Day the World Ended was Roger Corman’s third official film as a director and his first major foray into the realm of science-fiction. Corman has quite rightly become a cult hero, the messiah of low budget guerrilla filmmaking. But I’m under no illusion that his greatest contribution to cinema came as a producer. There is an easy temptation to be overly generous towards Corman’s 1950’s productions because of the esteem that enthusiasts of genre cinema hold him in. This is often the same attitude taken toward AIP, the production company to which Corman had an intimate relationship. Whereas most directors would be pilloried for amateurishness, Corman’s brand of amateur filmmaking is celebrated. But in the case of Day the World Ended the incompetence of the novice filmmaker is not alleviated by an intelligent screenplay, nor is it saved by an enthusiastic tone - the film is actually incredibly ponderous and suffers from a solemnity that becomes quite irritating at times. I understand that the end of the world is a serious matter, but Lou Rusoff’s screenplay makes no effort to lighten a leaden tone. One would imagine that working within such a sombre and ominous framework the film would be afforded the philosophical and metaphysical insights of serious drama. Instead it opts for the sensational and ultimately comes across as a stupid and empty rip off of Arch Oboler’s far superior Five (1951).
As is often the case with low budget 50’s B movies the tone is lightened with unintentional hilarity. This is provided by some abysmal dialogue, a couple of uproarious fistfights (replete with shaking walls) and a bug eyed, steel clawed, radioactive monster that is mercifully kept off screen as long as possible. The film seems intent on communicating to the audience that this should be taken completely seriously. Rusoff’s screenplay goes as far as including a spiritual subtext, with biblical proclamations vying for screen time with an Adam and Eve finale. Corman illustrates his contempt for the audience’s intelligence by ending the film with “The Beginning” emblazoned on the screen as the hero and heroine stroll off into the fallout of the future. One of the more amusing aspects of this film is seeing the attempts of the filmmakers to provide gravitas in the face of rampant sensationalism and exploitation. To be fair they give it a go, and even in his filmmaking infancy Corman shows a talent at bridging these two seemingly opposing forces.
© Shaun Anderson 2011