The Day the World Ended (1955) **
The Day the World Ended is frequently described as the film that marks Roger Cormanís first foray into the sci-fi/horror/monster genres for which he is best remembered as a filmmaker. This isnít quite accurate, as Corman had previously produced The Monster from the Ocean Floor and The Beast with a Million Eyes, but it was the first such movie Corman directed himself, and the first of his films to be released under the banner of the newly re-christened American International Pictures. It also makes for an admirable introduction to Cormanís catalogue from the 50ís, showcasing most of the characteristics for which Corman would become famous. Foremost among those characteristics, of course, is Cormanís legendary budgetary stinginess, which is in full effect here, as what might be the last seven humans on Earth square off against the aftermath of nuclear war, each other, and what one previous reviewer called ďone of Roger Cormanís cheaper monster suits.Ē
As the opening title card makes such a big point of telling us, The Day the World Ended begins with The End. In this case, The End is a nuclear war. The details of the war-- how it started, who was involved, its overall course-- never come up. Rather, in what is surely the movieís most realistic facet, the very fact that the war happened renders any discussion of it irrelevant. All that matters now, and all that the film will concern itself with, is the struggle of those few survivors to remain survivors. There are seven such people here. Jim Maddison (Paul Birch, of Not of this Earth and Queen of Outer Space) is a retired navy captain whose military career sensitized him to the dangers of nuclear war, to the extent that, after he retired, he moved to a remote location in the mountains of California, and built a low, sturdy house in a valley ringed by lead-ore-bearing hills. He then stocked this house with sufficient provisions for himself, his daughter Louise (Lori Nelson, from Revenge of the Creature), and Louiseís boyfriend to live on until such time as the radiation subsided enough for small-scale farming to have a chance of success. Maddisonís plans are disrupted, however, when Louiseís boyfriend fails to reach the house, and a steady stream of strangers succeeds. The first is a geologist named Rick (Richard Denning, from The Creature with the Atom Brain, who also played a geologist in The Black Scorpion a couple years later), who arrives at the Maddisonsí door carrying a man named Radek (Paul Dubov, who would go on to play one of the doctors in Shock Corridor) who is suffering from a fairly serious case of radiation poisoning-- the latter man is so contaminated that his body registers half again the lethal level of radiation on Maddisonís Geiger counter. Rick and Radek are followed in short order by small-time hood Tony (Michael ďTouchĒ Connors, from Swamp Women and Voodoo Woman) and his stripper girlfriend Ruby (Adel Jergens, of A Thousand and One Nights), and later by an old gold prospector (who seems to have wandered into this movie from the Western they were shooting on the next lot over) named Pete (B-Western regular Raymond Hatton, who would play opposite rubber monsters again in 1957ís Invasion of the Saucer Men) and his burro Diablo.
The characters start fighting among themselves almost immediately. Tony naturally resents Maddisonís presumptions of authority, and the fact that Louise is both very pretty and a good fifteen years younger than his somewhat faded piece of ass is not lost on him either. Thus Tony is a natural rival for both Maddison and Rick, who wears his position as the designated love-interest for Louise like a sandwich board from the word go. But itís Maddisonís house, Maddisonís food, Maddisonís water, and Maddisonís medicine, and he doesnít want the extra company anyway, so Tony had better sit down and shut up, if he knows whatís good for him.
Meanwhile, Radekís condition, and the strange behavior that results from it, is starting to worry his companions. Not only does he not show any signs of dying any time soon, even though he lights up Maddisonís Geiger counter like a goddamned Christmas tree, he also develops a pronounced aversion to the food in Maddisonís storeroom, and takes to feeding himself on the meat of wild animals he catches by night in the surrounding woods. This is troubling not only because he says things like ďa man needs meatĒ and ďI need some red meat-- nearly raw; I donít know why, but it would do me good,Ē but also because the meat that he catches for himself is so contaminated with radioactive fallout that to eat it would surely kill a healthy man. Factor in that white, starfish-shaped welt on his right cheek that just wonít go away, and it starts to look like weíve got a mutant in the making on our hands.
But believe it or not, thatís not where this movie is going at all. In fact, The Day the World Ended wonít be going anywhere for a good 45 minutes. Until then, all we get is the chance to watch the characters bicker about the same old shit over and over and over again. But eventually, it comes to our attention that Maddison and company arenít alone in their valley, and that Radek isnít the only one going hunting in the woods by night. As a matter of fact, Radek ends up failing prey to whatever it is one night himself. And as fate would have it, the heightened activity of our mystery monster coincides with a particularly serious outburst of extreme antisocial behavior from Tony. First, he makes a plan to kill everyone but himself and one other person (Ruby initially thinks heís talking about her, but we know better, donít we?). Then, he tries to rape Louise at knife-point, and when Ruby stops him, he stabs her to death, and tosses her body off the nearest cliff. Meanwhile, the monster has killed Peteís donkey and has begun trying to communicate psychically with Louise. Pete gets so depressed that he runs off and climbs over the valleyís protective ridge, dying of radiation poisoning almost instantly. Maddison gets a dose of radiation, too, when he tires, unsuccessfully, to save the old man, and he spends the rest of the film couch-ridden. And then at last, that cheap rubber monster finally makes its appearance onscreen, emerging from the brush to attack Louise. Oh boy. That sure is a cheap monster suit. If you thought Tabonga in From Hell It Came was bad, you ainít seen nothiní yet. The monster is kind of shaped like Tabonga, actually-- humanoid, bulky, with a decidedly trapezoidal, broad-shouldered torso. It also has three big eyes, an enormous hooked nose, and a bunch of Lucite horns sticking out of its head, and just for good measure, it even has a couple of vestigial extra arms hanging off of its shoulders. And itís bulletproof. Obviously, it has to be bulletproof. But it does have one weakness, as is only appropriate for a monster in one of these movies: because it is adapted to life in a poisoned world, it canít abide anything that isnít contaminated with ionizing radiation. Fresh, clean rainwater, for instance. Thatís right, folks, In the Shadow of Kilimanjaro turns out not to be quite the only movie whose characters are saved from being eaten because it rains! A few moments later, Maddison shoots Tony (who was lying in wait to kill Rick when he returned from his mission to rescue Louise from the mutant), Maddisonís radio picks up a transmission from somewhere out in the world, (itís in Russian, but beggars canít be choosers), and The Day the World Ended, which began with The End, ends with The Beginning.
Hey, at least it ended, okay? This is seriously one of the dullest movies Iíve seen in ages. Were it not for a few interesting ideas about the apocalypse and life thereafter, this film would have nothing going for it but that shitty monster (which, by the way, was both built and played by Cormanís favorite sfx guy, Paul Blaisdell, who was also responsible for the huge Venusian carrot in It Conquered the World). As for those interesting ideas, Iíve already mentioned, for example, the dismissive attitude the film takes toward the exact circumstances of the worldís end, and I was also impressed by Cormanís insight that post-apocalyptic life in the 1950ís would surely be informed in roughly equal measure by 20th-century science and the sort of theologically vague Protestantism that was an ever-present undercurrent in American life in those days. I just wish some of the neat ideas on display here had been explored in greater depth. The psychic mutant, for instance. It ďtalks,Ē but only to Louise, and it even calls to her ďby nameĒ on a couple of occasions. And after it dies in the rain, Louise says that she feels strangely sorry for it. Are we meant to infer that the mutant was really Louiseís missing boyfriend? Iíd certainly like to think so, because that would be really cool, but the subject is given such short shrift by the script that itís impossible to tell what the filmmakers were thinking. I agree that having something to think about after watching a movie like this is a rare enough occurrence that I probably shouldnít complain, but Iíd at least like to know for sure whether anybody involved in making The Day the World Ended meant for me to be thinking about this. Even so, itís almost enough to counteract this movieís plodding pace. Almost.