The Day of the Dolphin

The Day of the Dolphin is a 1973 American science-fiction thriller film directed by Mike Nichols and starring George C. Scott. Based on the 1967 novel Un animal doué de raison (lit. A Sentient Animal), by French writer Robert Merle, the screenplay was written by Buck Henry.

The Day of the Dolphin
Theatrical release film poster by Tom Jung
Directed byMike Nichols
Produced byRobert E. Relyea
Joseph E. Levine
Screenplay byBuck Henry
Based onThe Day of the Dolphin by Robert Merle
StarringGeorge C. Scott
Trish Van Devere
Paul Sorvino
Music byGeorges Delerue
CinematographyWilliam A. Fraker
Edited bySam O'Steen
Distributed byAvco Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 1973 (1973-12-19)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8.1 million[1]


A brilliant and driven scientist, Jake Terrell, and his young and beautiful wife, Maggie, train dolphins to communicate with humans. This is done by teaching the dolphins to speak English in dolphin-like voices. Two of his dolphins, Alpha ("Fa") and Beta ("Bea"), are stolen by officials of the shadowy Franklin Foundation headed by Harold DeMilo (Fritz Weaver), the supportive backer of the Terrells' research. After the dolphins are kidnapped, an investigation by an undercover government agent for hire, Curtis Mahoney (Paul Sorvino), reveals that the Institute is planning to further train the dolphins to carry out a political assassination by having them place a magnetic limpet mine on the hull of the yacht of the President of the United States.



The novel was translated into English by Helen Weaver and published in the US in 1969 under the title The Day of the Dolphin.[2][3]

The film version was originally going to be directed by Roman Polanski for United Artists in 1969, with Polanski writing the script.[4] However, while Polanski was in London, England, looking for filming locations in August 1969, his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in their Beverly Hills home by disciples of Charles Manson. Polanski returned to the United States and abandoned the project.[5][6]

The following year it was announced Franklin Schaffner would make the movie for the Mirisch Corporation.[7] These plans were frustrated and Joseph Levine ended up buying the project from United Artists for Mike Nichols.[8]

Scott was paid $750,000 for his role.[9][10]

The film was mostly shot on Abaco Island in The Bahamas.[1] Production was extremely difficult. Scott allegedly held up production for 3 days at the start of the shoot.[9][10] Nichols later described it as the toughest shoot he had done to date.[11]


The film received mixed reviews when released in 1973. Pauline Kael, the film critic for The New Yorker, suggested that if the best subject that Nichols and Henry could think of was talking dolphins, then they should quit making movies altogether.[12]

The film was not successful commercially, though it was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score (Georges Delerue) and Best Sound (Richard Portman and Larry Jost).[13] Levine also claimed the movie had guaranteed pre-sales of $8,450,000 to cover costs, including a sale to NBC, which had expressed interest into turning the story into a TV series.[1]

Alpha the dolphin was named best animal actor in the 24th Patsy Awards.[14]

Levine admitted the film was not a success:

The rushes looked great. But it just didn't jell somehow. I really think Mike [Nichols] was the wrong guy to direct. And George C. Scott!... He got paid $750,000 for that movie—and ran us over schedule. The first three days of shooting he reported in with a "virus".[10]

Additionally, on December 21st, 1973 the Chicago Tribune published a praise piece penned by Gene Siskel. Siskel's positive criticism includes a testament to the film's moral values, "Ultimately, 'The Day of the Dolphin' works because of the values it celebrates and Scott communicates. The values are communication and love. In spite of their material, Nichols and Scott have given us a film that reminds us what love and care can do not so much for the object of affection, but for the person who tenders it. On that level, 'The Day of the Dolphin' is really a fable." [15]

Differences from the novel and other sources of inspiration

Merle's novel, a satire of the Cold War, is supposedly the basis for this film, but the film's plot was substantially different from that of the novel. The movie is instead inspired in part from the scientist John C. Lilly's life. A physician, biophysicist, neuroscientist, and inventor, Lilly specialized in the study of consciousness. In 1959, he founded the Communications Research Institute at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and served as its director until 1968. There he worked with dolphins exploring dolphin intelligence and human-dolphin communication.

See also Bottlenose dolphin communication and John Lilly and cetacean communication.

See also


  1. Mike Nichols's latest: filming with dolphins By Nora E. Taylor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 27 Dec 1973: B5.
  2. Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (May 16, 1969). "Tanked Bond". The New York Times. p. 45. a provacative and altogether chilling science fiction thriller - an Ian Fleming with humanity.
  3. The Bookshelf: Man Is About to Draft His Friend, the Dolphin Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 June 1969: 16.
  4. MOVIE CALL SHEET: 'New Leaf' Next for Weston Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Apr 1969: i12.
  5. THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD: Tragedy Strikes Those Who Beat Odds Against Success HOLLYWOOD ODDS Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 10 Aug 1969: B.
  6. Dreams, Nightmares of Roman Polanski: ROMAN POLANSKI GELMIS, JOSEPH. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 26 Dec 1973: d20.
  7. Son Of 'Help!': Son of 'Help!' By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 15 Feb 1970: 93
  8. Mike Nichols' 'Dolphin': Mike Nichols By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 Mar 1972: D13
  9. "Disrepects Paid Scott By Levine". Variety. November 13, 1974. p. 26.
  10. Baltake, Joe (December 10, 1978). "Levine: Hollywood's lion roars". Chicago Tribune. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. p. 40, section 6.
  11. Movies: Levine in the land of moguls, where exploitation is king Campell, Mary. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 23 Dec 1973: e10.
  12. Smith, Cecil (March 29, 1974). "The Script and the Role Are His". Los Angeles Times. p. G25.
  13. "The 46th Academy Awards (1974) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-28.
  14. Parrott, Jennings (May 8, 1974). "He's Underworked, Overpaid---and Fed Up". Los Angeles Times. Newsmakers (column). p. A2.
  15. "Clipped From Chicago Tribune". Retrieved 2019-03-28.

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