Five (1951)

The first post-nuclear film, and the first to stylishly substitute a number for a letter in the title?

Five” is a very unique post apoc film, and film in general, and the first (that I know of) to portray a post-nuclear apocalyptic setting.  The film is very different from the post-apocalyptic films that followed in that it takes place very soon after the event, and has almost no violent conflict in it whatsoever, save for one very brief scene in which a man is stabbed (but quite mildly, by today’s standards… a decaf stabbing, if you will).

It opens with Rosanne (Susan Douglas Rubes) wandering an abandoned, but otherwise surprisingly intact, post-nuclear United States in a state of detached shock. She calls out occasionally, but no one answers (you wouldn’t either if you saw her… she looks nuts).  There is a notice on a church warning of the possible atomic annihilation of man.  Rosanne makes her way to a house in the hills where she runs into Michael (William Phipps), a soft-spoken, educated man who has established a routine of hunting every day, despite the complete absence of any animal life, and taking small amounts of supplies as needed from a nearby general store.

Michael cares for Rosanne until she improves from completely comatose to generally distant and uninteresting… and then she reveals that she is pregnant.  Eventually, two travelers in a jeep join the most exciting couple since American Gothic: Charles (Charles Lampkin) and his elderly boss, the banker Oliver P. Barnstaple (Earl Lee). It turns out that each of them survived in unique ways: Rosanne was in a lead lined x-ray room at a hospital, Michael was in an elevator in the empire state building, and Charles and Oliver were in the vault at their bank (was it a lead lined vault? Was Michael’s elevator above the radiation?  As you’ll see, none of this really matters…). What DOES matter is that none of them survived by hiding in a refrigerator.

Much of the film features long discussions by the protagonists about their lives before the disaster and what life will be like moving forward.  There is very little actual survival shown, as everyone seems to have everything they need.  There is a freshwater spring  and waterfall right outside the house (suspiciously convenient…but perhaps this is why Michael chose the house) that provides drinking water, laundry, and bathing, and they plant a crop of corn to supplement the food at the general store. Neither the water or soil seem to be irradiated.

The houses, cars, forests, and even the bodies of the deceased, are noticeably undisturbed and unburned, and no one ever speaks of blast waves or fires, so we can assume that, much like in “The Noah”, the bombs that were used were largely radioactive in nature, thus exposure was the main cause of death.  It was great enough to wipe out all animal life, yet plants seem to be doing okay, as do our protagonists…until Mr. Barnstaple decides to die from radiation poisoning, which Michael recognizes from having read articles on the survivors of the Hiroshima bomb. However, if Michael had was aware of Hiroshima and, I assume, Nagasaki, would he not be curious about the lack of destruction, or the inconsistent effects of said radiation?  For the sake of the narrative, neither is ever mentioned.

At the same time Oliver dies, the three find a replacement washed up on a nearby beach.  The man, Eric (James Anderson) is a worldly thrill-seeker with an awkward, unrecognizable accent and an oily smarm that lets you know right away what corner of the alignment chart he belongs on.  I’m not sure what nationality James was going for here, but he comes off just sounding like a douche – which fits.  He begins to move in between Michael and Rosanne (she is, after all, the only game in town) and consistently voices his distaste for Charles’ race (African-American). While Michael and Charles work to build a second house, work the corn crops, and establish power by way of an electric generator, Eric makes trips into the city to look for survivors, and drives the jeep (which somehow hasn’t run out of gas over the course of many months) through their corn crop… like I said – douche.

Rosanne gives birth (and we finally hit 5 party members), and El Douchacabra takes advantage of her fragile emotional state to suggest they go into the city to see if Rosanne’s husband is still alive. He postulates that they must be immune to the radiation since it hasn’t affected them yet, but Michael argues that the radiation is likely more dense in the cities, and that it would be too dangerous to attempt. Obviously, Eric is only trying to manipulate Rosanne into leaving Michael so he can claim her as his own.  Eventually, she relents, and they steal away in the night… but not before Eric stabs and kills Charles… douche!

Once in the city, Eric seems preoccupied with collecting valuables, despite them having no real inherent value in this world (pretty standard douchery).  Rosanne begins searching for her husband, and eventually finds his remains (a perfectly bleached skeleton in undisturbed clothing – this is really how people died in the 50s). Eric suddenly realizes he is suffering from radiation poisoning, and has one of the funniest freakouts I’ve ever seen in any film (NNNNYYYAAAAAAHHHHH!  NNNYYEEAAAHHH!). He runs off into the city, and Rosanne decides to make her way back to Michael on foot, because the magic jeep suddenly won’t start.

Unfortunately, her baby dies along the way (presumably from radiation?), and Michael discovers her by the roadside again in lala-land. The film ends with Michael and Rosanne replanting their corn crop – a new Adam and Eve, but without any animals to name (no snake to screw it up this time?).

That said, why are we to believe that they are the last people on earth?  Every review and synopsis I’ve read has the phrase “the last five people on earth”, but there is no evidence for that in the film.  In fact, if these five people were from the same general area, and found one another within the span of nine months, probability would dictate that there have GOT to be more survivors, and possibly more radiation-immune survivors out there.

While not a typical post-apocalyptic movie, “Five” is a very unique experience, and an enjoyable philosophical look at the value of life and one’s place and purpose in a post-apocalyptic world. While there is no real villain in the film, Eric is the clear antagonist, but he is easy to hate for all the wrong reasons.  Instead of coming off as evil, he’s just a… yeah, that’s been established.  He’s not, in the slightest, interesting or charismatic, and James Anderson, despite his prolific career, is without a doubt the worst actor in the film (sorry James).

Michael and Rosanne aren’t really compelling protagonists either, with Phipps’ heavy handed overacting and Rubes’ vacancy (her personality, not her womb). The one character I really latched onto was Charles. Charles Lampkin does such an amazing job conveying a combination of stifled sadness and genuine hope and optimism that you forget you’re watching an actor at all. His descriptions of his life before the disaster and his discussions with Michael are so rich and real that they are easily the most compelling scenes in the entire movie.

If you’re hoping for the standards tropes of scavenging and survival, you won’t find them here.  There are two guns in the entire film, and neither one gets fired.  It is never revealed where they get the fuel for the generator or the jeep, and they never run out of supplies.  As a philosophical journey, however, the film works.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

Moral Of The Story: KILL THE DOUCHE EARLY… before he drives a jeep through your corn, kills your best friend, and steals your lady.

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