Nuclear war wipes out mankind. Four strangers survive in an isolated area of the United States, but can they put aside their differences and make a new life together? Things seem to be working out, but then a newcomer arrives…
Arch Oboler had found considerable success on both radio and television in the 1940s and made the step into film shortly afterward. His scripts and themes did not find favour with the major Hollywood studios, which were beginning to disintegrate as they lost control of theatre chains under new anti-trust legislation. So Oboler became part of the first wave of independent filmmakers, and also the filmmaker to tackle the subject of life in the aftermath of nuclear war.
Early scenes of an abandoned, small town are undeniably eerie and effective, although there is a notable absence of corpses in the street. It’s clear from the off that little was known about conditions after a nuclear strike as the weather remains fine throughout, and fall out doesn’t get a mention. Anyway, desperate, pregnant Susan Douglas reaches the hilltop home of friends on the outside of town, only to find it occupied by lone wolf William Phipps. They strike up an uneasy alliance and are later joined by bank manager Earl Lee and black man Charles Lampkin.
Given the film’s vintage, it’s no surprise that Lampkin’s colour is mentioned, but that non-issue is swiftly abandoned when the quartet take refuge under the same roof. The equality of their relationships is presented in a pleasingly matter of fact and everyday way, which makes for an excellent, and subtle, anti-racist statement. Having said that, of course, our hero and main man is white bread Phipps. By the end of the decade Harry Belafonte did have a more central role in the similar, and under-rated, ‘The World, The Flesh and the Devil’ (1958).
The snake in the ointment is Eric (James Anderson), who is washed up on a nearby beach, having survived the bombs by being halfway up a mountain at the time that they struck. Rather stereotypically (sadly), he’s a foreigner, and doesn’t really take to all this communal living palaver. It’s no surprise when he indulges in a few racial slurs and plans to run off with Douglas after she’s had her baby. Anderson later played a similar role in the slightly more well known ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (1962).
There’s an obvious ‘Garden of Eden’ parallel here, and, unfortunately, as the film progresses, it’s rather layered on with a trowel. But it’s the lack of action that really sinks the film. It’s very talky indeed and, although this is quite realistic, and very different to all the mutations and monsters that were shortly to follow, inevitably it’s not very exciting. We spend too much time in the house on the hill, even though its avant-garde design by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright does helps to reinforce the other worldly atmosphere. Excellent black and white photography by Sid Lubow and Louis Clyde Stouman also adds atmosphere and a stamp of quality.
An unusual, and ground~breaking, production that’s shackled by the conventions of its time and by the limited resources available to the filmmakers.