(director/writer: Arch Oboler; screenwriter: James Weldon Johnson; cinematographer: Louis Clyde Stoumen; editor: John Hoffman; music: Henry Russell; cast: William Phipps (Michael Rogin), Susan Douglas (Roseanne Rogers), James Anderson (Eric), Charles Lampkin (Charles), Earl Lee (Oliver Barnstaple); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arch Oboler; Columbia; 1951)
“Dull, talky, gloomy, pretentious, naive and slow-moving post-apocalyptic survival story of the unfit.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Dull, talky, gloomy, pretentious, naive and slow-moving post-apocalyptic survival story of the unfit. Recognized as the first film about life after a nuclear holocaust. It’s directed with earnestness but only moderate competence by prominent radio man Arch Oboler (“The Twonky”/”Bwana Devil”/”Bewitched”), who is best known for his popular radio series Lights Out (1934-57). Oboler turns the low-budget (made for $75,000) sci-fi film, made with a cast of unknowns and shot in black and white, into a talky debate on how mankind can build a better world after a nuclear catastrophe. It was filmed at the site of Oboler’s cliff-top beach house, whose guest house was built by Frank Lloyd Wright (the entire film was shot on the 360-acre ranch owned by Oboler and his wife Eleanor in Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles).
A nuclear bomb destroys the world except for five survivors, who all eventually meet in an abandoned country beach house built by the dead architect husband of pregnant survivor housewife Roseanne (Susan Douglas). Roseanne was saved because she was in the hospital lead-lined x-ray room during the blast and the hysterical lady frightened by the city death scene wanders for solace back to her family beach house. There she meets the embittered hunky Michael Rogin (William Phipps), an unhappy Dartmouth grad working as a tour guide at the Empire State Building, who is a squatter in the beach house. Michael survived because he was in the elevator at the time of the blast. The two survivors try their best to make the best of things thinking they might be the only survivors left in the world, with an anxious Roseanne wanting to go back to the unnamed city to see if hubby survived and Michael thrilled to stay in the country (away from the city he hates) and goes on an intense return to nature trip.
Arriving by Jeep are wimpy bank manager Oliver Barnstaple (Earl Lee) and the respectful black bank cashier Charles (Charles Lampkin), who both survived because they were locked in the bank vault. After some three months living together, Michael delivers Roseanne’s baby boy and professes his love for her. Meanwhile Charles helps Michael with house construction and planting a veggie garden. Then the delirious and weakened Olivier succumbs to radiation poisoning and is buried on the beach. The communal harmony is broken with the arrival of the egotistical Nazi spouting adventurer/explorer Eric (James Anderson), a survivor who was on an expedition atop Mt. Everest during the blast and when the plane he borrowed crashed at sea he washed up ashore where the survivors were living. After nursed back to health by Roseanne, the evil German creates racial tension, competes with Michael for the attention of Roseanne and spitefully ruins the veggie crop.
It builds to a hokey conclusion that has only two survivors left (neither particularly interesting or people I would have confidence in building a new world) who are both determined to learn from their past mistakes, as they get a second chance to live in a world that must be regenerated. Though the theme is promising, the dreary execution, lack of action, the triteness and unpleasantness of the survivors and lame narrative make it a tough watch.
REVIEWED ON 12/21/2012 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/