A Guide to Apocalyptic Cinema

By Charles P. Mitchell | Go to book overview

Day the World Ended (1956)

Rating: *** Threat: Nuclear war and fallout

Golden State Production. Written by Lou Rusoff; Photographed by Jock Feindel; Special effects by Paul Blaisdell; Edited by Ronald Sinclair; Music by Ronald Stein; Produced by Roger Corman & Alex Gordon (executive); Directed by Roger Corman. B & W, 82 minutes.


ANNOTATED CAST LIST

Richard Denning (Rick, geologist); Paul Birch (Jim Maddison, survivalist); Lori Nelson (Louise, Maddison's daughter); Mike “Touch” Connors (Tony Lamont, gangster); Adele Jergens (Ruby, Tony's girlfriend); Raymond Hatton (Pete, elderly prospector); Paul Dubov (Radek, man with radiation sickness); Jonathan Haze (dying man seeking food); Paul Blaisdell (mutant).


SYNOPSIS

This film was Roger Corman's first foray into science fiction, and it is a textbook example of how an entertaining film can be produced with a minuscule budget. The picture has elements of the post-apocalyptic genre, but since the continued existence of any survivors is under constant threat, it fits comfortably in the apocalyptic category as well. The Day the World Ended was no doubt aimed at a young audience, but a literate script and fine cast allow the picture to also appeal to an adult audience, and unlike many other science fiction films from the 1950s, this one has aged very well and is still quite entertaining.

The picture begins with a short message announcing “The End” as the image of a nuclear blast fills the screen. Former navy captain Jim Maddison has been preparing for this eventuality for ten years, settling in a secluded valley surrounded by hills rich in lead ore, which serves as a natural barrier against radiation. He has gathered rations (but only enough for himself, his daughter, Louise and her fiancé, Tommy) as he waited for the inevitable nuclear war. When the bombs finally fall, however, Tommy is away and unable to return in time. Instead, a number of stragglers find themselves in this natural haven, including Rick, a geologist and Pete, a prospector. A small-time hood named Tony Lamont and his girlfriend, Ruby, were driving nearby when the holocaust began. When these people seek shelter at Maddison's house, he is reluctant to let them in, but Louise insists that they be saved. At first Tony brandishes his gun and tries to push the others around, but Rick disarms him. Rick has also saved Radek, a man covered with radiation burns, who manages to survive despite having received a deadly dose of radiation.

Jim explains that their survival depends on stretching their rations and the hope that no precipitation occurs before the radiation count drops to a safe level. Pete's only concern is for his companion, his burro, Diablo. He and Tony find

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