“The World, the Flesh, & the Devil” (1959) & “Z for Zachariah” (2015)

Introduction

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set in a world/civilization after nuclear war, plague, or some type of disaster. I found a V long list of movies (on IMDB); here are ones I’ve seen so far: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Children of Men (2006), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Matrix (1999), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). While dystopian fiction usually explores social or political struggle, society has NOT yet collapsed (BUT might be on the brink). In apocalyptic fiction, the focus is more on the characters or on man vs. nature.

The World, the Flesh, & the Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, & Mel Ferrer

Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is a miner trapped for several days after a cave-in somewhere in Pennsylvania. When he finally manages to dig himself out, it looks like civilization has been destroyed in a nuclear incident. He drives to NYC and finds it deserted. Making a life for himself in a luxury high-rise apt bldg, he’s shocked to eventually find another survivor, Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a 21 y.o. blonde socialite. They start to rely on each other and form a close friendship. Some time later, they hear of another survivor who arrives via his small boat- Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Ralph gives Ben an injection that saves his life; Sarah takes care of him while he recovers. In time, tensions start to rise as Ben and Ralph vie for Sarah.

Ben: I have nothing against negroes, Ralph.

Ralph: That’s white of you.

This unique/lesser-known movie showed up under recommendations on Amazon after I watched Z for Zachariah (see review below). The director here, Ranald McDougall, worked for Warner Bros. from 1944-50; he got an Oscar nom for his screenplay of the noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford. From the mid-’50s, he was primarily active in TV and worked on lower-budget films. Belafonte (who does sing a BIT here and looks gorgeous) was at the top of his career at this time. Though perhaps known more as a singer and civil rights activist, he acted in several V fine films and even had his own production company! So far, I’ve seen Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954) w/ Dorothy Dandridge, Island in the Sun (1957)- which also contains a interracial love story, and the noir Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) w/ Robert Ryan.

The first 40 mins of the story is ALL about Ralph; we see a lonely (yet positive-minded) Belafonte navigate the empty/eerie streets of Manhattan. I hadn’t seen the acting of Stevens (a Swedish-American w/ a tragic life/early death) and Ferrer (Audrey Hepburn’s 1st husband; born to a Cuban father and American mother) before; they do fine in their roles. Race is a big issue here; a Black man and white woman wouldn’t be seen as equals or allowed be a romantic pair onscreen (in a segregated society). In one pivotal scene, we see the sexual frustration of both Ralph and Sarah as he gives her a haircut. Even on her birthday, Ralph doesn’t sit down to dinner w/ her, as Sarah wants, but provides the music and food. He acts like it’s OK when Ben and Sarah start to go out alone (on dates). The ending wasn’t quite what I expected, BUT it was intriguing! I think fans of classics will enjoy this movie.

[1] This movie will grab your interest and exercise your moral fiber. Race, prejudice and pride are but minor subplots in this excellent film. […] Black and white has never been so colorful.

[2] Belafonte is terrific especially in his early scenes and Miss Stevens registers quite strongly during their tense exchanges. Most of all, director Ranald MacDougall captures a barren, decimated-looking New York City to awesome, jaw-dropping effect.

[3] A very thought provoking movie that was not accepted at the time, but in retrospect, way way ahead of its time. In a racially charged world, it put forth the premise that race, in the final analysis, is superficial and meaningless. Once you strip away the layers of conditioning and socialization, you find, at the core, good and evil and the age old struggle as to which will prevail. A simple story, told directly and honestly.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Z for Zachariah (2015) starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, & Chris Pine

After the end of the world she thought she was alone. She was wrong. -A tagline for the movie

A woman in her early 20s, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie- an Aussie), lives w/ her dog (Faro) on a farm in the Appalachian Mtns, sheltered from radioactivity by rocky hills and a clean underground water supply. After about a year of being alone, Ann encounters John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor- a Brit), a research engineer who (aided by meds and a HAZMAT-type suit) walked from a govt bunker to her valley. Unknowingly, John bathes in a contaminated waterfall, so quickly gets V sick! He is nursed back to health by Ann in her house; she is a Christian and prays to God to save him (thinking he’s a good man). John regains his strength and starts to improve their lives w/ his ideas/skills. They become friends and- eventually- think of pursuing a romantic relationship. Before that can happen, about 42 mins in, Faro runs ahead of Ann to another survivor- Caleb (Chris Pine- an American)!

This movie is based on the sci-fi book Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien; after his death, his wife and daughter crafted it into a YA novel. The “love triangle” was added in by the screenwriter (Nissar Modi- a Brit); only Ann (a 16 y.o. farm girl) and Loomis (a middle-aged engineer) are protagonists in the novel. The books has many convos btwn the characters re: religion vs. science, as a few readers have noted. The director (Craig Zobel- an American) recently gained some attention for HBO’s Mare of Easttown (starring Kate Winslet). Tobey Maguire (who served as a producer) and Amanda Seyfried were originally cast in the lead roles, BUT both had to drop out. The title recalls a children’s book that John takes off a shelf: A is for Adam. As some viewers noted, Zachariah is the prophet murdered between the temple and the altar (the last of the prophets killed) in The Bible.

This movie was shot on location in New Zealand; the main set was about 40 mi. from the nearest town. Zobel commented that it “felt like a Summer camp” working w/ his small cast and crew. He and the 3 actors had a week of rehearsal; they did some improv while shooting (as I learned from watching a few interviews from Sundance film fest). Ejiofor (now in his mid-40s) is an actor I’ve admired since seeing his debut role in the indie Dirty Pretty Things (2002). He can express a LOT w/ little (or no) words; he has large/expressive eyes and was classically-trained (as many British actors). After Ejiofor was cast, one line was added in re: race (one of the funny moments). Speaking of great eyes… Pine (now in his early 40s) does quite well w/ his role here; Caleb knows how to use his sex appeal/charm on Anne. Robbie does well also: she (now just 31 y.o.) achieved a LOT of success at an early age. I leaned that she just also started producing- V smart move. Check this movie out IF you’re looking for something thoughtful!

[1] Chiwetel Ejiofor gave a compelling performance. It was so real, I think the majority of us would understand what he’s going through. I was shocked by how outstanding Chris Pine was in this movie, just perfect. Margot Robbie was amazing as well, just a solid piece of acting by all.

It made for the perfect emotional love triangle. Even though only three people appear in this movie, it said so much about us as a society.

[2] This is probably the quietest and most understated post-apocalyptic movies you’ll ever see, but deep down, it is truly fascinating. With great performances, impressive directing and an intriguing plot, this film is massively engrossing and surprisingly simple to understand from start to finish.

…a fascinating study of humans in their most basic state: survival and animalistic desires, relating itself almost to Adam and Eve and biblical theory.

[3] Some films make you cry, some films make you laugh and some films just amaze you. Well, this one will make you think and digest information that you will see. Z for Zachariah may not be the most romantic film nor may it be an adventure, but hours after watching it, I was still thinking about what this film represents.

-Excepts from IMDb reviews

Cast interview with Rolling Stone
Cast and director interview with The Wrap

“The Hitch-Hiker” (1953) directed by Ida Lupino

When was the last time you invited death into your car? -A tag line for the film

Two friends, Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien- who has appeared in several noir films) and Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy- the more conventionally handsome of the pair), on their way to Mexico for a fishing trip, pick-up a stranded motorist, Emmett Myers (William Talman- the prosecutor on Perry Mason) who turns turns out to be psychopath/escaped convict. Myers has a facial deformity which prevents one of his eyes from ever closing- creepy! He has murdered other good Samaritans; he taunts/threatens the two pals, getting joy from holding them hostage w/ his gun. Myers’s destination is a ferryboat in Baja, CA. Collins and Bowen hope to stay alive long enough to escape or maybe get rescued by Mexican cops.

Emmett Myers: You guys are soft. You know what makes you that way? You’re up to your neck in IOU’s. You’re suckers! You’re scared to get out on your own. You’ve always had it good, so you’re soft. Well, not me! Nobody ever gave me anything, so I don’t owe nobody!

The Hitch-Hiker is the ONLY film noir of the classic era directed by a woman- Ida Lupino! She was born/raised in England, then came over to the US as a teenager in the ’30s. At Warner Bros. (where she was contracted), Lupino often played characters much older than her years (b/c she had the maturity and talent). As a V slim/petite ingenue, she had her hair colored platinum. In the late ’40s, Lupino (inspired by Italian neo-realist directors, incl. Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini) decided to take on a new role; she and her writer/producer husband (Collier Young) may’ve been the first to coin the phrase “the filmmakers.” While Lupino was directing, she always wore pants, explaining that they were more suited to the work than skirts/dresses. Her production company wasn’t afraid of controversial topics or centering stories of females: Not Wanted deals w/ a teenager’s unwanted pregnancy, Never Fear is centered on a dancer who has polio, and Outrage considers what happens after a woman survives rape.

Ida Lupino is the most talented and versatile woman in the history of movies. -Eddie Muller, TCM host

This tense/atmospheric movie is available in the public domain; the run time is at 71 mins. It is based on an incident that happened in California in the early ’50s. At this time in the US, hitch-hiking wasn’t that uncommon. A man named Billy Cook murdered a family of 5, incl. 3 children, then killed a traveling salesman. He kidnapped 2 hunting buddies (James Burke and Forest Dameron) and took them across the border into Mexico, intending to kill them, too. However, Cook was captured by Mexican police and extradited to the US. Lupino somehow met Dameron at an event in Palm Springs, FL, and felt this story would make a compelling movie. She also met w/ Cook while he was on death row in San Quentin- wow!

Talman recalled an incident that happened shortly after the release of The Hitch-Hiker. He was driving his convertible in LA w/ the top down, and he stopped at a red light. Another driver in a convertible stopped next to him stared at him for a few seconds, then asked: “You’re the hitchhiker, right?” Talman nodded. The other driver got out of his car, slapped Tallman across the face, then drove off. Talman said: “You know, I never won an Academy Award, but I guess that was about as close as I ever will come to one.”

[1] This flawlessly acted and directed thriller sustains a uniquely tense atmosphere from start to finish, and this without reverting to explicit violence or dreadful clichés. 

[2] We’ve seen many similar plots over the years, but I thought this was a fresh and unpredictable. Lupino’s direction really suits the material, the tension builds throughout, and Talman is unforgettable.

[3] This is a low budget, black and white suspense thriller that has more tension in it than a dozen recent movies. The low budget works in its favour, with tight camera angles making for a claustrophobic viewing experience. Actress Ida Lupino certainly knows what she’s doing behind the camera, as she rarely puts a foot wrong here: the pacing is exact and the performances are excellent.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

“The Passionate Friends” (1949) starring Ann Todd, Trevor Howard, & Claude Rains

Steven: Do you remember once, I asked you how you could love me and yet marry someone else?

Mary: Yes, I remember.

Steven: Your marriage was bound to be a failure.

Hide your wives when Trevor Howard is near- LOL! I heard about this film on a podcast just 2 wks ago; it is one of the fave classics of critic Angelica Jade Bastien. It’s based on the 1913 novel The Passionate Friends by H. G. Wells (who is more known for his sci-fi work). The film was directed by David Lean; he made Brief Encounter (1945) which co-starred Trevor Howard. Many critics/viewers have commented that this tale expands on the themes of Brief Encounter (and we get to see the POV of the husband).

Mary: I’m not a very good person, Steven. I wanted your love – and I wanted Howard’s affection and the security he could give me.

Steven: I can give you security too, and more than affection.

Mary: You don’t really know me at all. My love isn’t worth very much.

This emotional, intelligent, and visually interesting classic film is told through flashbacks. The first is when the two lovers are single and committed to each other. Somehow they broke up and went their separate ways. Several years later, Mary (Ann Todd) is married to a wealthy/older banker, Howard Justin (Claude Rains), when she meets Steven again. They see each other for about a week, then Howard (returning from a business trip) finds out re: their affair. Despite hints to the contrary, Mary decides to stay w/ her husband! Now (9 yrs. later), Mary and Steven (now an accomplished professor) meet by chance at a resort in the Swiss Alps. Steven has (finally) married and has two young kids. They spend a day together (boating, hiking, and a picnic). Unexpectedly, Howard arrives back at the hotel early to find that his wife is out. He is furious when he sees Mary with Steven; Howard is determined to divorce her and name Steven as the co-respondent (possibly ruining his life)!

Film is a dramatized reality and it is the director’s job to make it appear real… an audience should not be conscious of technique.

I think people remember pictures not dialogue. That’s why I like pictures.

I like making films about characters I’d like to have dinner with.

Always cast against the part and it won’t be boring.

-Quotes from David Lean re: filmmaking

Who said Brits don’t know romance!? I esp. liked the scenes in Steven’s apt. when they have a lunch (which he cooks); it’s a cute/domestic situation. The book Mary finds on Steven’s shelf and reads from is Patterns of Culture (1934) by Ruth Benedict (1887-1948), an American anthropologist/folklorist. It is the first book from which Mary and Steven quote after dinner (“In the beginning, God gave to every people a cup of clay, and from this cup they drank their life.”) The second book that they quote from (“From the music they love you should know the texture of men’s souls.”) is taken from English novelist/playwright John Galsworthy’s The Man of Property (1906), the first in a series of three novels and two interludes comprising the The Forsyte Saga (1922). The actual quote is: “By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know the texture of men’s souls.”

What sets this film apart is that it also has empathy for the husband in the love triangle (which you rarely get to see)! Rains does a fine job (as usual), BUT he gets to show his romantic side. Mr. Justin knows he’s in a marriage of convenience, then he finds himself falling in love w/ his wife (which he didn’t expect). Also, he has an important job which requires him to travel often; sometimes Ann goes along. He also has a personal secretary, Miss Layton (Betty Ann Davies); she sees some of the drama (real, yet awkward). We get to see a woman’s POV (get inside her head); this is rare for a classic film! There are several moments when the camera lingers on Todd’s face, spending extra time on her thinking/emotions. Todd (in her early 40s) has great chemistry w/ Howard (who is charming and warm). Her hairdos and variety of outfits are V classy/beautiful. The music really suits the movie. Check this movie out!

Film Noir takes on “Bonnie & Clyde”: “Gun Crazy” (1950) starring John Dall & Peggy Cummins

Thrill Crazy… Kill Crazy… Gun Crazy -A tagline for the film

Since he was a little boy, Bart Tare (John Dall) has loved guns. After 4 yrs. of reform school, then a stint in the Army, he returns home to his small town. His older sister (Ruby)- who raised him after they lost their parents- is now married w/ 2 young kids. His two best friends (a cop named Clyde and a newsman named Dave) take him to a carnival; he meets Annie Laurie Starr, a blonde/petite woman who is a sharp-shooter. Laurie loves guns as much as Bart- even getting him a job! They end up getting married, leaving the carnival (after the boss hits on Laurie), and have a long honeymoon where they live it up. When they get low on money, Laurie tells Bart her idea- robbery!

I told John, “Your c*ck’s never been so hard,” and I told Peggy, “You’re a female dog in heat, and you want him. But don’t let him have it in a hurry. Keep him waiting.” That’s exactly how I talked to them and I turned them loose. I didn’t have to give them more directions. -Joseph H. Lewis, director

This film is based on a story written by McKinley Kantor reworked by Dalton Trumbo (who was blacklisted). Here we see the linking of sex and violence; it also reveals that guns are a big part of American life. Though this was an inexpensive B movie, it has some fine elements that were ahead of its time. Director Joseph H. Lewis uses long takes, angles, deep focus, and jerking camera movements. Lewis also gave the actors permission to improvise. As the hosts commented on Out of the Podcast, “Bart and Laurie are equals” and “are the only ones who understand each other.” Though Bart avoids shooting anyone, Laurie isn’t as careful; she tells him early on that she’s “no good” and wants some “action” (excitement). Dall and Cummins have great chemistry; they are like two magnets instantly drawn to each other. Coming from the theater, Dall is also not afraid to express emotions (incl. fear and doubt).

Dall and Cummins did all their own driving in the film; only one process shot (i.e., rear projection behind the actors pretending to drive) was used in the film. The cinematography by Russell Harlan is a standout. The bank heist sequence was done in one take, with no one outside the principal actors and people inside the bank aware that a movie was being filmed. When Bart says, “I hope we find a parking space,” he really meant it. At the end of the scene, someone screams that there’s been a bank robbery; this was a bystander who saw the filming and assumed the worst.

[1] It’s psychological side of danger, pathological lies, and the pattern of a downward spiral in having to commit violent acts (even un-intentionally), becomes what really pulls in the viewer into the picture, aside from the more loose, on-location ‘real’ style and interesting camera-work.

[2] Peggy Cummins is really good in this. …her baby-doll voice creates an effective contrast to her colder-than-ice attitude. She’s crooning into her lover’s ear one minute and itching to kill someone the next.

I thought John Dall was at first odd casting for the role of Bart. Annie is supposed to think of him as a man’s man, and Dall, with his willowy physique and gentle mannerisms is far from that. But then when we realize that he’s at heart really too gentle for the life he and Annie have chosen for themselves, his casting makes sense.

[3] What is the quintessence of a film-noir? A good answer is: an evil strong woman that manipulates a weak, although basically decent, man, involving him in a crazy love, doomed to a tragic ending. Then we can safely state that “Deadly is the Female” [the original title] is a perfect instance of film-noir.

The movie has outstanding merits. The cinematography, and especially the camera-work are excellent, and comparable to the best achievements in the film-noir genre.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Meet John Doe” (1941) starring Gary Cooper & Barbara Stanwyck

As a parting shot, fired reporter Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) prints a fake letter from unemployed “John Doe,” who threatens suicide on Christmas Eve in protest of declining society. This is during the Great Depression where many are unemployed and starving; Ann has to support her widowed mother and two younger sisters. The letter causes such a stir that the editor, Henry Connell (James Gleason), is forced to rehire Ann. They hire an unemployed/former baseball player, “Long John” Willoughby (Gary Cooper), to impersonate Doe. An old pal of John’s reluctantly comes along, The Colonel (Walter Brennan), who was happy to be a carefree hobo owing nothing to anyone. John wants money to fix his injured elbow (so he can play again). Ann and her bosses milk the story for all it’s worth, until the “John Doe” philosophy starts a nationwide political movement! In a few mos. time, many (incl. Ann) start taking it seriously; publisher D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold) has a plan of his own to use it for his benefit.

Mayor Hawkins: Why, Bert. I feel slighted. I’d like to join, but nobody asked me.

Sourpuss Smithers: I’m sorry, Mayor, but we voted that no politician could join [the Joe Doe Club].

Mrs. Hansen: Just the John Does of the neighborhood because you know how politicians are.

Director Frank Capra didn’t want anyone to play John Doe except Cooper, who agreed to the part (w/o reading a script) for two reasons: he had enjoyed working w/ Capra on Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and he wanted to work w/ Stanwyck. Well into production, Capra refused to reveal publicly what the film was about b/c of the fear that powerful US fascist organizations would pressure Warner Bros. not to make the film and also the screenplay hadn’t been finished. In the end, Capra (a first gen Italian American) produced this film independently, along w/ his partner Robert Riskin (a first gen Russian-American who wrote the screenplay). Riskin was married to actress Fay Wray w/ whom he had several children, incl. historian/author Victoria Riskin. As she explained in a 2019 interview, her father was given the opportunity to showcase Hollywood films to European countries as the Allies were liberating them from the Nazis; he didn’t include this film, as he thought it’d convey an dark view of the U.S. Four different endings were filmed, but all were considered unsatisfactory during previews. A letter from an audience member suggested a fifth ending, which Capra liked and used in the final version. The original copyright was never renewed, and the film fell into public domain (so you can see it for free).

D. B. Norton: What the American people need is an iron hand!

When films contain an ensemble, romance, a sense of optimism (even as life becomes dark), and a belief in the goodness of America- they may be labeled “Capraesque”). Capra directed some of the most iconic films in his day which still appeal to modern audiences: It Happened One Night (1929)- perhaps the 1st rom com, You Can’t Take It with You (1938) w/ young Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)- a holiday staple starring Stewart, and State of the Union (1948) w/ Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Although most of his films were written by individuals on the political left, Capra was a lifelong conservative Republican! He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1986 by the National Endowment of the Arts. If you haven’t seen this film before, it’s worth a look. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the ending speech by Stanwyck (which seemed a bit shrill), it had some fine (and funny) moments.

I thought drama was when the actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries. -Frank Capra

[1] This film is even more relevant today than when it was made… Capra is asking his viewers to think critically of EVERYTHING they hear on the radio or see in papers or hear from elites, and amen to that!

[2] Capra weaves his well-loved everyman through a tale of both simplicity and political intrigue, taking in the American depression and Biblical references along the way, and comes up with messages that remain startlingly relevant today…

[3] He [Capra] backs up his strong, daunting ideology with sharp, crisp writing and even sharper character delineation. Capra’s social piece was timely released in 1940, when Nazi sympathizers were gaining a potent voice in America, just prior to our involvement in WWII.

Cooper and Stanwyck are ideal in their top roles. Stanwyck is peerless when it comes to playing smart, gutsy gals.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews