How The Day of the Dolphin nudged its way into Buck Henry's list of writing credits is peculiar as it is welcomed. Having directed comedies like Heaven Can Wait, and written screenplays for Get Smart, The Owl And the Pussy Cat, and What's Up Doc, Henry is known for great comedic writing.
But Day of the Dolphin is only one of many emotional dramas he wrote which include, the Graduate and Joseph Heller's Catch 22. Yet Day of the Dolphin is a rare piece for Henry because it's not humorous and doesn't have subtle moments of levity. A political thriller, Day of the Dolphin tugs on the heart strings and the relationship between a scientist and his dolphins.
It is the story of a marine biologist who teaches his dolphins to communicate in English but shady characters plan to kidnap the trained mammals for a more sinister purpose.
It was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Original Score by Georges Delerue
What can I say. I am a sucker for emotional dramas and as a child, this story struck me deep and left a pit in my heart. There is something tender and ominous about dolphins and the interaction between them and George C. Scott is beautiful and believable.
George C. Scott, the raspy voiced actor who Tony Randall called "the greatest actor in American History, had a reputation for being moody and mercurial while on the set. One of his stage co-stars, Maureen Stapleton, once told the director of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite, "I don't know what to do – I'm scared of him." The director, Mike Nichols, replied, "My dear, everyone is scared of George C. Scott." (source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_C._Scott)
Scott was married four times, finally in 1972 to Trish Van Devere until his death in 1999. It was Van Devere who co-starred as his onscreen wife in Day of the Dolphin. She also played opposite Scott in the highly entertaining horror film, The Changeling.
Though Day of the Dolphin did not do well in theaters, it gained a following over the years and became an odd cult favorite. The relationship on film between Scott and Van Devere is subtle, and almost has the feel like you are watching a typical day in the house of the Scott-Devere's.
But what captures our hearts and that of the other characters on screen is Scott's relationship with Alfa, "Fa" and Beta, "Bea." The imagery of swimming with dolphins is every swimmers dream and my guess, anyone's dream. It is the tender love and care trainer and mammal have for one another that opens a window into the human heart.
As previously mentioned, Georges Delerue was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music - Original Dramatic Score.
Delerue allows us to reimagine what it would be like to live in an underwater tranquil world such as the dolphin. Turquoise waters of isolation, brought to life in the playful joy of living. We feel somehow cheated or forgotten as we experience Scott swimming with Fa and Bea, desiring to be the ones that can reach out and grasp the experience for ourselves.
Impossible to hold on to and unable to sustain the quiet life in the Caribbean, Scott is challenged with the reality that the world will always be filled with greed. Thus we are led to a dramatic and intense ending.
The moments between what is real, what is science, and what is a dolphin thinking are played out tenderly with Delerue's soundtrack. Gentle, sometimes agonizing, always heart wrenching, The Day of the Dolphin is a beautiful tale of love and sacrifice.