Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: planet Earth ain't big enough for the five of us (plus a few more) in The Day the World Ended.
The Day the World EndedDirector: Roger Corman
Cast: Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Adele Jergens, Mike Connors, Jonathan Haze, Paul Blaisdell
US Release Date: 1955-12
Alternative titles: It's the End of the World as We Know It (and Roger Feels Fine); The Day After the Day After.
Starts with a bang, literally, and ends with a great onscreen caption.
Claustrophobic and surprisingly tense character study.
Cult director Roger Corman does a lot on a tight budget.
Shadowy hints of monster effectively build suspense.
"Radiation sickness" appears in the form of thickly-applied glitter.
Monster is, ultimately, quite silly.
SYNOPSIS: In the first two minutes of this movie, the human race is destroyed. By minute 03:00, we're meeting the survivors as they gather by chance in a survivalist's dream house: sea captain Jim and his wide-eyed daughter Louise; hoodlum Tony; stripper Ruby; studly Rick; radiation-contaminated Raddick; and old Pete, a goofy prospector with a donkey named Diablo. This, apparently, is all that remains of the human race.
Naturally, the first thing our survivors do is start trying to pound that tar out of one another. Pretty-boy tough guy Tony gets on everyone's nerves, while curvaceous Ruby gives Rick the eye from the get-go. Rick seems hot for Louise, however, which is something that bugs Tony. Geez! This is worse than the UN before the war! What the UN never had to deal with, though, was the presence of horribly mutated atomic-radiation monsters sporting white toenail polish. Alas, our current batch of survivors can't claim such ignorance. While three-toed footprints appear close to the house, tension escalates—all the more so when sleazeball Tony presses his case, among other things, against Louise.
Weeks pass, supplies dwindle, the monster (monsters?) creep closer, and diseased Raddick comes and goes into the radioactive fog like it was a pleasant summertime drizzle. Captain Jim is dropping hints to Louise about mothering a new human race with stud-muffin Rick, which really gets Tony’s dander up, so to speak. Just about the time the strain reaches boiling point, the monsters decide they've been meek long enough, and it's time to inherit the earth. They just might succeed, too, if the remaining homo sapiens keep at each other's throats the way they've been doing all along...
Best line of dialogue: "There's no such thing as logic anymore."
What gets violently ended: Humanity (mostly); the rest of humanity (mostly).
What gets saved: a few tiny scraps of humanity, for what it's worth.
Moral of the story: Stock up on canned goods.
Folks—meet Roger Corman! Legendary low-budget writer-director-producer Roger Corman turned 'em out like nobody else, as he happily reveals in his memoirs, How I Made 100 Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime. Famously making a habit of shooting two films at once to save on location and set costs, Corman's movies were often, though not always, fantastical in nature. The Day the World Ended was his first movie, and many more will be found in this column (starting with last week's The Wasp Woman). Some of those worth seeking out which will not be covered in this column include Machine Gun Kelly (1958) with Charles Bronson; A Bucket of Blood (1959); The Intruder (1962) starring William Shatner as a racist anti-school-integration provocateur; and black comedy Gas-s-s! or, It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (1971). As of this writing, he's produced over 375 films, and he's still out there, making new ones. Rock on, Roger!
This reminds me of… …other movies about small groups of survivors after the apocalypse, including Five (1951), Robot Monster (1953), On the Beach and The World, the Flesh and the Devil (both 1959)—the latter starring Harry Belafonte—and Corman's own Last Woman on Earth (1960). None of these feature monsters, except Robot Monster. Also worth hunting up is bizarre-fest A Boy and His Dog (1975), starring a pre-Miami Vice Don Johnson, based on Harlan Ellison's disturbing (for many reasons) novella.
Somehow their careers survived: Handsome Richard Denning (Rick) had starred in Creature From the Black Lagoon and Target Earth (both 1954) and would star in The Black Scorpion (1957); he also had a supporting role in TV's Hawaii Five-0 (1968-80). Lori Nelson (Louise) featured in Revenge of the Creature (1955), while Adele Jergens (Ruby) had played a princess in A Thousand and One Nights (1945). Before going on to fame as TV's Mannix (1967-75) Mike aka Touch Connors (Tony) appeared in 1955's Swamp Women and 1956's Shake, Rattle and Rock! Jonathan Haze (Raddick) would turn up in a slew of later Corman efforts, including It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), and Teenage Cave Man (1958). Monster specialist Paul Blaisdell (the mutant) would play the various monsters of It Conquered the World and The She-Creature (both 1956), Voodoo Woman and Invasion of the Saucer Men (both 1957).
BOTTOM LINE: Corman would make worse—and better—in his long career, but this one's worth a look.
NEXT WEEK: Invisible Invaders (1959)