The Day the World Ended (1956)

Article #521 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 8-18-2002
Posting date: 1-11-2003

After a nuclear war, several people converge at an isolated house in a mountainous region that protects them from the radiation.

This is in many ways a cheaper, more sensational take on the same theme as Arch Oboler’s FIVE; the characters are more one-dimensional, and instead of evocative dialogue we are given guns and monsters. There are definite problems here; there’s enough story to keep the last thirty minutes moving at a decent pace, and the first ten minutes are necessary for the purposes of exposition and the introduction of our characters; however, that leaves a forty-minute stretch in the middle where the movie seems at a bit of a loss at what to do to fill the time. The characters aren’t complex enough for the most part to warrant much exploration (though Adele Jergens does a very nice turn as Ruby, especially during a sequence where she recreates her strip routine only to break down in tears), so the movie ends up running back and forth over the same plot points again and again to fill time. I mean, just how many times does Paul Birch ominously drop hints about the atomic testing on a specific island (the name eludes me at the moment) before he actually gets around to discussing them, or how many times does Ruby accuse Tony of having a thing for Louise, the sweet innocent country girl who is a new experience for him?

Still, there are some unexpected but fascinating subtleties here. Two in particular come to mind; notice how the theft of Diablo the burro at one point starts off a chain of events that results in the death of three people (and notice how the omission of the burro from the horrible Larry Buchanan remake IN THE YEAR 2889 deprives the prospector of the most compelling motivation for his own suicidal actions). Especially take note of the subtle and elegant way the identity of Marty the Mutant (Paul Blaisdell’s nickname for the three-eyed monster) is established in the last few minutes of the film without a word being spoken. For a movie as verbose as this one, that single moment is a stunning piece of pure visual cinema, and it may be my single favorite moment from the early work of Roger Corman.

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