Biology professor Jake Terrell (George C. Scott) is giving a talk to a women's group about his field of study: dolphins. He tells them the creatures live in a state of almost permanent ecstasy due their heightened senses, and can use them to see great distances underwater. The women ask him various questions, but when one inquires about a film she saw on TV where a dolphin was able to count in words, Terrell quickly winds up the talk and leaves. On his way out, he meets Harold DeMilo (Fritz Weaver), a representative of the foundation which provides Terrell and his colleagues with their funding; he tells him that the foundation are wondering where their money is going and Terrell is reluctant to say due to the incredible nature of his research...
Based on the novel by Robert Merle, The Day of the Dolphin was scripted by Buck Henry and directed by Mike Nichols, meaning this was a strange choice for the makers of The Graduate and Catch-22. It ties in with the enviromentalism of the nineteen-seventies with its love of the ocean and, more specifically, the dolphins and features plentiful shots of the animals playing, leaping, eating and whatnot, all to the accompaniment of George Delerue's slushy score, all soaring, dewey-eyed strings. This suits the sentimental attitude of the film, but the gruff Scott's no-nonsense demeanour adds gravity to what frequently threatens to be a gooey treat for undiscerning animal lovers.
Terrell doesn't want his research facility overrun by the media or even his backers when they find out what is really happening there, but it is already too late - he just doesn't know it yet. A mysterious figure calling himself Curtis Mahoney (Paul Sorvino) shows up to get the guided tour, but what Terrell keeps from him is the fact that their main dolphin, Alpha, has been taught to talk. However, Fa (as he is nicknamed), is regressing to a more dolphiny method of communication, so the scientists catch a female friend for him, one they name Beta, or Bee for short.
This doesn't stop Fa from not talking English despite the best efforts of Terrell and his younger wife, Maggie (Trish Van Devere), so he eventually has to bully the creature into speaking again by preventing him from seeing Bee; when Fa is talking once more, everything is fine. Ah, but it's not you see, because unlikely as it sounds, The Day of the Dolphin is one of the cycle of seventies conspiracy movies. The foundation are eventually told the truth about Fa, and send a group along to interview the animal, but their interest is piqued in other ways, ways which will employ the intelligent dolphins in nefarious means.
All this is presented with a remarkably straight face, without much humour and even encouraging you to shed a tear at the dolphins' predicament when the foundation kidnap them. Bee never learns to speak, but Fa voices his limited opinions in a squeaky manner designed to make you go, "aaah", and who can claim not to have lump in their throats when he tells Terrell, "Fa love Pa" at the emotional climax? Well, quite a few people actually, as the inherent ridiculousness of the plot might have worked on the page, but has trouble when visualised for the big screen. The paranoid thriller aspect is so basic that it's a miracle the foundation thought they could pull off their plans, and the film has similar problems. A couple of years later, Jaws was unleashed and proved a more palatable seafaring adventure than this curious mush. But if you like dolphins, dive in.
German-born director in America who was part of a successful comedy act with Elaine May. He then turned to theatre and film, directing sharply observed dramas and comedies like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch-22 and the controversial Carnal Knowledge.
After the flop Day of the Dolphin, his output became patchier, but The Fortune, Silkwood, Biloxi Blues, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge, Wolf and Charlie Wilson's War all have their merits. On television, he directed the award-winning miniseries Angels in America.