Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Day the World Ended (1955)

Low budget, atmospheric film driven by character conflict and tension within the context of a desperate struggle for survival

Directed by Roger Corman
Produced by Roger Corman
Executive Alex Gordon
Written by Lou Rusoff
Music by Ronald Stein
Cinematography: Jockey Arthur Feindel
Edited by Ronald Sinclair
Production company: Golden State Productions
Distributed by American Releasing Corporation (ARC)
Running time: 79 min
Budget: $96,234.49
Box office: $400,000 (part of double bill with The Beast with a Million Eyes)


Richard Denning as Rick
Lori Nelson as Louise Maddison
Adele Jergens as Ruby
Mike Connors as Tony Lamont
Paul Birch as Jim Maddison
Raymond Hatton as Pete
Paul Dubov as Radek
Jonathan Haze as the Contaminated Man
Paul Blaisdell as the Mutant
Chet Huntley (of NBC and later of The Huntley-Brinkley Report )as Narrator (voice)
Diablo, the burro.

Day the World Ended (1955) was the fourth film directed by Roger Corman. The events take place after an atomic war has destroyed human civilization. A scientist named Rick, along with a small group of survivors find themselves in a desperate battle for survival against a mutant monster, along with monsters of their own making!



Prepping For The Day When The World Ends

In our own anxious age sixty years after the making of this film, we may not be so worried about our civilisation being destroyed by global nuclear war. However, in the face of nuclear proliferation combined with unstable regimes possessing nuclear weaponry and the shifting sands of global conflict, only a fool would think that this form of potential global destruction no longer exists.

Doomsday Preppers devote a great deal of time and resources in preparation for such an eventuality as global nuclear war. Not only that, other doomsday scenarios are considered by various preppers such as giant tsunamis; solar flares taking out power grids; super volcanic eruptions; super storms and tornados; massive earthquakes; global climate change catastrophe; asteroid and comet impact; food, fuel and other resource depletion; global pandemics akin to the early 20th Century Spanish influenza, the 2003 SARS virus or even the current Ebola virus.

And they say the 1950s was an anxious age??!!!

(Warning! Spoilers Follow!)

Prepare for today, be ready for tomorrow

“What if “tomorrow heralds an all-out atomic war, which destroys most of human civilization, and leaves the Earth contaminated with radioactive fallout or the “atomic haze of death?” Just such a scenario had occurred to former Navy Commander, Jim Maddison who lives with his daughter, Louise in a natural box canyon, surrounded by lead-bearing cliffs. His home is stocked with supplies in preparation for just such a nuclear holocaust – “TD Day”, total destruction day: The day the world is destroyed by nuclear war. It turns out that Jim had “spent ten years getting ready for it.”

Moral dilemmas

(When survival dictates the choices that need to be made even if they conflict with our sense of morality)

By chance, (or by a “force greater than man”) several survivors stumble Into Jim’s natural bomb shelter refuge. Jim initially refuses to admit these seekers of refuge as he only has supplies for three people, “I can’t let them in, I’ve only got provisions for three…..It’s their lives or ours.” However, he relents when his daughter pleads with him indicating that her conscience will not let her abandon them.

The survivors consist of geologist, Rick who also happens to specialize in uranium mining; small-time hood, Tony; Tony’s ‘companion’ Ruby who is a stripper (always handy to have in any post-apocalypse colony!); Radek, a victim of radiation sickness; Pete, an old prospector and his burro, Diablo.

Assessing Threats To Survival

(The need to plan for and deal with likely external and internal threats to survival)

Threats From Without

Our survivors are forced to contend with;

  • Uncertainty as to whether the radioactive fallout will dissipate.
  • The possibility of rain washing what's in the atmosphere down to Earth, contaminating the shelter and the surrounding area. 
  • A hideous mutant monster that will kill anything it comes across, but will only eat those creatures which are contaminated by fallout.

Threats From Within

The introduction of more people into the safe haven of Jim’s shelter has also introduced a new dangerous dynamic involving clashes of character, personality and competing interests inimical to the group’s survival.

Tony’s callous and selfish character: He only looks after his own interests and wants the other men out of the way, so that he can have the two women, especially Louise, to himself. The potential for conflict is established early when Tony says to Jim, “you sound like you’re used to giving orders. That makes two of us.” Later, after a physical confrontation with Rick, Tony declares, “I ain’t gonna’ like you mister!”

Leadership & Organisation

(The need to establish who is in charge of organising and directing people and resources)

At several points during the film, Jim establishes and asserts his overall authority over the others. When Rick offers his expert opinion concerning radiation, Jim cuts him short with, “when I want an opinion, I’ll ask for it!” His authority seems to extend to the point of deciding matters of life and death: “I and only I will decide how much we’ll eat!” Faced with a fight for survival, cooperative democratic decision making processes seem to give way to arbitrary rule by one person.

Knowledge & understanding

(The importance of making use of experience, needing to observe carefully and the ability to reflect on and learn from experience and observation)

Rick and Jim take a series of readings around the house using a Geiger counter. Rick being a geologist understands the true nature of their situation. Jim also makes reference to his previous experience of the H bomb tests involving an animal ship at target zero which leads him to consider what might occur as a result of the radiation on the wild life.

During the night Radek wakes and while talking with Rick expresses a strong desire for raw red meat, “Man needs meat!.......I need some red meat-- nearly raw; I don’t know why, but it would do me good,” Later on, Jim declares to Rick that Radek is a “mutation…a freak of this atomic world.” For Rick “it’s important to us that he should live.”

Post-apocalypse World

(What shape will the post-apocalypse world take in terms of potential dangers; how life may have to be lived in a totally new world order; psychological and physical effects on people; long-term planning for survival of the species; re-evaluation of long-cherished values and morality)

Weeks later Jim and Rick come across the remains of a freshly killed rabbit which Radek abandoned when confronted by a large mutant creature. They conjecture that Radek has been exposed to so much radiation that he may be beginning to mutate. 

Jim later explains to the group that the approaching rain could very well be saturated with “nuclear death” and that their chances of surviving will depend on how intense the radiation absorbed by the water is. If they make it then they will set about planting crops and planning for their long term survival.

After a few weeks, Louise is beginning to feel optimistic when she declares that “I think I’m beginning to want to live again.” Jim and Rick on the other hand are preoccupied with the nature of a post-apocalypse world whereby the possible “leap in evolution” may result in the “laws of Man and God” transforming into a set of “entirely new laws.”

One day as Louise and Ruby bathe at a waterfall, Louise hears the strange high-pitched sound and is convinced they are being watched. On their way back to the house they discover a set of strange tracks.

After Jim and Rick examine the tracks they realize that there are more mutants around than just Radek. Jim believes that he will eventually have to kill Radek. Rick, however, would prefer to study Radek so he can better understand the threat the mutants represent. Rick believes that they should have a sense of responsibility to the future and not just aim purely for survival. Jim then highlights how imperative it is for the females to bear children as soon as possible.

(Preparing for a battle for survival including group conflict, dissension, lack of cohesion and the development of competing interests)

One night after Tony tries to unsuccessfully force his affections on Louise, he tells Ruby about his plan to kill the other four along with Radek. With only about a month’s worth of food left, killing the others would enable them to survive for up to three months.

Rick meanwhile conjectures from Jim’s experience with the H bomb tests and the resultant animal mutations that a similar situation is developing in the valley. He believes a
battle will be fought in the valley between the life of the old world, and the life of the new order.

Tony tries to steal Jim’s gun while Jim is asleep but is spotted by Rick resulting in another fight breaking out with Rick emerging victorious.

Later on while exploring, Rick and Jim encounter a man who is partially mutated. Before he dies, the man informs them that there are more of his kind up the hill but that they are much stronger. Added to this, Radek informs Rick one night that the only reason he came back to the house was to shelter from the other mutant in the valley. He then warns Rick that they will all be dead in a couple of weeks.

(The importance of maintaining vigilance and security)

After finding the mutant creature’s tracks close to the house. Jim decides they need to start standing night watches.

(Factoring in the difficulty of maintaining morale and hope. Depression and despondency are never far away)

Over time Ruby finds solace in Pete’s moonshine. One night while intoxicated she performs one of her striptease routines. She breaks down crying as she reminisces about her club days and how the male audience would respond to her. Her sense of grief for a past life lost is compounded by her crushed hopes of a future with Tony who continues to spurn her.

(A crisis can often mean the need being felt for decisive action to be taken: sometimes rash, impetuous and even in other circumstances inhumane and criminal)

While searching for Pete’s missing burro, Rick and the others find the cannibalized remains of the stranger who had died the night before. Later Radek is caught and killed by the mutant. It is then decided that the mutant has to be stopped by whatever means necessary.

Old Pete whose life revolves around the other kind of diablo he has been towing along with him, gold and moonshine, decides to walk out of the valley. Jim tries to stop Pete who enters the vapour cloud at the top of the ridge. After Pete strikes Jim, he is overcome by the radioactive vapour.

Tony soon decides to force himself on Louise by threatening her with a knife. He states, ‘All my life I had to claw for things….I haven’t had time for your kind of woman.” Ruby overhears what has been going on and confronts Tony, “Tony, let the little girl go!” After Tony calls Ruby “dime-store stuff” she tries to stab him. In the brief struggle, Tony stabs Ruby killing her. Tony then callously dumps her lifeless body over a cliff, his last words to her being, “Happy landings sweetheart.”

One night Louise awakens from sleep but seems to be under some hypnotic spell. She then leaves the house until she encounters the mutant. Upon finding Louise missing, Jim arms Rick with a rifle and sends him to find Louise. He instructs Rick, “if there’s no way out, be ready to use it (on Louise)”

(Survival can be a precarious thing by its nature. It can often depend on many factors: action, preparedness, planning, decisiveness, ruthlessness, luck. However, survival in and of itself has little meaning without a measure of hope, love, positive values, self-sacrifice, selflessness and a willingness to believe in something greater that gives one strength to continue and make sense of everything.)

Tony eventually gets the gun from a sick and couch-bound Jim, and is intent on taking control. Jim merely informs Tony he will be dead soon enough.

Meanwhile in the final climactic scene of the film the mutant drops Louise in the waterhole as Rick arrives on the scene and begins shooting at the monster, but without any effect. It suddenly dawns on Louise that the creature is afraid of water as it is obviously afraid to enter the water hole. As luck (or God) would have it, it begins to rain and the mutant runs away. Rick and Louise follow the creature, only to find it has been destroyed by the “pure” rain. It turns out that the mutant was Louise's missing fiance. 

Tony, having already taken Jim's pistol, waits to ambush Rick when he returns to the house with Louise. As he takes aim at the approaching Rick, Jim produces a second pistol and kills Tony.

Before Jim succumbs to radiation sickness, he explains how the rain is radiation-free, how it will wash away all of the remaining contamination and that it has destroyed the mutants. He also tells Rick and Louise that (as a result of his attempts to establish communication with the outside world) he heard voices of other survivors on the radio. Jim’s last words concern his conviction that     ”there is a future out there for you two,” but not for him. 

The film ends with the final two survivors, Rick and Louise, walking hand in hand out of the canyon to begin a new life in a new world, highlighted by the end-card,

"The Beginning."

Points of interest

Day The World Ended was director Roger Corman's first foray into science fiction. If you look closely at Louise's Fiancée, Nelson in the framed photograph, who do you see? Why, none other than Roger Corman himself! Too bad he didn’t make that a regular trademark such as Hitchcock’s making regular walk-through appearances in his films. We could have had spot the Corman in random pictures hanging on walls and on mantle-pieces! Read more about Roger Corman in the Tribute to Roger Corman post in this blog.

Day The World Ended was shot over ten days and was released by American Releasing Corporation, which later became American International Pictures. It was released on a double bill with The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues and within two months of release the films had earned $400,000. Denning himself was paid $7,500 plus a percentage.

In 1967 there was a remake of Day The World Ended with the title In the Year 2889. It was little more than a clone with almost the same dialogue being used.

Some of the acting performances were excellent such as Lori Nelson (also Revenge of the Creature) playing the part of Louise. Her facial expressions convey very well the different emotions her character experiences. 

Adele Jergens who plays Ruby gives a standout performance as a burlesque / striptease performer who is a bit past her prime and who is rejected by her companion Tony, the small time hood. She’s rough around the edges but her heart is in the right place and we feel for her in her drunken grief. (Note the appropriateness of the proximity of the theatrical mask on the wall to her as her face reveals her emotional state!) 

Richard Denning (Target Earth, The Creature from the Black Lagoon & Creature with the Atom Brain) plays the rational scientist hero effortlessly in this and other films. See the Tribute to Richard Denning post in this blog for further information about him.

Mike Connors (TV's Mannix) is perfect as the ruthless uncaring and completely unsympathetic small – time hood, Tony who is only interested in satisfying his own selfish desires. 

Convincing performances are also given by Paul Birch (Beast with a Million Eyes & Not of This Earth) who plays Jim Maddison, the decisive authority figure, as well as by Raymond Hatton, the old timer gold prospector, Pete who seems to have ambled onto the set with his mule fresh from a western movie!

Apart from the good acting performances, the film’s main strength lies in its portrayal of the interactions, conflicts and emotions of the characters as they try to survive within the limited confines of their post-atomic world. The film uses the same kind of device that the ancient Greek tragedians such as Sophocles would have been familiar with: namely, the throwing together of people into a situation or a circumstance which is beyond their control and seeing how they deal with it. It doesn’t matter if the forces they are subject to are beyond their control or if the future and their fate seem to be predetermined. What is important is the choices they make and how they decide to act in the face of this cataclysmic nightmare. Do they simply succumb to fear? Will they rise nobly to the challenge? Or will they resort to savagery and greed? Our need to know is what largely drives the film’s story.

The Day The World Ended uses its low-budget to good effect with its limited, confining and almost claustrophobic setting. This atmospheric setting consists of the interior of the house, the radioactive-free area around the house and the surrounding foothills enveloped by a radioactive vapour. 

Finally there is the mutant creature created and played by monster-maker Paul Blaisdell. Although not great as far as movie monsters go, the creature is wisely kept off-screen for most of the time. Instead, sound effects, shadows, and blurred camerawork are used to good effect. Added to this is the extra emotional dimension given to the creature by virtue of the fact that it was once Louise’s loving fiancé and that it was trying to get back to his the object of his love.

Perhaps ultimately it is better for individuals and families to live the life they have instead of obsessing about the possibility of global disaster and expending so much time, energy and resources in order to ensure their own survival. It would be better for each of us to use the time we do have on this planet to think and act in ways that will help to avert both man-made and natural threats to humanity’s survival. 

I for one have far more admiration for some young student in say, Hong Kong who finally looks up from his smart phone, surveys what’s happening around him and together with his compatriots says “NO! Enough is enough!” and takes action (anything from writing a critical blog post through to active political demonstration) in order to change the situation he finds himself in. 

How much better for the long term survival of our species than someone storing nuts in a rat hole on the off-chance that they may one day emerge to eke out an existence in competition with cockroaches! After all, life is not like a movie where our hero and heroine traipse hand in hand off into the distance out of the ashes of the old world to seek out a happy new beginning…….

©Chris Christopoulos 2014

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