“We know that even small amounts of radiation can produce change. But if, for some reason, a man could live through complete saturation—a thousand generations of changes could have taken place…”
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Paul Birch, Lori Nelson, Richard Denning, Adele Jergens, Mike “Touch” Connors, Raymond Hatton, Paul Dubov, Jonathan Haze, Paul Blaisdell
Screenplay: Lou Rusoff
Synopsis: In the wake of the near-total annihilation of the human race in a nuclear war, a handful of survivors stagger towards a house tucked into a valley in the Californian hills. Rick (Richard Denning), a geologist, comes across a man called Radek (Paul Dubov), whose face is horribly marked with radiation burns. Although Radek begs Rick to kill him, Rick picks up the injured man and carries him towards the house in the valley. Inside the house, Jim Maddison (Paul Birch) tries without success to pick up a radio signal from anywhere in the world, while his daughter, Louise (Lori Nelson), sadly contemplates a photograph of her boyfriend, Tommy, who is missing. At the request of her father, Louise uses a Geiger counter to check for background radiation, reporting that it has dropped to 47 roentgens. Hearing this, Maddison reflects that they just might live… As her father mutters bitterly about how he tried to tell people that this day would come, a startled Louise sees people outside. They are Tony Lamont (Mike Connors), a criminal type, and his stripper girlfriend, Ruby (Adele Jergens). As Louise moves to let them in, her father stops her, saying flatly that they only have rations for three – themselves and Tommy – and that letting more people in will threaten everyone’s survival. In response to the frantic knocking on the door, Maddison arms himself, ordering Louise to her room, but she refuses to go. As the two argue, the matter is settled: a shot from outside shatters the lock, and Tony and Ruby let themselves in. There is a brief stand-off between Maddison and Tony before the latter holsters his handgun. Maddison tells Louise to help Ruby wash and change her clothes, ordering Tony to wash and change also, if he wants to stay alive. Shortly afterwards, Rick and Radek arrive at the house. One look at the latter tells Maddison that he has absorbed a fatal dose of radiation. Warning Louise not to touch the dying man, Maddison tells Rick that he had better clean up, although it may be too late for him already. However, a dazed Rick can only shake his head over his own survival, and the death of his brother who was only thirty feet away from him at the critical moment. The final arrival at the house is an old prospector called Pete (Raymond Hatton), who brings with him his burro, Diablo. Maddison is dismayed by the number of people to be provided for. Tony suggests that they put Radek out of his misery and draws his gun. Maddison then draws his own, and Tony grabs Louise, using her as a shield. Re-entering the room, Rick frees Louise and knocks Tony down; the two men declare instant enmity. Gathering the survivors, Maddison explains the situation to them: that they world as they knew it is gone forever; that they survived only because they happened to be within a ring of lead-bearing hills; that the house was built where it was for precisely this contingency; that as provisions for only three were assembled, they will all be on very slender rations; and that if the radiation levels do not fall enough to allow fresh supplies to be gathered, they will all die anyway, even if they survive this first crisis. He concludes by announcing that the men will sleep in his room, the women in Louise’s, and he himself in the lounge-room in between. Rick helps Radek into a bed. To Rick’s surprise, Radek regains consciousness, muttering that he’s not going to die, but that he needs food – meat – raw meat…
Comments: There’s not much love out there for Day The World Ended, but I can’t help feeling a certain affection for it. On one hand, although it’s certainly a talk-fest, I just don’t find it as boring as most people seem to; there’s nothing here that’s as painful to me as, say, the wandering-in-the-desert longueurs of The Beast With A Million Eyes. However, rather than any inherent cinematic virtues, I think the attraction of this production is that within it you can find the first stirrings of the true “Roger Corman film”. It’s not there yet, that’s for sure; but the signs are unmistakable.
…more like naked shrieking laughter…
Of course, some of this is artificial. The production values of Day The World Ended were rather higher than those of its predecessors. Although ludicrously low by most people’s standards, by Corman’s his $70,000 budget was almost luxurious. Much of it clearly went into the widescreen cinematography, quite a remarkable move for only 1955, and one which makes the film seem classier than it is. Some of the budget also went on a better cast, which if collectively is more serviceable than brilliant, certainly is extremely serviceable.
Others might (and do) disagree with me, but I rather like Lou Rusoff’s screenplay, which is a huge improvement over his work on The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues the same year. Rusoff was always up against it, given that the film’s premise was seven people stuck in a house together for weeks on end. However, there are some clever touches in the script, not least being the very pragmatism of its view of the post-nuke world, wherein we never do find out what finally triggered the apocalypse. There is almost a sense of shoulder-shrugging here that suggests that in 1955, everyone knew it was only a matter of time; and once it was all over, what was the point of talking about it? And although cinema-goers had seen the Earth destroyed two years earlier, in When Worlds Collide, it was still a pretty daring move to nuke the whole world. Arch Oboler’s Five was, I think, the first to pull that move; I can’t offhand think of another film to do so before this one.
On the small scale as well as the large, we find hints in Day The World Ended that Roger Corman was just beginning to come into his own as a director, such as some thoughtful – and what we can now recognise as typical – character bits; while in the symbolic use made of the comedy / tragedy masks that hang upon the Maddisons’ lounge-room wall, we also see the earliest stirrings of his taste for actual art, which would later manifest itself in quite unexpected ways, although always in severe philosophical conflict with his overriding desire to save a buck.
The other notable thing about this film is its ending, which is remarkably subtle and even touching—or at least, it would be, if it wasn’t ruined by one of the sorriest monster suits you ever did see.
Day The World Ended opens with another example of what would become a stock 50s manoeuvre, beginning with the end—BLAMMO!!!! A nuclear explosion, the sound of a theremin— Honestly, I don’t know why people have a problem with this film!
(But anyway, if they do, I can always resort to same old answer: if you think this is bad, wait until you’ve seen it Larry Buchananised.)
An unbilled narrator (soon-to-be NBC newsreader Chet Huntley), speaking in a wearily exasperated, Well-I-told-you-people-but-you-just-wouldn’t-listen voice, mixes biblical prophecy with finger-wagging before concluding, “Man has done his best to destroy himself” – just as we watch a solitary figure stagger up over a hill and collapse. Evidently, Man is such a fuck-up, he couldn’t even get destroying himself right.
“But,” continues the narrator, “there is a force more powerful than man, and in His infinite wisdom, He has spared a few.”
I think he’s talking about Henry Ford. So, at least, we deduce from the fact that the words are barely out of his mouth before a honking big 50s convertible rolls into view.
Aw, I kid, I kid. Just the same, I have my doubts about the infinite wisdom on display here. Granted, second-guessing God is a sucker’s game, but I’m having a tough time imagining a plan for mankind’s survival that could possibly require a gun-toting petty criminal and a long-in-the-tooth stripper; a situation that conjures up a definite vision of God-as-MacGyver
The END…of the BEGINNING!
But we get lots of other intimations of God’s handiwork here, both overtly and covertly. The Maddisons’ house can be seen either as a Garden of Eden, a refuge surrounded by a poisonous world devoid of grace; or as a kind of Noah’s Ark, from which the eventual repopulators of a devastated world will emerge. The Ark reading is probably more apt, though, given Jim Maddison’s history as a naval captain, and his story of “the animal boat” at an atomic testing ground, wherein the species were collected two by two, male and female. Which I suppose makes Tony Lamont either the snake or – well, let’s see – Ham? (Insert your own Touch Connors joke here.)
Soon after Rick staggers into the Maddisons’ house, he speaks in a dazed way of his younger brother, who was killed in the blast while standing only thirty feet from him; a brother who was studying for the ministry, to, “Be a man of God”. Rick can’t find meaning in his brother’s death until he begins to apply his beliefs to their situation, which in turn inspires Jim Maddison to a bible reading from which he draws strength. And when the survivors are finally delivered, it is Louise who gets the final word: “Man created it, but God destroyed it.”
The first section of Day The World Ended is chiefly concerned with assembling the cast and drawing up the lines of battle: between Tony and Rick over Louise, between Jim and Tony over who gets to be alpha male; although the third obvious potential conflict, between Louise and Ruby over Rick and/or Tony, never eventuates, which is one of the nice things about this film. Another is that although Pete the Prospector is, self-evidently, the Odious Comic Relief, that plotline is never as painful as it threatens to be at first glance.
The explanation for why these people have survived is rather clever. Jim Maddison, considering nuclear war inevitable, and knowing from his own past experiences what radiation can do, built himself a house in a valley area surrounded by hills full of lead-bearing ore, where the wind pattern would help prevent the settling of fall-out, and where there was plenty of wildlife and water to make living off the land possible, when it eventually came to that.
The 1950s captured in a single screenshot: atomic annihilation…in widescreen!
The seven people who have survived did so because when the blast came, they happened to be within the shelter of the hills—except for Radek, who wasn’t sufficiently protected. We get another of the film’s thoughtful touches here, and all the better for not being drawn attention to, in the shape of the obviously metallic curtains in the Maddisons’ house, presumably a shielding device. The house has its own generator, and enough provisions for three months…but only for three people.
Ah, yes. Someone who was supposed to survive but didn’t is Louise’s boyfriend, Tommy…and here we stumble over a somewhat obscure in-joke. Early in the film, as her father fiddles with his radio receiver in lingering hope of picking up a signal from somewhere, anywhere, Louise gazes sadly at a photo of herself with Tommy—or to put it another way, Lori Nelson gazes at a photo of herself with Roger Corman. At the time, of course, no-one would have known who the second party in the picture was, although it’s obvious enough these days. There’s a second component to the joke, though, one I can’t explain: once again, following his unbilled appearance in Monster From The Ocean Floor, we find ol’ Rog playing someone called “Tommy”.
As Richard Dreyfuss might say, this means something, but I don’t know what it is.
Not being sufficiently ruthless to cull the herd, particularly with Louise in firm opposition to his doing so, in spite of what increased numbers will mean for the duration of their provisions, Maddison gathers his visitors together and gives them the facts of life – literally – announcing that the seven of them may represent, “A new era; a new civilisation.”
(This assertion prompts Ruby to give Rick a swift up-and-down.)
Tony suggests dispensing with Radek, and in the ensuing scuffle is forced to surrender his gun. Rick carries Radek into Maddison’s room and puts him to bed, whereupon Radek surprises him by making something like a recovery, demanding food. Not tinned rations, though: it’s meat he wants; raw meat.
The future of humanity. God help us.
Rick brushes this aside and joins Maddison outside, where he is checking the environment with his Geiger counter. Rick’s remarks reveal that he is no amateur: in fact, he’s a geologist, specialising in “uranium exploration” – yeah, did humanity remember to thank you for that, Rick? – which leads Maddison to comment that he, too, must know that, “The real force of the atom has never been truly calculated.”
“I think it reached its fulfillment today,” replies Rick drily.
It turns out that Maddison is worried about the possible effects of radiation on any surviving animal life. “Do you think any other form of life could have survived that?” questions Rick. Hey, call me a cheap gambler, but my money’s on the cockroach. Maddison now makes the first of many ominous references to, “The H-bomb tests at Matsoul” – which I keep wanting to type as “Matoul” – which, by the way, would explain a lot.
Maddison reveals that he was involved in the Matsoul test, and had the job of towing “the animal ship” away from Target Zero. “The world never had a true account of that test,” he declares, but breaks off when he and Rick hear the howling of a coyote. Maddison comments that the local wildlife has been pouring into the valley, as if they knew it was a refuge from what had happened. (Animals: they always know, don’t they?)
In the middle of the night, Rick wakes up to find Radek staring longingly into the darkness, muttering about all the game that’s out there. Rick argues that their meat would be contaminated, but Radek only laughs.
Seven weeks pass. Everyone is still kicking, even Radek, which shouldn’t be possible considering (i) his radiation exposure, and (ii) the fact that to the best of everyone’s knowledge, he has had neither food nor water since his arrival.
Like many women, Lori Nelson kept a photograph of Roger Corman by her bed.
Maddison remarks that Radek has been slipping out of the house at night. “He’s a mutation—a freak of this new atomic world.”
At this highly embarrassing moment, Radek wanders in, announces that he’s going for a walk, and wanders out again. Maddison tries to stop him, but Radek only stares at him in surprise. “I like it out there,” he murmurs.
Cut to an exasperated Tony, and Ruby dancing to some music that I can only assume she had with her in the car: it doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of stuff Jim and Louise would listen to. (“It’s K-PORN, sleazy, slutty sax in the morning…”) Tony’s distraction makes Ruby accuse him of thinking of Louise—who, to be fair, is the kind of apocalypse survivor who would make Sidney Fowler Wright salivate in anticipation. Tony storms outside, where he is greeted by exactly the sight he didn’t want, Rick hanging all over Louise. Rick moves to kiss her, but she suddenly turns away from him, claiming that she heard a strange sound.
That old line.
Meanwhile, a knife-wielding Radek is checking the traps he’s set in the hills. He takes a rabbit from one and dispatches it (off-camera), but before he can proceed, something looms up at him out of the darkness. Radek takes to his heels, and we watch as a grotesque clawed hand reaches down for the rabbit…
On a personal note, I would just like to say—can I PLEASE watch ONE movie that doesn’t have a dead animal in it!!?? ARE YOU LISTENING, MOVIE GODS??????
Louise encounters one of the horrors of the post-apocalyptic world: the Odious Comic Relief.
The next day, Maddison and Rick find what’s left of the rabbit, concluding from the footprints nearby that Radek ate it—which should have killed him. Rick speculates that having taken such a blast of radiation and survived, Radek is going through a process of mutation, a comment that makes Maddison mutter yet again about Matsoul, and worry that they will all end up like Radek, in time…
That night, rain threatens, and Maddison must break the news that if it does rain before the fall-out dissipates, they will all be doomed—and that even if it doesn’t, they will have to cut the rations. Maddison begins planning for the future – planting, rebuilding – and Tony storms off in disgust. Taking no notice, Maddison mentions a waterfall up in the hills, where he has tested the water and found it clean. In the future, they will all bathe there.
And bathe they do – Louise and Ruby, anyway – because who could possibly want to look at a bunch of men in their swimmers? Here we discover that amongst those items that Jim Maddison considered absolutely necessary for the survival of the human race were depilatory cream and/or wax strips.
By the way, I love this film’s contention that Adele Jergens could fit into Lori Nelson’s clothes…including her spare one-piece.
More seriously, I really do like the fact that Louise and Ruby never quarrel. Day The World Ended was produced in the middle of Roger Corman’s batch of gender-bending westerns, which announced to the world that his ideas about women weren’t quite as primitive as those of many of his contemporaries. Here, Louise and Ruby simply get along, despite the fact that they have nothing whatsoever in common, beyond perhaps a taste in shades of hair-dye. Ruby never blames Louise for taking Tony away from her. She knows Louise isn’t doing anything to attract him – anything more than she can help, anyway – and admits frankly that she sees just what Tony sees.
Louise encounters another horror of the post-apocalyptic world: geologist breath.
And although (and I really don’t think this counts as a spoiler) neither Tony nor Ruby will make it to the end of the film, there’s a refreshing absence of judgement about their departures that isn’t always found in films of this era. I’m thinking particularly of the previous year’s Target Earth (also starring Richard Denning), which dispenses death in a horribly classist manner.
As the two women swim – Louise is an old hand, but city-bred Ruby isn’t so sure – Louise becomes convinced that they’re being watched, although Ruby sees nothing. Ruby concludes, cheerfully, that it’s probably one of the men – “Boys will be boys!” – and is somewhat disappointed when a nervous Louise insists on going home. However, on the way, the two of them find footprints in the dirt—but not human footprints…
This discovery provokes Maddison to a third muttering of “Matsoul!”, although he still doesn’t explain himself. That evening, Rick goes out to look for Radek, Louise goes out to look for Rick, Tony goes out to look for Louise, and Ruby goes out to look for Tony; while Jim…fiddles with his radio.
Tony gets his wish first, and demands to know what Louise doesn’t see in him. He starts enumerating his good points for her, including the fact that he doesn’t drink or smoke—which in 1955 must surely count as some sort of perversion. Louise is unimpressed, but Tony manages to force a kiss on her before she breaks away.
Ruby then chooses this inauspicious moment to make a play for Tony, but he fixates on the thing between her fingers:
Tony: “What are you smoking?”
Ruby: “Some concoction of Pete’s.”
Tony is more concerned with the fact that the survivors have only one month’s rations left than he is with Ruby’s fleshy charms. He points out that if six people could live for one month on their stores, then two people could live for three months; a calculation that Ruby foolishly concludes involves her.
Meanwhile, an astonished Rick watches Radek walk straight through the radioactive mist that is currently keeping the rest of them confined to the valley. He reports this to Maddison, who finally spills the beans on Matsoul. He explains that the male and female of “1000 different species” (!!!!) were exposed to the blast. His job was to tow the survivors back to where they could be examined…and that he got a look at them. One used to be a chipmunk; one, a dog; one, a monkey. There was a law against photography, but not against sketching…
Producing his drawing, Maddison draws Rick’s attention particularly to the creature’s scaly skin, which looked like rubber, but felt like metal. He reports that the mutations lived for three days after the blast, during which time they wouldn’t touch food or water. Hmm…now, where have we heard that before?
Rick then marvels over the effects of radiation, and I’m really not sure what I enjoy more: the film’s contention that “mutation” is something that happens instantaneously, or its belief that “evolution” can happen to an individual.
The conversation then takes an unexpected turn, as Maddison muses on his new-found feeling of responsibility for the survival of Homo sapiens per se, and tells Rick that he’ll, “Talk to the girls in the morning” – and only in the desperate world of the post-apocalypse could anyone refer to Ruby as “a girl”. Rick, however, is puzzled by this, so Maddison spells it out for him: “They should bear children as soon as possible.”
Hey, I didn’t know my ten-year-old nephew did the art design for this!
Given the obvious implications of this, I’m pleased to report that Rick has too much class to respond with a cry of, “Whoa, mama!!”, or something similar, and instead slides from the room with an embarrassed cough.
That night, Tony makes another attempt to snabble Maddison’s gun, but Rick, who is sleepless for reasons we won’t go into, stops him just in time. The two then have an extended brawl which is very well-staged and surprisingly violent, with no obvious pulling of punches and much broken furniture. Tony’s eventual vanquishment leads to his promise to kill Rick and his open rejection of Ruby.
We hear most of Maddison’s “talk” with Louise, but I’m sorry to say we’re not privy to the chat with Ruby, a job that Maddison leaves to his daughter. Ruby reacts to her new position as Potential Mother Of Humanity by trying to imagine herself and Tony with a kid, observing wryly, “We won’t tell him his mother’s a strip-tease artist” – and I can’t begin to say how much I admire this film for not resorting to the usual euphemism, “burlesque dancer”. Tony, however, has reproduction with someone else on his mind.
Maddison and Rick are up in the hills examining the radioactive mist, which they declare still too dense for normal human beings to cross, when a stranger appears from nowhere, staggering over the crest of the hill and collapsing. (Enter Jonathan Haze.) Although still recognisably human, the newcomer has claws for hands, while his face is scarred and twisted into a more extreme version of Radek’s appearance. His feet, meanwhile, well…
The mutant demands food, complaining that “the others” wouldn’t give him any, and adding ominously that they are stronger than he. He then demands food again, but resolves that dilemma by dying. Maddison points out the bone structure of his head and his scaly skin, and Rick concedes the resemblance to the creatures of Matsoul.
Yyyyeah, I’m still not seeing that “infinite wisdom”.
(It probably goes without saying, but the hills surrounding the Maddison house are played by Bronson Canyon.)
As the rest of the survivors pass the time boringly, Rick weasels his way into Louise’s bedroom. She “isn’t feeling well”, possibly the natural consequence of a 1950s sex-talk. Louise, however, insists that the problem is her knowledge that, “Something is out there”, something that tries to talk to her. She tells Rick that, first at the lake, and every so often since, she has been experiencing a “tingling sensation” that’s been getting “stronger and stronger” – although alas for Rick, it has nothing to do with him. Some confirmation of the soundness of Louise’s instincts is later uncovered in the discovery of more of the non-human footprints, closer to the house than ever before.
Repeatedly rejected by Tony, Ruby starts hitting the moonshine cooked up by Pete from swiped supplies; and having had a snoot-full, one night she begins re-enacting her strip-tease act for the edification of those present, with a brief Mae West thrown in for good [sic.] measure; although as a Potential Mother Of Humanity, she refrains from actually removing anything. However, all this dwelling on the good old days is finally too much for Ruby, and she breaks down into sobs over the reflection that she’ll never again take her clothes off in front of a bunch of strangers in a sleazy dive.
After the discovery of the footprints, Maddison and Rick take turns keeping watch; and on one shift, Rick discovers that Diablo the burro is gone—and so is Radek. The men go searching, and Rick discovers that the body of the dead mutant has disappeared. A little more searching, and he and Maddison find – ulp! – its skeleton. Maddison concludes that Radek – “The scavenging ghoul!” – ate the dead mutant, but Rick has other ideas on the subject.
“When will Roger give me a real part, instead of just sticking stuff on my face?”
At the house, Pete belatedly discovers Diablo’s absence, and although he knows very well what it means, the heartbroken old man insists on going out to look for him. And proving that in this world, anyone can be capable of a selfless gesture, a shrugging Tony offers to help him look.
Up in the hills, Radek hunkers down over the dead burro (HELLO-OO-OO, MOVIE GODS!!!!), but whatever he is about to do is forestalled when two claw-like hands grab him around the throat from behind. Maddison and Rick hear his death-cry, but arrive in time only to find Radek’s body, not to see his killer. Rick examines the body and declares the cause of death three puncture wounds in the throat, which look like they were inflicted with steel daggers.
At the house, Louise wakes suddenly, listening intently—although Ruby, in the twin bed, insists she heard nothing. (Suggestively, the photograph of Tommy that used to be out in the lounge-room has moved into the bedroom in the time since Louise was told she must “marry” Rick.) However, as both women settle down, a misshapen figure looms up near the house, lingering outside Louise’s window…
The discovery of Diablo’s fate sends Pete over the edge. The others get him back to the house, but before long he bolts, heading for the territory where he used to do his prospecting—the area now occupied by the radioactive mist. Maddison goes after him, but is too late to stop him, only getting a good lungful of the mist for his trouble. He confides his situation to Rick, recognising that this will be the death of him. The two agree to keep the news from the others. Later, as thunder rumbles and the death-rain threatens again, a panicky Ruby makes Rick feel her arm, insisting that her skin is changing, like Radek’s. Rick denies it, however, and so does Tony a bit later. Intriguingly, we never do find out whether she is right or simply paranoid, and before long, the question is rather moot.
Yup, definitely art.
As the “injured” Maddison lies on the couch, Louise has another attack of “looking for Rick”. (Tommy is back in the lounge-room, we note.) The usual chain-reaction follows Louise’s departure, only this time Tony has a knife, and Louise finds herself being forced out into the countryside. Fortunately, Tony tosses the knife away once there in order to have two free hands to do what he’s going to do, and the following Ruby picks it up.
Louise scarpers, and the two ex-lovers face off. Sadly, instead of just going for the gut, as she easily could (as a very wise woman once commented: “We were always taught to strike upwards, under the breast-bone”), Ruby lifts the knife in the air. Well, maybe she didn’t mean it. Tony does, though, as he soon demonstrates. Then, as sleazy saxophone music plays softly in the background, he carries Ruby’s body to a convenient cliff-edge, and tosses it off. “Happy landings, sweetheart,” he intones, as we watch Ruby’s body bounce from rock to rock in a strangely rubbery way.
At least her arm never snaps off.
Back at the house, Tony gives a weak cover story to account for Ruby’s absence, and scoffs at Rick’s threats to kill him if he touches Louise again, rightly recognising that Rick is, you should excuse the expression, the last man on earth to kill someone in cold blood, no matter what he’s done. (The fact that the most obvious survivor here is the least a killer would make this an interesting double-bill with the philosophically opposed Panic in The Year Zero!) Maddison, with Louise at stake and his own death imminent, has little time for Rick’s notions of fair play, however, and persuades him to get himself a second gun from the storage-room, without letting Tony know, of course.
The next day, Louise bathes while Rick stands guard. Louise first hears that sound again, and then sees something moving in the bushes nearby. She cries out to Rick, but he has neither heard nor seen a thing.
“I can’t believe he ate the whole thing!…except for the temporomandibular ligament, of course…”
It turns out that Louise was granted a much better look at “it” than we were: on top of her contention that it called to her, we learn it has scaly skin like Radek’s, more than two eyes, and that it is man-sized. Rick ponders the fact that it obviously thrives on contaminated meat and air, yet wouldn’t follow Louise into the lake.
That night, Louise wakes suddenly again, and upon impulse collects Tommy’s photo from the lounge-room before settling down again. She is therefore asleep when a misshapen shadow is thrown across her room from the window…
Something wakes her again, though, and she ventures outside, moving almost like a sleepwalker as she climbs up into the hills. And finally, it looms up before her… Louise gasps, goes into one of those conveniently protracted movie faints, and is carried off in the monster’s arms.
At this point, they’re still keeping it mostly in the shadows. It’s for the best.
At the house, Maddison wakes suddenly, convinced that something is wrong. Calling for Rick, he sends him into Louise’s room; and we get a great moment when, even as he is grasping that Louise is missing, Rick’s eyes flick for just a fraction of an instant towards the photograph on the bedside table. Damn you, Corman, you irresistible devil!
“It’s got her!” declares Maddison, and sends Rick and Tony after her. Tony declines, however, shrugging that she’s Rick’s girl, so he can go save her. Rick gets a rifle from storage and, as he bends over to reassure Maddison, slips his handgun under his pillow. Maddison sends Rick on his way with an order to use the rifle on Louise if he has to – “If there’s no other way.”
Well, now, there’s your infinite wisdom!
Day dawns, and we get our first good look at the monster, and, well, maybe “good look” isn’t quite the right expression.
This is easily the worst monster Paul Blaisdell ever came up with. It’s even worse than Little Hercules. It kind of reminds me of the monster in Horror Of Party Beach, only it’s not so enjoyably goofy, just kind of sad. You begin to suspect here that Louise isn’t really in a faint, she’s just keeping her eyes shut out of politeness.
I guess we know where that $70,000 finally ran out.
The monster puts Louise down gently, and immediately she opens her eyes. Instead of screaming – or laughing – she calls for Rick, and fair enough: if her recent experiences have taught her anything, it’s that if anyone is outside for any reason, someone else will be “looking for” them. Rick does hear her, and hurries in that direction, while the exasperated monster picks Louise up again and carries her off.
Meanwhile, Maddison gets the shock of his life when his obsessive radio-dial twiddling finally yields the voice of another survivor, and – oh, bravo, Mr Rusoff and Mr Corman! – he’s speaking Russian.
Tony, who has finally managed to snabble Maddison’s gun, begins skiting about how he’s moving in and taking over—Louise, the house, everything. His plan is simple enough: he will wait for Rick to rescue Louise and bring her back, and then shoot him. If they don’t come back— Oh, well. Easy come, easy go. He glances outside, and comments that it looks like rain.
A bit further along, the monster puts Louise gently down again. This time they’re at the lake-edge and, remembering her lessons, Louise immediately gets into the water. Sure enough, the monster baulks, gazing after her longingly—and all of a sudden, Louise isn’t afraid of it any more.
However, Rick then shows up and begins firing his rifle at the creature, which has no effect upon it: its skin acts like armour-plating. Rick continues firing, though, and the irritated monster starts stalking towards him, waving away the bullets like it’s swatting flies. The monster takes the rifle away from Rick and knocks him down. As it lines up a deadly blow, Louise cries out that it is afraid of the water. Rick rolls (rick-rolls!?) to his left and into the lake, and the monster stops again.
And then, that long-threatened storm finally breaks. The rain pours down across the valley, soaking everything in its path. The monster wheels around and staggers off, Rick in pursuit of it, and Louise in pursuit of him—the camera lingering from time to time on Lori Nelson’s thin wet nightie.
Remembering Maddison’s dire predictions about the possible consequences of rain, Tony puts his gun down for once and reaches outside to capture a sample for Maddison to test. The Geiger counter remains silent, however; the rainwater is clean; and suddenly, Maddison realises why the monster was afraid of the lake…
…and then, out in the woods, the monster stops, lurches, and keels over…dead…
“I can’t hear him any more!” exclaims Louise. “He tried to speak to me before—he called me by name! I feel so sorry for him…” she concludes in a puzzled voice.
Well, the monster may be gone, but that’s hardly then end of Rick and Louise’s problems, although they don’t know it. As they approach the house, Tony gloats that everything’s coming up Tony, and aims his gun at Rick—at the same time turning his back on Maddison, who slips that second gun out from under his pillow…
Oh, dear, oh, dear…
That gesture is Maddison’s last, though. He lives just long enough to give Rick and Louise a, “There’s a future out there—for you two!” speech and then he keels over, too.
Cut to Louise dressed for hiking, and giving one last, long look at that photograph, before she places it firmly, face-down, on the table. She turns away, responding to Rick’s call, but the camera stays with the photograph—and then we fade to the monster, lying dead in the woods…
And in fact, Louise never knows why the monster was pursuing her; why it spoke to her and her alone; why after killing everyone else, it was so gentle with her. But we know…
What I love about this is the misdirection. The ongoing business with the photograph looks like either a running joke or a fit of ego on Corman’s part (and it looks worse now than when this was filmed, of course), but it’s far from either of those things, as is revealed in a manner that catches the viewer quite off-guard.
Yes, a great ending – or it could have been one – except for that dumb-ass monster suit, and the spindly human legs beneath it. It is astonishing to me that they actually emblazoned it all over the advertising for this film; but perhaps this represents the hard-learned lessons of The Beast With A Million Eyes, i.e. any monster is better than none.
Actually— That’s not the end – or rather, it is – THE BEGINNING. Yup, Day The World Ended pulls that one, too, sending Rick and Louise on their way through the hills with the big block letters fading in to bid them farewell.
“How do I tell Roger it’s over…?”
Of course, they didn’t have to walk. Tony and Ruby’s car is still out front, and as far as we know, gassed up. But I guess that wouldn’t have been quite so inspiring.
And nor would it have granted the audience a brief, from-behind view of Lori Nelson in her hiking-shorts…
Whatever its cinematic shortcomings, historically Day The World Ended is quite an important film. It was in 1955 that Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff decided to take on the major studios by supplying their distributors with both halves of a double-bill at a reasonable price, and the pairing with which they stormed the bulwarks was Day The World Ended and The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues. The entirely unexpected magnitude of the success of this venture pointed the way forward for Nicholson and Arkoff, and inspired them to build their small venture, the American Releasing Corporation, into an actual film-producing company: American International Pictures.
What a time to be alive.
Want a second opinion of Day The World Ended? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.