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The Day of the Dolphin

The Day of the Dolphin(1973)

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Home Vision Entertainment recently rescued a long-standing cult favorite from home video limbo when it introduced its DVD of the offbeat thriller The Day Of The Dolphin (1973). Highly anticipated at the time of its release for its pooling of hot talent of the moment (star George C. Scott; director Mike Nichols; screenwriter Buck Henry) and weighty topical themes (heightened ecological concerns, distrust of the government), its critical and box-office returns were middling. Still, the project came away with its share of devotees, who should have little reason to complain about Home Vision's efforts in bringing the film to DVD.

The tale opens on a chalk talk given by Dr. Jake Terrell (Scott), a marine biologist noted for his extensive research into dolphin intelligence and response. While his passion and commitment is obvious, he grows curiously mum regarding public inquiries into the fullest ramifications of his discoveries. In following him back to his isolated facility in the Florida Keys, the payoff to his years of inquiry becomes apparent. Terrell and his partner/wife Maggie (Trish Van Devere) have cracked the significance of the dolphins' calls, and can communicate in a rudimentary language with their beloved test subject Alpha, or "Fa" for short. They have just begun to obtain similar success with "Bee" (Beta), a female introduced as companionship for Fa.

Terrell's zeal for secrecy is understandable, particularly in light of the determined interests of Curtis Mahoney (Paul Sorvino), a self-professed "scientific journalist" with the suspect ability to pull enough strings to gain access to the researcher's isle. Beyond having to deal with Mahoney's intrusions, Harold De Milo (Fritz Weaver), the point man for the foundation that's backing Terrell's work, is beginning to up his insistence for results. The balance of the story is spent uncovering the true motives of each of the outsiders, as well as their shocking motives for exploiting the dolphins' trainability.

In his performance as Terrell, Scott brought the expected bearing and intensity to the obsessive scientist, as well as a fairly unexpected gentleness in the moments when he was relating to his charges. Henry's adaptation of the Robert Merle novel, his professed first crack at melodrama, is redolent with respect to the subject animal's intelligence and capacities, and the film is at its best when its focus is upon Terrell's breakthroughs, rather than the espionage elements of the third act. Also worthy of particular mention is Georges Delerue's moving, Oscar-nominated score.

Home Vision acquitted itself well with the cleanup of the print for DVD, which is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and a surprisingly effective audio track in Dolby 3.0 Surround. The alternate Dolby 2.0 track is slugged as "Dolphin H2.0," and this carries over into the refreshingly unpretentious manner in which the bonus materials were selected and presented. The tone is very much set by the extended interview with Henry, who looked back on the endeavor with more affection than pride, and recounted it as primarily undertaken by Nichols to get out of his remaining contractual obligation to producer Joseph Levine.

Stories from the trenches are also shared in interviews with Edward Herrmann and Leslie Charleson, both of whom had early roles as part of the Terrells' cadre of young research assistants. The remaining extras include snarky text "biographies" of Fa and Bee concerning how show business had treated them in the years since the production wrapped, and a screen of trivia regarding both dolphins and the production. The trivia clicks through to oddities such as the German-language trailer and the tooth-polish commercial that lead to Charleson's casting.

To order The Day of the Dolphin, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg