Best known for narrating the “Lights Out” radio show in the 1930s and 1940s, Arch Oboler also was noted for writing, directing and producing a number of motion pictures from the 1940s to the 1970s. Some of the more interesting titles he’s responsible for include the first feature film during the 1950s 3-D boom, BWANA DEVIL (1952), the charming television-comes-to-life comedy THE TWONKY (1953) and a Scope 3-D science fiction potboiler THE BUBBLE (1966). Oboler’s 1951 effort, FIVE, is significant in that it’s the first film to depict a world ravished by a nuclear holocaust. Oboler wrote, produced and directed the film.
According to a newspaper headline, a new type of atomic bomb may have caused the extinction of mankind, with only a handful of survivors remaining. In California, a young woman named Roseanne Rogers (Susan Douglas), who was in an X-ray room when disaster occurred, makes her way to her aunt’s hillside house, only to find Michael (William Phipps) living there by himself. With the dismal thought that her husband may be dead, Roseanne, who is pregnant, tries to overcome her overall shock and live harmoniously with Michael, a New Yorker stranded in an elevator of the Empire State Building during the devastating catastrophe.
Soon the duo encounter two other men driving down the freeway in a jeep: an older bank clerk named Mr. Barnstable (Earl Lee) and a friendly black man named Charles (Charles Lampkin), both who survived while being trapped in a bank vault. The quartet get along fine, but when they drive down to the beach, the tide brings in a mountain climber named Eric (James Anderson) who joins the group simultaneously with the passing of Barnstaple, senile and sickened from what appears to be radiation scars. The addition of Eric throws a wrench into a happy situation, and although he at first apologizes for some malevolent behavior, tension and contrast mounts among these survivors while Roseanne gives birth to a baby boy.
Released the same year as THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, FIVE is more drama than sci-fi despite it post-apocalyptic plotline, but it’s a dark, serious and convincing effort that is an absolute forerunner to many similar themed films to follow, including ON THE BEACH and THE WORLD, THE FLESH AND THE DEVIL which arrived at the tale end of the decade. Obviously produced with very little money, the film was shot mostly in an around an isolated cliff house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and owned by Oboler himself, and it provides the perfect barren atmosphere. FIVE is heavily dialog-driven, but it’s actually well written, with strong characters that possess individual quirks and ideals, and the acting is compelling for the most part if you can get past James Anderson’s strange accent (which, by B movie law, singles him out as the villain from the onset). Racism, attempted rape and even an “Adam and Eve” analogy are embraced and there’s some excellent cinematography, including darkly lit, noirish shots in the cliff house, and several extreme facial close-ups to emphasize a character’s anguish. A stroll down a deserted, A-bomb devastated street shows a number of skeletons lying in buses, automobiles, alleys and hospital waiting rooms, delivering the film’s most haunting imagery.
FIVE makes its long awaited DVD debut as part of the second wave of Sony’s appreciated “Martini Movies” line. The transfer presents the film in its original full frame format and offers a sharp, impressive black-and-white picture with good black levels and decent gray scale. There are a few minor blemishes in the original negative, but that’s to be expected considering the film's significant age. The mono track comes off pleasing on this DVD, with no significant pops or hiss cluttering the audio. Dialogue is clear, and Henry Russell's music score (which also includes contributions from William Lave and Charles Maxwell) enhances the gloomy, atmospheric mood. The extras include the original 1951 trailer, as well two segments of “Martini Moments” which showcase clips from the other titles in the DVD series, as well as martini recipes. (George R. Reis)
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