Saturday, March 4, 2023

Movie Reviews: The World The Flesh and The Devil

The World The Flesh and The Devil
directed by Ranald MacDougall

This is an apocalyptic movie with statements on society, fear, and race. Superstar actor and icon of cool Harry Belafonte also produced the movie. As
 this film was made in 1959, what was then likely daring and risk taking may appear less so to modern eyes. Or not. 

There are certain storylines that Hollywood was and is squeamish about investigating, both in 1959 and in 2023. Still, this film was unusual in featuring a reasonably well developed Black character. 

Extroverted or not we all need some human contact. Ralph Burton (Belafonte) is a mine inspector in Pennsylvania who is investigating a mine tunnel that has been shut down. After a cave-in Ralph can hear people digging to rescue him but then they stop. 

Freeing himself, Ralph returns to the surface. Ralph finds some recent newspapers. There was a nuclear accident or military exchange. An atomic dust cloud has killed everyone. 

Shocked, Ralph travels to New York City. A resourceful intelligent man, Ralph lives in an apartment building to which he has restored power. Ralph spends his days talking to mannequins, playing the guitar, and trying to reach anyone on short wave radio. Ralph is losing his mind. Ralph thinks he's all alone.

But he's not. Ralph becomes aware that Sarah (Inger Stevens)  has survived. Sarah's been watching Ralph. After some hesitation Sarah introduces herself. The two survivors begin a halting friendship. There's no one else around. And there's the problem.

Ralph knows that in the world as it was a woman like Sarah would likely not view him as an appropriate romantic interest. Viewers in 1959 would have been aware that a Black man or boy could be arrested, beaten, imprisoned or lynched merely because a White woman claimed he looked at her. Ralph has internalized certain survival behavior patterns and will not easily let them go.

Sarah is falling in love with Ralph more than Ralph is falling in love with her. At least that's what Ralph says. His true feelings are obvious. However, Sarah is still a woman of her time and is occasionally prone to prejudiced assumptions or gaffes that cut Ralph to the quick. 

Life becomes more complex when Ralph and Sarah discover another survivor, Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Ben immediately sets his sights on Sarah. 

Sarah doesn't dislike Ben (well not that much) but has a preference for Ralph. Short of Sarah throwing himself at his feet, which she won't do, Ralph won't openly admit to liking or loving Sarah. And Ben and Ralph, as you might expect, begin to dislike each other.

I was impressed with the sets, most of which were on location in NYC. The director and cinematographers were able to make NYC look empty, eerie, and deserted. There were realistic looking matte backgrounds and some cool shots that messed with the viewer's perspective.  This looks better than CGI.

Belafonte is one cool dude who is just as convincing arguing with department store mannequins as with Ferrer and Stevens. I thought that I'd lose interest in a movie with only three actors but that wasn't the case. TRAILER