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.George C. Scott as Dr Jake Terrell
Trish Van Devere as Maggie Terrell
Paul Sorvino as Curtis Mahoney
Fritz Weaver as Harold DeMilo
Jon Korkes as David
Edward Herrmann as Mike
Leslie Charleson as Maryanne
John David Carson as Larry
Victoria Racimo as Lana
John Dehner as Wallingford
Severn Darden as Schwinn
William Roerick as Dunhill
Elizabeth Wilson as Mrs Rome
Phyllis Davis as Receptionist
Dolphin voices Elliot Peterson and Elliot Fink
The novel was translated into English by Helen Weaver and published in the US in 1969 under the title The Day of the Dolphin.
The film version was originally going to be directed by Roman Polanski for United Artists in 1969, with Polanski writing the script. 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.
The following year it was announced Franklin Schaffner would make the movie for the Mirisch Corporation. These plans were frustrated and Joseph Levine ended up buying the project from United Artists for Mike Nichols.
The film was mostly shot on Abaco Island in The Bahamas. Production was extremely difficult and Nichols later described it as the toughest shoot he had done to date.
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.
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). 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.
Alpha the dolphin was named best animal actor in the 24th Patsy Awards.
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".