Shibes Meadows, once a pleasant family vacation spot, is taken over by Harry and Rick with military precision. They take down the rustic greeting sign, of course, and then they tear down the small bridge that allows traffic onto the property. Provisions are bundled and buried at various locations to insure they aren't raided for all their food at one time. The trailer is ditched in favor of a cave because rock offers better fallout protection. For Karen, the new dwelling is the last straw: "This whole thing is such a drag!" to which Harry replies, "Will you stop yakking and help us unload."
In a film rife with entertaining absurdities, the scene in which Rick shows his father a neo-hieroglyphic (of a convertible automobile with stick-figures) he has drawn on the wall of their new residence may very well take the prize. Milland's less-than-amused reaction to his son's art work only serve to make the moment even more memorable.
Once the women have set up cavekeeping, Harry makes this post-prayer announcement: "Now, before we start eating, a little family discussion. Maybe we can cope with this (situation) by maintaining our sense of values." If the surroundings didn't make this statement absurd enough, a moment later we learn that these "values" include Harry and Rick shaving every day. This segment, severely retrofitted and cleansed from "Zero's" unofficial source material (Ward Moore's novellas "Lot" and "Lot's Wife"), reflects perfectly the Civil Defense propaganda of the day. In Moore's writings, the father character lives in sin with the daughter while the rest of the family has been ditched.
The following day's CONELRAD bulletin brings a bounty of news:
The United States and Canada have been attacked. Casualties are extremely heavy but no statistics are yet available. Successful counter attacks have been made on European and Asian objectives. At a reorganization meeting of the United Nations, a resolution was introduced whereby these darkest days in the history of civilization will henceforth be designated as the Year Zero. Continued reports of looting are coming in. Such acts are regarded as treason against the United States and those guilty face the death penalty. The President has called upon every American in reestablishing law and order. In his own words, "There are no civilians, we are all at war." Next war bulletin at 11:00.
Harry, distracted perhaps by his impending death penalty for looting, pointlessly repeats the President's message to his son, "They're not kidding, Rick, there are no civilians."
Several days into Year Zero, Ed Johnson, the hardware store owner comes to collect on Harry's IOU. The world of the atomic refugee, it seems, is a small one. Johnson gets the drop on Harry who is out surveying the land. Within seconds, however, Rick rescues his father by sneaking behind Johnson with a shotgun. Johnson asks Harry where he's hiding out. "Never mind" is the quick response. Johnson explains that he just wanted to come visit with his wife sometime. Apparently the Johnsons have discovered the Baldwins' trailer and have been living in it. He then asks if he can buy some food. Harry doesn't reply, just gives him his gun back and sends him on his way.
That night, sitting around a kerosene lamp, Rick exclaims happily, "Nothing like eating under an open sky, even if it is radioactive!"
"Some joke," replies Karen, annoyed.
When Ann ponders aloud about the possibility of their being others they can trust, Rick lets slip the encounter with Johnson. Ann is disturbed by their isolation and Harry is beginning to relent on this formerly non-negotiable issue. The next day Rick and Harry go to make peace with their neighbors, but find them dead from single gunshot wounds. At first the viewer suspects a double suicide triggered at least in part by Harry's cold rebuff. This would have been the more interesting psychological plot development but then this is Sam Arkoff, not Stanley Kramer. As it happens, Harry spies the hipsters from Act I leaving a nearby farmhouse and getting into a van marked "Johnson Hardware." The world just got even smaller.
>Part Four: While Harry and Rick bury the Johnsons...
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