Saturday, December 03, 2011

"Five" (1951) is said to be the first post-nuclear-war drama in film

The 1951 curio end-times drama “Five” (or "5ive" or even just "5") is said to be the first post-nuclear apocalypse film ever made. Directed and written by Arch Oboler for Columbia Pictures, it followed the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949 by only about two years, and appeared before the hydrogen bomb had been tested.  It’s certainly less well known than Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach”; the latest film of this kind is “The Road” (reviewed here Nov. 2009). 

The title is based on the five adult characters in the “play”, and they don’t all necessarily make it. And the forlorn hope that there are other such enclaves around the planet to rebuild a civilization (as in Stephen King’s “The Stand”) is not to be, either. 

As the film opens, a pregnant woman Roseanne Rogers (Susan Douglas Rubes) is wandering through a California coastal town desperately looking for help. Finally she wanders up a hill and finds a neat hut occupied by a former poet Michael (William Phipps) who had worked as an announcer atop the Empire State Building (now, in retrospect after 9/11, ironic).  He rather likes a life with “no problems” (and no money system – no bills  -- but no media audience for his poetry, either).  

Others who stumble in are a former banker Oliver Barnstaple (Earl Lee), an African American who cares for him (Charles Lampkin), and a rather assertive adventurer Eric (James Anderson), who creates conflict.
Roseanne delivers her baby.   The film would have a chance here to go pro-natalist, but doesn’t (thankfully).  The group wanders down to the California beach (in an odd premonition of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel, maybe even an inspiration), and also scours downtown LA as Roseanne looks for her husband in a medical office.  Everywhere there are skeletons of people  stopped in their tracks.  (The 1982 TV film “The Day After” [this film mentions “the day after tomorrow’] had shown such an effect at the time of impact – I remember watching the 1982 film in a Dallas apartment with a medical resident neighbor, still.) 

Fights ensue, and in one scene Roseanne, resisting, tears open Eric’s shirt.  But this is a pre-parody of what happens today on disco floors: his hairy chest is becoming covered with the white plaques of radiation poisoning.  On her way back to the hilltop Drohega, the baby dies.  She is left to start over farming with Michael. 

The film is in black-and-white, full screen, and the California coast never looked cleaner.  This little film probably is well for groups like the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bear in mind. 

As the film neared an end, I remember a conversation with my father, as a boy, as we drove into Washington DC in Route 50, near the old Rosslyn one time, when I was about 10, that the country might not last much more than 25 years because of the nuclear threat.  (Then why have children?) We did a lot better than that (by about 30 years, at least).

The film doesn't show physical destruction of buildings, and has some inaccuracies.  For example, people are driving cars, and they wouldn't be operable after an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) associated with a nuclear blast.  

The music score by Henry Russell is rather post-romantic.  

The DVD has a two-part short “Martini Minutes”: that is, “The Secrets of Deception” and “How to Become a Villain”.

The full film can be rented from YouTube for $2.99 or from Netflix subscription. 

(Note: posting url has misspelling "iis" in title because of a typo, fixed afterward.)

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