Day the World Ended | 1956 | Roger Corman
What would the apocalypse genre be without the Roger Corman treatment? Sure, movies like "Five" and "Testament" raise thought provoking sociological issues, but Corman goes the extra mile and delivers a radioactive monster. He also gives us a stripper, a geologist, a drunken prospector, a con man and, perhaps most importantly, an army veteran of the H-bomb tests. Like the survivors of the Touch Connors wrestles a knife away from the hookerS.S. Minnow, the last people on earth are a disparate group.

The action begins (or "Ends") with a mushroom cloud. Seconds later the atomic refugees start knocking on the cabin door of Maddison (Paul Birch), the one person who actually prepared for doomsday. The unlikeliest survivors are Tony (Touch Connors) and Ruby (Adele Jergens), a sharpie and a burlesque dancer respectively. When we first see the couple they look like they've just dodged a Manhattan rainstorm, not a nuclear war. Both are dressed to the nines, he in a suit with perfect hair and she in a sequined gown. This, of course, is only a hint of the preposterousness to come.

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A pre-Mannix Mike Connors invests Tony with just the right amount of woefully inappropriate attitude. When Maddison offers him the quite reasonable advice to wash and change into non-contaminated clothing, Tony replies "Sounds like you're used to giving orders. That makes two of us." Absent red lights and a siren, the arrival of the troublemaker character couldn't have been better signaled. Soon enough Tony is starting Elvis-style fistfights in which Connors' stuntman is painfully visible.

And as frequently happens in these post-Armageddon situations, the troublemaker's wandering eye soon locks onto the lovely innocent—in this case, Maddison's daughter, Louise (Lori Nelson). But Rick (Richard Denning), the All-American geologist, is also desirous of her affection. Ruby quickly becomes the "Whore" to Louise's "Madonna" and she revels in the role. In the film's most memorable scene, Ruby does a slinky dance routine for the assembled refugees. In mid grind she pauses and says to Maddison, "...what's my roentgen count? READ ME DADDY!" She's Mae West, Year Zero.

Ruby unwittingly fuels a lot of Tony's self-loathing. Though she loves him unconditionally, she is his constant reminder that he'll never be "respectable." She drinks and smokes—two vices Tony claims he despises (apparently the only two vices). She also throws herself at him every chance she gets. After a particularly pathetic attempt to a kiss him, he sneers back, "you make me sick!" Deep down inside Tony believes that by repopulating the world with Louise he may finally achieve greatness. If they erected a statue for The Postman for delivering a few lousy letters, think of the possibilities.

Lurking in the background of all this sturm and drang is a mutant (Paul Blaisdell) who feasts on irradiated rabbits. This lumbering, mono-visaged beast resembles something one might see at Mardi Gras, but actually serves the film quite well. It's not the visceral punch of witnessing Steve Guttenberg lose his hair in "The Day After," but it's close enough.

The moonshine brewing gold prospector, like Les Tremayne in "The Slime People", seems to be in the movie for comic relief. This is clearly the character for whom the end of the world means the least. In fact, it would seem he has more friends and a better lifestyle AFTER the Bomb than before.

How many characters survive to see the film's ending (or "Beginning")? Not many. A spill off a cliff takes care of one, the rain takes care of another and a bullet eliminates yet one more. It's Darwinism as reinvented and accelerated by Corman. True to the political climate in which this ridiculous script was hatched, though, the movie does reinforce the notion of "survivability." Indeed, anyone from the Eisenhower administration who happened to see this picture probably thought it went above and beyond the call of patriotic filmmaking. After all, the Civil Defense propaganda of the era said that Americans had only to worry about blast and fallout. These people beat blast, fallout AND a radioactive monster.


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