director Arch Oboler
A few weeks back (maybe more like months in reality) I noticed a film called The Twonky (1953) at the local Roxie Theater. While I couldn’t make it to that, I did look it up to see if it was available on Netflix’s ever expanding dearth of content, only to find one other film by writer/director Arch Oboler available, his 1951 post-apocalyptic film, Five.
I really don’t think that I’d heard of Oboler before. Not entirely sure, but pretty sure. He started out in radio and apparently some of his best work was in that medium. But he moved to film and television, and I must say, despite some comparisons to Orson Welles, he’s a fairly obscure kind of guy. Though he was also an inspiration for The Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling.
Anyhow, it sounded interesting.
Five is also noted for being potentially the first feature film made about post-nuclear apocalypse. Which actually does interest me. Growing up in the latter part of the Cold War era, apocalypse was generally associated with nuclear war, and even seemed to imbue post-apocalyptic films not explicitly about nuclear war’s aftermath.
What’s most interesting about Five, I think, is how it feels like an independent film, not part of the Hollywood machinery. From the low-key natural landscapes to the character actor primaries largely unrecognizable today, it has a vibe, narrative and visual style unlike anything part of the more standard Hollywood or science fiction realm.
The film depicts a group of five survivors, surviving to varying degrees, and their real, practical approach to carrying on with human life. The film was shot in and around Oboler’s own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, and lead William Phipps is getting to work trying to grow food to eat. He meets a straggling, pregnant woman (the only woman of the five), and eventually the others as well and takes them in. Casting an African-American, Charles Lampkin, as one of the survivors, Oboler addresses racism inherent to his film’s villain, but was probably quite a statement in 1951 as well.
In truth, the film’s unusual tone and style set it apart more than the narrative itself. The drama is simple human drama with racism, greed, and sexuality as primary motives of villainy. It’s quite low-key, interesting but never spectacular or sadly even fascinating.
Still, quite an interesting find. Interesting in a number of various ways.