV item noted that Richard A. Roth was the project’s new producer, Robert E. Relyea is credited as producer onscreen and in reviews. The extent of Roth’s contribution to the final film, if any, has not been determined.
       In Nov 1972, George C. Scott and his wife, Trish Van Devere, were announced as the film’s co-stars. The Day of the Dolphin marked their second screen appearance together. Although Scott had worked previously with Nichols on three stage productions, The Day of the Dolphin was their first film collaboration. Filming took place in Galleon Bay and Treasure Cay on Abaco Island in the Bahamas and in Florida. According to publicity material, Buck and Ginger, who play “Alpha” and “Beta” in the picture, were caught off the coast of Florida and trained especially for the film. Trainer Peter Moss worked with the dolphins nine hours a day for nine months prior to shooting. Two other female dolphins, Bubbles and Paddlefoot, played Alpha and Beta in second-unit scenes shot in open water. As noted in one publicity article, a wild terrier named Spider was used to herd Bubbles and Paddlefoot during filming. Toward the end of filming, Bubbles and Paddlefoot deserted the production after being frightened by a passing powerboat. Buck and Ginger were returned to the sea after principal photography was completed, according to publicity material. The LAT review claims that Buck Henry supplied the dolphin voices; modern sources credit Robert Lydiard as the voice of Alpha.
       As noted in the Jan 1974 New York magazine review, the film cost $8.5 million to produce. The picture received mostly negative reviews and did not do well at the box office in its initial release. When it played in Memphis, TN, the local Board of Review changed the film’s rating from PG to R, objecting to the use of the word “excreta.” The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Music (Original Dramatic Score) and Best Sound. In Aug 1974, author John C. Lilly (1915--2001), a psychoanalyst and dolphin expert, who was mentioned in the NYT and other reviews as the inspiration for the story, filed a lawsuit against Avco Embassy and novelist Robert Merle, among others, claiming that the novel and film plagiarized his nonfiction books Man and the Dolphin and The Mind of the Dolphin . Lilly sought an injunction against future screenings of the pictures and revenues from its initial release. According to a Jan 1976 LAT item, the suit was settled out of court, with Lilly receiving $1,500.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
7 Jan 1974
p. 4654.
Daily Variety
16 Apr 1969.
---
Daily Variety
27 May 1970.
---
Daily Variety
22 Mar 1972.
---
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1973
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jan 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Feb 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1973
p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1973
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 1974.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
21 Dec 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1973
Section IV, p. 1, 21.
Los Angeles Times
11 Jan 1976.
---
New York
21 Jan 1974.
---
New York Times
15 Feb 1970.
---
New York Times
20 Dec 1973
p. 57.
Newsweek
31 Dec 1973
p. 33.
Publishers Weekly
21 Apr 1969.
---
Variety
19 Dec 1973
p. 12.
Variety
26 Jun 1974.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Mike Nichols Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
2d unit dir of photog
Key grip
Gaffer
1st asst cam
Asst cam
Grip
Grip
Cableman
Generator op
Stills
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Const coord
Underwater props
Asst prop
Const foreman
Const foreman
Painter
Set dresser
Lead man
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Dolphins trained by
Asst trainer
Asst trainer
Veterinary supv
Casting consultant
2d unit asst
Transportation coord
Cont sketch artist
Key driver
Key driver
Key driver
Key driver
Dir secy
Prod accountant
Avco Embassy accountant
Loc auditor
Payroll
Prod secy
Unit pub
Dolphin wrangler
STAND INS
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Un animal doué de raison by Robert Merle (Paris, 1967).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1973
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 19 December 1973
Los Angeles opening: 20 December 1973
Production Date:
late December 1972--early April 1973 at Abaco Island, Bahamas, and Florida
Copyright Claimant:
Avco Embassy Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
19 December 1973
Copyright Number:
LP49223
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
104-105
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In a lecture to a women’s club, marine biologist Jake Terrell describes the complex life of dolphins and his work with four-year-old Alpha, an orphaned dolphin he has raised since birth. During the question-and-answer session, Jake dismisses one woman’s claim about a dolphin that had been taught to count to eight in English. After his talk, which has been sponsored by the Franklin Foundation, his financial backer, Jake returns to his island research center. There, he learns that his scientist wife Maggie has been bitten by a sexually aroused Alpha. Jake agrees with Maggie that Alpha, who spends his days swimming and training with Jake in the center’s large tanks, needs female dolphin companionship. Later at the Franklin Foundation offices, foundation officer Harold DeMilo meets with Curtis Mahoney, a mysterious undercover agent posing as a freelance writer. Mahoney insinuates that he has damning information about the Foundation and blackmails DeMilo into securing an interview with Jake. At the research center, meanwhile, Jake struggles to keep the distracted Alpha focused on his English lesson but finally succeeds in getting the dolphin to say the word “hand.” Soon after, DeMilo arrives on the island and informs Jake that the Foundation is thinking of withdrawing its funding unless Jake explains fully his research. Using tape recordings compiled over a four-year period, Jake shows DeMilo how he taught Alpha to speak rudimentary English. Jake also tells DeMilo that just recently a female dolphin, named Beta, was caught and introduced to Alpha. After observing Beta and Alpha, who refers to himself as “Fa” and Jake as “Pa,” cavorting together, DeMilo assures Jake ... +


In a lecture to a women’s club, marine biologist Jake Terrell describes the complex life of dolphins and his work with four-year-old Alpha, an orphaned dolphin he has raised since birth. During the question-and-answer session, Jake dismisses one woman’s claim about a dolphin that had been taught to count to eight in English. After his talk, which has been sponsored by the Franklin Foundation, his financial backer, Jake returns to his island research center. There, he learns that his scientist wife Maggie has been bitten by a sexually aroused Alpha. Jake agrees with Maggie that Alpha, who spends his days swimming and training with Jake in the center’s large tanks, needs female dolphin companionship. Later at the Franklin Foundation offices, foundation officer Harold DeMilo meets with Curtis Mahoney, a mysterious undercover agent posing as a freelance writer. Mahoney insinuates that he has damning information about the Foundation and blackmails DeMilo into securing an interview with Jake. At the research center, meanwhile, Jake struggles to keep the distracted Alpha focused on his English lesson but finally succeeds in getting the dolphin to say the word “hand.” Soon after, DeMilo arrives on the island and informs Jake that the Foundation is thinking of withdrawing its funding unless Jake explains fully his research. Using tape recordings compiled over a four-year period, Jake shows DeMilo how he taught Alpha to speak rudimentary English. Jake also tells DeMilo that just recently a female dolphin, named Beta, was caught and introduced to Alpha. After observing Beta and Alpha, who refers to himself as “Fa” and Jake as “Pa,” cavorting together, DeMilo assures Jake that his research funding will continue. DeMilo then convinces Jake to allow Mahoney to interview him. Two weeks later, Mahoney arrives on the island and is given a tour by Jake. Jake says nothing about Alpha’s language skills and introduces the non-speaking Beta, whom he calls “Bee,” as Alpha. Jake and Maggie, who fear their work with Alpha will attract dangerous and unwanted attention, distrust the snooping Mahoney, but Jake assures his wife that Mahoney will learn nothing of value. Once Mahoney leaves, Jake returns to teaching Alpha, who has refused to speak to him since the arrival of Beta. Jake realizes that Alpha is communicating with Beta instead, so forcefully separates them until Alpha begins speaking English again. Later, DeMilo phones Jake and tells him that Mahoney has learned about Alpha and Beta. Reluctantly Jake decides to go public with his research before Mahoney does. That night, while Jake and Maggie discuss the dolphins’ future, Mahoney and cohort Stone sneak onshore to spy on the center’s operations. Soon after, on a yacht, Jake presents the dolphins to the Franklin Foundation board members. When member Wallingford asks Alpha why he speaks, Alpha replies, “Fa loves Pa.” Later, Jake and Maggie join the Foundation members on their yacht in order to attend a press conference organized by the Foundation. On the way, Jake confronts DeMilo about Mahoney, and DeMilo admits that Mahoney is working for the government but insists he does not know his mission. After a long wait at the Foundation’s offices, Jake and Maggie are told that the press conference has been canceled. At the research center, meanwhile, David, one of Jake’s assistants, receives a phone call and announces that Jake has instructed him to escort Alpha and Beta to the Foundation yacht. Aided by men from the yacht, David leaves with the dolphins, but when Jake and Maggie return to the center, Jake denies making the call and realizes that David has kidnapped the dolphins. That night, during a fierce storm, Mahoney appears suddenly at the center and shows Jake an electronic bug apparently installed by David in the intercom system. Without revealing who employs him, Mahoney explains that David is a former Navy explosives expert who, after being caught with heroin, agreed to help the Foundation to avoid jail time. Mahoney admits that he blackmailed the married DeMilo by threatening to expose his homosexuality but says he has not discovered how the Foundation plans to exploit the dolphins. Soon after Mahoney’s confession, Stone is found dead in one of the tanks, having been murdered during the dolphins’ kidnapping. On the Foundation yacht, meanwhile, David trains the dolphins to place a bomb on the bottom of a boat identifiable by its presidential flag. After he and Beta complete a successful test run, Alpha demands to see “Pa” and is shot at by Wallingford from the yacht. Unharmed, Alpha swims back to the research center, where Jake has deduced the Foundation’s plot to assassinate the president, whose yacht is moored nearby, using a bomb planted by the dolphins. In a speedboat, Jake and Mahoney follow Alpha toward the yacht, but after Jake realizes they will soon run out gas, he instructs Alpha to find Beta and stop David on his own. Near the yacht, Alpha catches up to Beta, who is on her way to the president’s boat with the bomb strapped to her back. Alpha communicates Jake’s instructions to Beta, who then places the bomb on the bottom of the Foundation yacht. The dolphins race away just as the yacht explodes in a fiery ball. Later, Foundation helicopters descend on the research center, and Jake explains to Alpha that he and Beta must flee forever. As Alpha cries out for Jake offshore, Jake and Maggie turn their backs on the dolphins and tearfully walk away. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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