More than a thousand years in the future, the atomic war has left the world in ruins. What remains of the population is divided into warring factions of Norms and Mutates; those who escaped the disfiguring effects of radioactivity, and those who have not.
Unusual, low-budget science-fiction from producer Albert Zugsmith (with a title by Howard Hughes!), which was the first film ever to depict a post-nuclear holocaust society. We’re over a thousand years into the future here, and all that remains after the bomb is a twisted New York skyline and scattered scraps of humanity living in the wreckage. Our virtuous heroes are the cave-dwelling ‘Norms’, untouched by the nuclear scourge and busy preparing for the wedding of the chief’s son, played by cult movie legend Robert Clarke.
Our hero’s bride-to-be is dark-eyed Gloria Saunders, who proves to be less than an ideal romantic choice. For a start, she happens to be the daughter of the high priest (not usually a good sign) and she’s carrying on behind the scenes with the ambitious Jason (Douglas Evans), who’s hungry to sit in the big chair currently occupied by Clarke’s father. Across the river (via a hidden tunnel) are the Mutates, led by Riddon (Ron Randell). They’re ugly and scarred and their main preoccupation seems to be kidnapping ‘Norm’ women in the hopes of birthing ‘clean’ children. On the bright side, they’ve kept their faith in God, while the Norms worship the devil! Also mixing things up are the nasty ‘Up River Men’ led by Stuart Randall.
The film opens with more than five minutes of ‘flashback’ stock footage, including planes, trains, the UN building and the inevitable mushroom cloud. Wonderfully self-important VoiceOver Man informs us that what we are about to see might really happen and he seems to be enjoying the possibility far too much. Given that the film only runs 64 minutes, it’s quite a chunk of the film’s total length. When the future finally arrives, it turns out to be a small, poorly-lit sound stage peopled by extras dressed in what appears to be left over costumes from a low budget production of Robin Hood! The dialogue is similarly old-fashioned and formal and most of the women have been relegated to cooking the grub and serving the ale. Weapons of choice are bows and arrows and quarterstaffs, and Clarke tops it all off with a nifty Errol Flynn moustache. His character is even called Rob!
Up-River Randall and his goons conquer the Norm’s stronghold with the aid of the treacherous Evans and bad girl Saunders. Evans gets his predictable comeuppance, of course, while Saunders becomes Randall’s new woman and lords it over everyone including feisty heroine Margaret Field. But, not to worry! Robin and Little John (sorry, Clarke and his anonymous sidekick) team up with the Mutates to restore the balance of power. Because they might be ugly but their quite a nice bunch, despite forcing themselves on kidnapped women for the past few decades. It helps that their leader is the handsome Randell, who’s hardly scarred at all really. So he’s ok.
The script here is by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg and includes a surprising amount of Biblical references. We never see any evidence that the Norms are practising Satanists (no surprise, there!), and a less generous commentator than myself might think that’s just an excuse to give Randell the opportunity to pontificate about his faith in the Lord, although he is quickly interrupted by rabble-rouser William Schallert. However, later on, we get a direct parallel to Moses parting the Red Sea, which Clarke is happy to appropriate as a plan (thought he was supposed to be a Satanist?!) All this action moves along at quite a fair clip, but nothing that happens is remotely surprising.
Writer Pollexfen was used to plundering the classics, given his scripts for ‘The Son of Dr Jekyll’ (1951) and ‘The Daughter of Dr Jekyll’ (1957) and it’s pretty clear this one owes more than a slight debt to H G Wells’ ‘The Time Machine.’ Clarke went on to cult movie godhood with a CV that includes ‘The Man From Planet X’ (1951) (which also featured Field and Schallert), ‘The Astounding She Creature’ (1957), ‘Beyond The Time Barrier’ (1960), the title role of ‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ (1958) (which he also directed!) and a few projects with bad movie legend Jerry Warren, including ‘The Incredible Petriﬁed World’ (1959) and the bat-shit crazy ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981). Randell appeared in slightly more legitimate productions such as musical ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (1953) (playing Cole Porter!), ‘The Story of Esther Costello’ (1957) and Christ biopic ‘King of Kings’ (1961).
But the real success stories lie elsewhere. Supporting actor Schallert went onto a screen career that lasted over 65 years, only ending with his death in 2016 at the age of 93. His credits include featured roles in ‘Gremlins’ (1984), ‘In The Heat of the Night’ (1967), ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ (1969), ‘Charley Varrick’ (1973), ‘Innerspace’ (1987), and TV appearances on ‘Roseanne’, ‘True Blood’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘ER’, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and dozens of other hit shows. You may not know the name, but you’d certainly recognise the face.
Director Stuart Gilmore was three times Oscar nominated as an Editor, for his work on ‘The Alamo’ (1960), ‘Airport’ (1970) and ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1970). He also fulfilled the role on ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ (1941), ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’ (1959) and ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ (1967), among others.
This is a production with some points of interest, but not a great level of entertainment value. There are also some very mixed messages about the importance of physical appearance, although the film’s heart does seem to be in the right place. Unfortunately, its moral and physical conflicts result in highly predictable outcomes and the cheesier aspects rob the drama of any real punch.
Watch for curiosity value.