The World, The Flesh And The Devil (1959)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1959. , . Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, based on the story End of The World by , and the novel The Purple Cloud by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

It’s hard to know what inspired the very strange title, but this is a deeply enjoyable science-fiction thriller with thoughtful elements of social critique. , who also produced, is excellent as a Pennsylvania mine inspector who is trapped underground during a cave-in while a nuclear holocaust wipes out all North American humanity. Making his way to the surface, he goes in search of other survivors, but streets and cars are abandoned and buildings are empty on his drive all the way to New York City.

Belafonte sets up in a nice Manhattan apartment building where he connects a generator and gets the electricity working, and is about to go completely mad speaking to store mannequins when another survivor, a young woman () finds him. They become friends, having dinners together scavenging necessities for each other, but when she broaches the subject of deeper feelings for him, he resists, still angry at a society that no longer exists that could punish him for so dangerous a relationship.

His fears are proven true when a third survivor enters the picture, arrives by boat in the New York City harbour and forms a trio with our protagonists, but things get dicey when he starts making statements to Belafonte about who the right and deserving person is who should be with the one white woman left on earth.

The message is delivered in no uncertain terms, there is no such natural thing as racism and it only exists because of the social context that creates it, removing the oversight of judgmental eyes and inhumane laws leaves no reason standing for why two people who love each other shouldn’t be together. Having that as its emotional core makes it easy to forgive the film’s otherwise silly and impractical attitude towards scientific reality, these people stay surprisingly clean despite the complete breakdown of social order and, in reality, wouldn’t be able to go back to the surface for many, many years after a disaster of the kind being described here.

That’s not important, however, as what makes this film so wonderful is that its thoughtful manner is balanced perfectly with its both eerie and lighthearted vision of the end of the world, presenting a convincingly empty Manhattan through careful early morning shoots and some sturdy visual effects and ending with a cynical pronouncement that, in order to all get along, we might need to start all over again.

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