Thursday, October 29, 2009

Day the World Ended (Roger Corman, 1955)

Happy Landings, Sweetheart!

A global flood of radiation scours a post-nuclear-holocaust planet Earth of its corrupt human civilization in Roger Corman's biblical parable, "DAY THE WORLD ENDED".

Paul Birch plays Jim Maddison, an ex-navy captain --

-- the film's farsighted Noah who has constructed an "ark" in the form of a radiation-proof compound in the valley of a lead-impregnated mountain range.

This area is a "Garden of Eden" surrounded by a poisonous "Hell" --

-- a radioactive wasteland in which demons, in the form of rampaging mutated monsters, rule unopposed.

Corman -- like most directors whose films build up to the necessity of transmorphing human actors into mannequins at some point in the spectacle --

-- will hint at that impending metaphysical abstraction early in the narrative by representing characters and creatures as all manner and forms of facsimilia: drawings, statuary, reflections and shadow.

An arena where the last vestiges of humanity are thrown back into the evolutionary ring to battle it out with their physically altered, better-adapted counterparts.

Corman's "Eden" and "Hell" are separated by a foggy no man's land through which both human and mutant figures pass, emerging and disappearing mysteriously in its folds.

These undulating borders not only represent the new, arbitrary boundaries between good and evil/human and mutant but also the one between moral --

-- and immoral survivors.

The evolutionary transformation of the human species into mutants occurs here in tandem with the moral transformation of the isolated human society inside the protected compound.

As conflicts among the human survivors intensify --

-- they rapidly sort themselves out into those who are pure of heart and mind --

-- and those who are trapped in their "sinful", irrational, obsolete patterns of behavior. This spiritual imprisonment is one of the assigned "seven deadly sins" that shackles each individual survivor to his/her earthly corporeal form. But when attempts are made to redeem and release oneself from that bondage, the metaphysical transformation is immediate and profound, such as this early instance when Rick (Richard Denning) fights Tony (Mike "Touch" Connors) over "control" of the group.

A physical transformation of intellectual argument -- democratic action vs. fascistic action -- into a battle of desperate violent force occurs.

A transformation made metaphysical by the substitution of stuntman for actor as the contest between "good" vs. "evil" reaches an hysterical pitch.

Several borderline characters function well on both sides of the film's world, divided by the smokey barrier separating the compound from the wasteland.

However, prospector Pete's single-minded pursuit of gold, wherever he can find it --

-- his inability to break free from the bondage of his "deadly sin" --

-- blinds him to the danger around him.

His home-made white lightning doesn't help his perception of reality either.

His radioactive donkey --

-- the appropriately named "Diablo" (not the only hot ass in the movie) --

-- is similarly indifferent to the cataclysm unfolding around them.

Pete (Raymond Hatton) pays for his greed when he finds out (the hard way) that, amongst humans, he might be seen as a quaint old codger --

-- but among the mutants, he is just a tasty rack of ribs with a side of slaw.

His transformation from actor/character to post-picnic compost occurs, ominously, off-screen leaving the audience to imagine what the process of his transformation into denuded skeleton must have resembled. This encounter between human and mutant does not bode well for the future of the remaining human survivors.

A "taste" of what fate awaits prospector Pete and friends if they don't change their sinful ways!

Radek is another transitional figure --

-- a "Stage One" mutant with a foot firmly planted in each of the film's two opposing worlds, even as he contains within himself both mutant and human characteristics.

Not entirely welcome in either place, he proves to be a kind of room-mate from hell --

-- drifting in and out of the compound at all hours as he ruminates over his plight as a neither/nor in a world transformed into a nothing that used to be.

Of course this "Eden" would be pointless without an "Eve" --

-- a role filled by Jim's daughter, Louise (Lori Nelson) --

-- a hot commodity in this barren new world --

-- who is pursued by every fertile male --

-- human and otherwise --

-- within a hundred miles of the compound.

Satan wanted to corrupt humanity by tempting Eve.

Here, the "Devil" has designs, not on Louise's purity, but on her uterus -- an organ that will be the cradle of any future civilization whether human or radioactive hybrid.

Instead of disguising himself as a serpent, the Stage Four "Devil" gets inside the protected perimeter telepathically --

-- insidiously disguising himself as Louises' own thoughts and feelings in an attempt to coax her away from the safety of the valley for the purpose of propagating a new, hybrid, mutant/human species (in the form of creature-creator Paul Blaisdell's awesome final stage mutant).

Hidden in the film's narrative is an implied critique of America's hollow, pre-Armaggeddon, consumer and commodities driven society, personified with the characters of Tony Lamont (a shady gangster type) and his moll Ruby (a showgirl and nightclub singer).

Tony, utterly unfazed by the global cataclysm that has just transpired, merely switches from his pre-war, self-serving pursuit of money and power (at any moral cost) to his post-war, self-serving pursuit of the hot commodity du jour, in this case Louise and her youthful fertility.

This leaves Ruby (actress Adele Jergens) out in the cold of her own, private, nuclear winter.

Dropped by Tony (and past her childbearing years), this personal disaster has exposed the facile nature of her character and the society at large that her character represents -- an America that may have lost its soul in all its prosperity.

Still dressed in an evening gown and pumps and unable to apply her skills as a night club entertainer to the group's battle for survival, she retreats into memories of her spot-lit glories and entertains a persistent delusion that she and Tony will be together again.

With life's priorities abruptly and dramatically rearranged, Tony becomes increasingly enraged with Ruby's interference in his new set of plans.

Ruby makes the fatal mistake of pressing her case on an isolated bluff in the wasteland; away from the capable protection of the sane, if small, civil society back at the compound.


Having spent her life transforming herself into a commodity for consumption by a society based on leisure and indulgence, Ruby faces the fate of all disposable items of cultural ephemera -- an ignoble, cruel toss onto the trash heap.

In The Beginning... God obviously created dummies!

post © Howard S. Berger & Kevin Marr