Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Panic In Year Zero ! 1962

"An Orgy Of Looting And Lust 'A'  Day ....When Civilization Came to An End !"

    1962 minimalist A.I.P. low budget post-apocalyptic drama directed by and starring Ray Milland, who as the head of your typical (here literally) nuclear family goes into full survival mode after the big one drops on L.A. It’s all set to a finger poppin' jazz score by Les Baxter and in addition skirts around the edges of the Hayes Code with some hinted at adult themes & situations. Harry Baldwin (Milland) heads off for a camping trip with his wife Ann (Jean Hagen), son Rick (pre-Beach Party Frankie Avalon) and whiny daughter Karen (Mary Mitchell) in their car & trailer-camper combo when they see a brilliant flash behind them and a huge mushroom cloud rising from Los Angeles.

  Finding the radio stations gone and phones out of order Harry stops off at a roadside diner and after witnessing a microcosm of society’s breakdown there he decides to hunker down in his favorite remote camping site. Stopping off in a small town he loads up on food at a grocer and then heads next door to stock up on guns in a hardware store. Perplexed that the store owner won’t take a check in the midst of an atomic war (and is going to make him wait for a background check) he instead just holds the guy up (upsetting his wife greatly) with the promise “I’ll owe you!” Alternately prodding & bulling his family Harry laments the fall of civilization (“Don’t write off the laws- they’ll be back!”), all the while punching out opportunistic gas stations attendants ($3.00 a gal.!!) and setting roads aflame to block traffic.

   Back out on the highway they come across a roving band of beatnik juvenile delinquents (“They dropped a big bomb on the city – it’s crazy man”) who are sent fleeing after son Rick wounds one of them with a shotgun blast from the trailer. Arriving at their secluded campsite they set up housekeeping in a cave and soon discover that the hardware store owner and his wife have also settled in the area. After some prodding from his wife Harry agrees to make contact with them and he discovers them both dead (with the wife lying in a position highly suggestive of rape). Checking around they discover that the three J.D.’s they encountered earlier living in a farmhouse located nearby with the hardware store owners truck in their procession. Not wanting to confront them at this time Harry is goaded into action later after two of them attack his daughter (again in a scene highly suggestive of sexual attack).

   Going back to the farmhouse with Rick, Harry finds the guys and blows them away with a shotgun, they then discover a disheveled underwear clad girl in a bedroom with a not to subtle implication that she's being kept there as a sex slave. After finding out she's the daughter of the family who owned the house and thugs killed them and have kept her prisoner they take her back to join their family.
    The third hoodlum shows back up eventually and Rick is wounded in the ensuing gun battle necessitating Harry's return to civilization (along with his growing guilt - "I killed two men !!") in the form of a doctor played by character actor Willis Bouchey.

     Released just at the time of the Cuban missile crisis this must have been quite a jolt to audiences at the time. Because of of low budget the film has a very compact feel (even with a certain grimness to it) with seeming endless stock footage of crowded L.A. freeways cut in with a close-up of the spinning front wheel on Harry's car to represent the mass exodus. Originally titled End of the World there's some edited footage in the trailer that suggests an even darker premise to the girl captive at the farmhouse.
    Born in England Oscar winner Ray Milland the same year had starred in the Roger Corman Poe film The Premature Burial ("the one without Vincent Price") and during the coming decades alternated between low budget films such as the very interesting X - The Man With The X-ray Eyes (1963 -also directed by Corman) to entertainingly ludicrous (Lee Frost's The Thing with Two Heads) & Frogs (both from 1972) along with T.V. - all along working consummately on his signature role as the grouchy old man.
     This is available on one of the MGM Midnight Movie DVD's along with Vincent Price's The Last Man on Earth (which makes a pretty nifty dbl. feature).

1 comment:

  1. I like the looks of this one!! Off to the races to try and find it....many thanks friend.