Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Around the World in Eighty Movies - number 3

Country: America
Title: Five
Director: Arch Oboler
Cast: William Phipps, Susan Douglas Rubes, James Anderson, Charles Lampkin, Earl Lee
Year: 1951
Running time: 93 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction
Notable for: Being the earliest example of post-apocalyptic cinema

As well as writing, directing and producing the first full colour 3D movie, Bwana Devil (1952), Arch Oboler, who worked on radio, stage, TV and the big screen, performed the same duties on the post-apocalyptic Five. Shot in Glendale, California and in and around Oboler's Frank Lloyd Wright designed house in Malibu, California during the early days of the Cold War, Five is the bleak story of a handful of survivors left after worldwide atomic warfare. Whereas many of the 50s Science Fiction films that came out of the US were flag waving, barely concealed anti-Communist tracts masquerading as alien invasion adventures Five was a downbeat, philosophical and humanistic film more in keeping with the modern post-apocalyptic vision of John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2009).

Pre-figuring The Night of the Living Dead's random survivors holed up together scenario so memorably used by George A. Romero by 17 years, Oboler's screenplay covers racial and gender politics, communal living, the madness of mutually assured destruction and the existential angst of living in a 'dead' world. Even after the population of the planet is reduced to four men and one woman, violence, bigotry, sexual tension and political ideology still rule the roost in Oboler's stark portrayal of the remnants of society. Visions of the apocalypse and its aftermath are a staple of contemporary cinema, from the action oriented Mad Max (79,81,85) series via Steve De Jarnatt's under appreciated Miracle Mile (1988) to Roland Emmerich's Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and Lars Von Trier's recent Melancholia (2011), but Five, with its eschewing of effects laden action, oppressive atmosphere and savage critique of the folly of war and social attitudes is as potent as any of them. Hundreds of films and dozens of directors could, rightly, have represented America in this series but Oboler's low key vision of the end of the world, not as championed, critically fawned over or technically ground-breaking as the films of Griffith, Welles, Cassavetes or Scorsese deserves its spot on the list for tackling its subject matter in such an uncondescending, fearless fashion.

Five can be viewed for free in full here -

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I'll definitely be checking this one out.