Editing: John Hoffman, Ed Spiegel, Arthur
Studio: Arch Oboler Productions
Distributer: Columbia Pictures
Release date: April 25, 1951 (U.S.)
Running time: 93 minutes (Black and White)
William Phipps (Michael Rogin)
Susan Douglas Rubes (Roseanne Rogers)
James Anderson (Eric)
Charles Lampkin (Charles)
Earl Lee (Oliver P. Barnstaple)
stated in a newspaper headline, a warning had been issued that detonating a new
type of atomic bomb could result in humanity's extinction. The film’s title,
“Five,” refers to the number of survivors of this atomic bomb disaster that has
wiped out the rest of the human race.
film opens with the once invincible and dependable icons of civilisation (Big
Ben, Tower of London, Kremlin, Eiffel Tower) suffocating in a sea of destruction-smoke,
sirens and screams. An aerial shot slowly closes in on the small isolated and exhausted
rag doll figure of Roseanne Rogers as she numbly staggers in shock along the
roadway in her search for another living human being. We discover that Roseanne
was in a hospital's lead-lined X-ray room when disaster struck. It is almost
ironic that she has been saved from death by radiation by undergoing a process
that involves radiation (X-rays) which outside of controlled medical uses is
deadly to humans.
no reply to her piteous plea, “Somebody please help me!” Roseanne makes her way
to her aunt's isolated hillside house. Walking in upon a scene with a strangely
unreal homely atmosphere, she finds that someone else is already living there. It
turns out that the man, Michael, a sensitive young poet and philosopher who is
glad that the “cheap honky-tonk of a world” is dead, had been in an elevator in
the Empire State Building (“mighty edifice”) when the ‘end’ came. He can even
recite the speech he used to give to visitors to the building which now seems
utterly absurd under the circumstances. Too numb to speak, Roseanne slowly recovers.
She rejects Michael's attempt to force himself onto her, stating that she is both
married and pregnant.
more survivors eventually arrive: Oliver P. Barnstaple, an elderly assistant
cashier who is in denial in that he believes he is on vacation, and Charles, an
we learn wanted to be a teacher but wound up becoming a doorman. Charles has
been taking care of Oliver since they were both accidentally locked in a
bank vault when the disaster occurred.
on while at the beach, they discover a man in the water. After dragging him
out, they learn that his name is Eric, a cosmopolitan Alpinist who was stranded
on Mount Everest during a blizzard when disaster struck. He was making his way
back to America when his plane ran out of fuel just short of land.
seeming to recover, Barnstaple dies peacefully at the kind of place he had
always wanted to be.
Eric’s inclusion in the post-apocalypse community, the seeds of conflict and
discord have been sown. Eric believes the reason that they lived was because
they were immune to the radiation. He wants to search for and gather together any
other survivors. Michael, however, believes that the radiation is more intense
in the cities that Eric wants to search.
be seen from his attitude toward Charles, Eric is a racist. The fight that
erupts between the two men is halted when Roseanne goes into labour. With
Michael’s help she gives birth to a boy.
hopes emerging for making a better life, it is Eric who spoils things by
deliberately driving the jeep through the little community’s cultivated field,
destroying a portion of their crops. Michael orders Eric to leave, but Eric resorts
to a show of power and threat of violence as he brandishes a pistol and states that
he will leave only when he is good and ready to.
to discover what became of her husband, Roseanne accompanies Eric to the city.
Eric, not surprisingly insists that Roseanne not tell Michael about this. Eric
has been stealing supplies, and a fight results between him and a suspicious
Charles who is stabbed in the back and killed by Eric.
city, while Eric is looting, Roseanne discovers her husband's skeleton in a waiting
room. Eric refuses to let Roseanne return to the group and after they struggle his
shirt is torn open to reveal that he has radiation poisoning.
fate seems to be sealed. But what of Roseanne and her baby’s fate? What about Michael? Will they ever be
reunited? Is there any hope left for the fledgling little community? Or has all
hope for humanity’s survival been destroyed by the fallout of its most
destructive sins of violence, domination, fear, lust and greed?
Points Of Interest
Five is the
first film to depict the aftermath of a catastrophe involving fall-out from a
super-atomic bomb that, with the exception of a few survivors, wipes out humanity
Remember that this film was made just over five
years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought an end to World
War II. While the film was being made the world was embroiled in the Korean
War. General MacArthur proposed using nuclear weapons on strategic targets in
China. Meanwhile, in the US, children were being taught to “Duck and Cover.” Since
then we have had the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mutually Assured Destruction
concepts, proliferation of nuclear weapons with politically unstable states having
access to them and (at the time of writing) headlines screaming with the
hysterical rhetoric of nuclear retribution and retaliation from North Korea.
Perhaps some of our more bellicose political leaders need to see what life would
be like for the survivors of a nuclear holocaust.
However, the film makes one wonder whether
anything will really change should such
a calamity befall humanity. Judging from the characters’ words and actions, it
seems that the failings of humanity would not magically disappear even with the
prospect of being able to start afresh.
Racism, lust and all the other self-destructive human failings will probably
still rear their ugly heads. Take for instance, Michael’s attempt to force
himself on the last woman on Earth-and this from a fairly nice, deep and
introspective character.In this study in
group-dynamics, this small but diverse group of survivors face, and try to
overcome a great cataclysm. While doing so they are forced to face a crisis
within-a crisis of their own making where prejudice, fear, intolerance, greed
and other base human instincts threaten to cause an implosion of the last five
surviving members of the human race.
sounds pretty dark, well, that is certainly the mood and atmosphere for much of
the film. The tension and sense of dread is palpable during the shooting of the
city sequence as we see the image of the buildings, abandoned cars and
scattered skeletons through a shaky camera lens, as we witness the emotions
register on the close-ups of Roseanne’s face and hear the constant
soul-shattering wailing sound of sirens.
film Five contains characters who
each symbolise different elements that go to make up our modern civilisation
and community. There is something of each character that we recognise within
most of us. For instance, we have the mountain climber, Eric (“I climbed Mt.
Everest. I alone. Always alone.”) who represents the kind of politically
ideological, dogmatic, racially intolerant, destructive and domineering fascism
that left much of Europe in ruins a few years previously. Perhaps there is a
bit of Eric buried within all of us with our need to have, possess and control
things and people. For Eric, (and for how many other fascist-minded dictators?)
the cities are there “bursting with food” ready to be plundered. Not for him
the “return to primitiveness” and living by the sweat of one’s brow. He must
lead others (preferably the select few of humanity who have “special immunity’)
by his strength of will toward the mountain summit no matter what the human and
material cost. How many people have had
to die as the “King Eric 1’s” of this world have led others in their quest to
turn their “theory” into “fact” just so that they can “justify their existence?”
there’s the banker, Barnstaple, who represents an old-order mentality which he
tries to hang on to cope with the dire circumstances. After all, “vacations are
delightful, (but) one has obligations to one’s work.” It is such a mode of
living that can make one want to “sleep under the stars” for “40 years” but
never get to do so. It is too easy to have one’s priorities and values twisted
so much that the only life that is lived is a life of lost opportunities,
unrealised ambitions and unfulfilled wishes-a wasted life. For Barnstaple, and
for most of us, we have always wanted to go somewhere, be something or do
something but are left thinking, “I don’t remember why I didn’t.” Barnstaple is
only now able to enjoy the simple pleasure of being at the beach at the last
moments of his life. Only with the approach of death is he able to appreciate
the value of what he has lost sight of for much of his life while dutifully
fulfilling his role and function as assistant
Charles represents the true heart and soul of this little community. He is like
a ‘one who was blind but can now see’ type of character who wanted to be a
teacher, “but lost my way somewhere I guess.” Like most of us, Charles settled
for a “piece of security” with the result that, “all my life in the city and I
never saw the lights.” A life of security and obligation is fine but a question
inevitably has to be asked; is that all there is? Looking behind and beyond the
façade to really see “the lights,” to really hear the “dripping of a faucet,”
or to derive satisfaction at growing something simple like corn, helps to
connect one to what is truly meaningful and important in life. We never know
how important and significant such things are until we are deprived of them.
there is Michael and Rosanne. In many respects they seem to represent a kind of
new Adam and Eve of a new Eden. They hold out a promise of future hope and a
fulfilment of a God’s hope when He “shaped a lump of clay into his own image.”
Now that a breath of life has been given to a new living soul in the form of
the birth of a child, we have a sense of the possibility of a new life where
people “work together, live together, like friends” and never repeat the
mistakes of the past. For Michael, it could be a world where a Roseanne can be
seen for who she is; a Roseanne, a person with an identity instead of being objectified
and seen as being “just a woman.”
The shooting location of Five was the remote 360-acre ranch owned by director Oboler and his
wife Eleanor in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. The cliffside
house used in the movie was designed by famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. A
gatehouse and the hilltop retreat were the only buildings actually completed.
The shooting location seems to reinforce the isolated (exterior) and cramped
feel (interior) of the film itself.
You will soon notice that dialogue or talk
tends to dominate the film, Five at
the expense of action. This tends to make the film rather slow-moving,
especially for many of today’s audiences who might be more used to action and
special-effects dictating what happens on screen. This may not be the film for
you if you have a short attention span or prefer a diet of sci -fi films where
one damn thing happens after another in a universe, far, far away.
There is also far too much in the way of presenting
religious messages and Biblical imagery. One can only take so much of needing
to repent ones sins along with references to Eden and quotes from the bible.
Arch Oboler’s handling of the issue of racial
tolerance is interesting and is probably a product of the times. For some
people, Charles seems to be there largely to assist Barnstaple or help out with
tending the crops. Strangely from our perspective, Charles doesn’t seem to show
the kind of sexual interest in Roseanne as the other men do. He is even killed
off along with any hope of passing his heritage on to any future generations!
Such a scenario would have made a reprehensible character like Eric quite
The depiction of nuclear war doesn’t seem to
coincide with what we know about effects of a nuclear explosion and radiation
fallout. In places it almost has more in common with the aftermath of a neutron
bomb explosion whereby organic material is impacted while leaving inorganic
materials largely intact.
Whatever the finer points are of the film Five, the one inescapable fact to be
derived from it is the stark and shocking manner in which it grapples with the enormity
of having to face the consequences of nuclear war. It seems that we still have
a lot to learn….