Cast & Crew
After a nuclear blast kills most of the world's population, Roseanne, a pregnant young woman, wanders through a small town, finding only the skeletal remains of the inhabitants. Traumatized, she makes her way to her aunt's country house but discovers that her aunt has died in the disaster and that a young man, Michael Rogin, is now living in the house. When Michael first appears, Roseanne screams and faints. As she wakes up, Michael declares that he recognizes her from photos he found at the house, and Roseanne later explains that the man seen with her in the photos is her husband. Michael tells her that he was operating an elevator at the Empire State Building when the blast occurred, and that he believed that he was the only one alive in all New York City. Roseanne explains that at the fateful moment, she was in the hospital getting x-rayed, and Michael surmises that the lead walls of the x-ray room saved her. The pair set up housekeeping, with Michael, a misanthropic ne'er-do-well from Dartmouth, exclaiming his satisfaction at having a chance to start his life over again close to nature. When Michael tries to kiss Roseanne, she sobs and informs him that she is pregnant. Just then, they hear a car horn honk and go out to meet Oliver Peabody Schaeffer, a banker, and Charles, a black bank cashier, who survived the blast because they were locked in the bank vault. Schaeffer is in a state of delirium, and eventually the telltale signs of radiation poisoning--purplish marks on the skin--become visible. Charles and Michael begin installing a generator and planting crops, and Schaeffer, his condition improving, begs that they take him to the seashore. At the beach, Michael imagines that he can see Coney Island, and just then, the body of a man, Eric, washes up on shore. Eric, an explorer who had been marooned atop Mt. Everest when the blast occurred, found his way across Asia and America by plane, and then finally ran out of gas and crashed. Schaeffer dies, and the group returns to the house. Eric explains that he wants to go to the city where there are food and luxury items, and is disgruntled with the other men's insistence on living the primitive life. Eventually, Eric insists that they go back to the city as they all have a seeming immunity to the radiation, but Michael argues that Roseanne, nearing her term, is not well enough to travel. Eric then displays his virulent racism toward Charles, saying that he cannot stand being so close to a black man, and the two fight. After Roseanne gives birth, Charles offers to leave the house in order to keep the peace. Michael says that they cannot make the same mistakes as those did before them, and he goes to speak to Eric, who promises that his outburst was only the result of tension. Michael asks Eric to join in the work, and Eric agrees, but then sits in the sun smoking cigarettes instead of working. As Michael declares his love for Roseanne one morning, a buzzard flies over head. Charles appears and tells Michael that Eric sabotaged the crops, but Michael, wishing to protect his loved one, tells Roseanne that it was an animal. Sometime later, Roseanne and Michael kiss, but Roseanne accidentally calls him "Steven," her husband's name, then runs away crying. That night, Eric goes to Roseanne's room and tells her that he is going to the city for a few days and that she should come with him to look for her husband. Roseanne hesitates but then decides to go, and the two plan to sneak out of the house and meet on the road. On his way out, Eric encounters a surprised Charles and stabs him to death. The next day, Michael discovers Charles' body, then finds the note that Roseanne left. In the city, Eric and Roseanne drive through burned-out streets, which are littered with skeletons. Roseanne goes first to her husband's former office, an architectural firm, and then to the waiting room at the hospital, where she was being x-rayed. There she discovers her husband's skeleton, shrieks in horror, and returns to Eric. After Eric announces that he has no intention of returning to the country house, he grabs Roseanne, who tries to flee. During the struggle, Eric notices signs of radiation poisoning on his arms and, howling in agony, runs away. Roseanne then makes her way back to the country house, and en route her baby dies. After Michael, who has gone out to search for Roseanne, finally catches up to her, they bury the infant. The couple goes back to the house, and Roseanne helps Michael to replant the crops and thus begin their new life together.
William Jenkins Locy
Louis Clyde Stoumen
Louis Clyde Stoumen
Arthur L. Swerdloff
Frank Lloyd Wright
Arch Oboler's screenplay for Five was an expanded version of a two-character radio play he had written called "The Word." In a few stock shots and photos at the beginning of the film, we are told that a radioactive dust has swept over the globe, killing all animal life and reducing humans to skeletons. In a remote mountainous area near a large city, we see the pregnant Roseanne (Susan Douglas) approach a small futuristic-looking house. There she finds Michael (William Phipps), another survivor. Michael had been alone in an elevator at the top of the Empire State Building, and Roseanne explains that she was at a hospital with her husband, and she had been shielded in a lead-lined X-ray room. Over time, a few other survivors join them: Charles (Charles Lampkin) and Barnstaple (Earl Lee) both worked in a bank and were protected by a vault door, while Eric (James Anderson) washes up on the nearby beach. No sooner does this disparate group come together than conflicts occur. Roseanne is anxious to return to the city to search for her husband, but loner Michael wants to stay far away; he says, "We're in a dead world, and I'm glad it's dead - cheap honky-tonk of a world..." Eric is treacherous and a racist he finds the mere presence of African-American Charles in their group offensive. Michael and Eric also vie for the attentions of Roseanne, but she expresses no interest in them. Some in the group are also doomed due to the lingering effects of radiation.
The shooting location of Five was the remote 360-acre ranch owned by Oboler and his wife Eleanor in Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. The futuristic house seen in the film was the Oboler's guesthouse, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Obolers had commissioned Wright to design a complex of structures on their property, but a gatehouse and the hilltop retreat were the only buildings finished; they were done in the same rubblestone style construction as Wright's famed Taliesin West in Arizona. The sole female cast member, Susan Douglas, told interviewer Tom Weaver (in Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews with Classic SF and Horror Filmmakers), of the Wright structure: "It was a six-or-eight sided house, and all around were big windows, huge I'd never seen that many....It just had sort of like a living room-dining room area, although it wasn't formal like that, it was just a large room. And then one room off it, which was the bedroom, and a bathroom and kitchen. That was it. There was very interesting, very rugged terrain all around us. They wouldn't let me walk anywhere outside alone because there were rattlesnakes. If I wanted to go somewhere, one of the crew members would go with me, with a little pistol."
Shooting with such a small cast and crew in such an isolated, cramped location must have sometimes felt like an extension of the story that was being filmed, and at least on one occasion tempers flared in dramatic fashion. Douglas told Weaver that Oboler had an argument with one of the young crewmembers, Art Swerdloff, that came to fisticuffs, saying "...they hit back and forth both of 'em had a little blood flowing. And it was scary, because we were in such a desolate place there. I was scared by the whole thing. It happened outside, on the balcony of the guest house." The crew then returned for the day to Los Angeles, taking Douglas with them, but everyone came back the next day and the incident was promptly forgotten.
Susan Douglas related another incident during filming that illustrated either Oboler's attention to detail or his recklessness: In a scene in which Douglas' character is running with a baby, "...they gave me a baby! I asked Arch, 'Why are we not using a doll? You can't even see it.' He said, 'No, no. I want you to "feel" this baby.' I said, 'could I meet the mother that's stupid enough to allow an actress to run with a month-and-a-half-old baby?' I mean, I was supposed to fall with the baby! I could never understand that! But Oboler was a stickler for things like that, and I suppose that, if the mother was willing..."
Critics of the day almost unanimously found the film slow and depressing. In the New York Times review, Bosley Crowther wrote of the five survivors that "...these people are such a wretched crew that the skeptic is well provoked to wonder whether it wouldn't be better if everyone were killed. ...The five people whom [Oboler] has selected to forward the race of man are so cheerless, banal, and generally static that they stir little interest in their fate. Furthermore, Mr. Oboler has imagined so little of significance for them to do in their fearfully unique situation that there is nothing to be learned from watching them." TIME Magazine was dismissive, saying that "Five tries to imagine what life would be like for the last five survivors of a worldwide atomic catastrophe. Life, it seems, would be pretty dull." But the reviewer did find some scenes effective, such as the "...well-shot, eerie scenes as the heroine revisits the ghost city in the grotesque attitudes of suddenly interrupted life." Variety found the film "intriguing in theme, but depressing in its assumption," and that the principal criticism of the film was in "its dearth of action."
Several movies followed in the 1950s that also dealt with a handful of human survivors on Earth, and since no way was found to treat the subject matter any more cheerfully than was on exhibit in Five, the critical reaction leveled against this first example now seems overly harsh. Nevertheless, Phil Hardy writes in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies that "Oboler's film is little but a filmed debate about humanity regenerating rather than an account of the inevitable destruction of humanity that atomic warfare must entail. The result is a simplistic film, made even more so by Oboler's arch moralizing about his survivors and which, unlike the similarly intentioned The World, the Flesh and the Devil, is weighed down by its liberal framework. Accordingly, in contrast to Roger Corman's far more exploitative visions of the end of the world (for example, The Day the World Ended, 1955 or The Last Woman on Earth, 1960), the film, despite its seriousness, wears its hearts too much on its sleeve to animate an audience. In short, the film's arguments are too pat and its characters too stereotyped to penetrate the prejudices of its intended audience."
Oboler is clearly aiming for allegory in his treatment of nuclear survivors when he concocts a weapon that disintegrates the flesh of human beings, but leaves other vegetable and mineral matter intact. (Of course, this decision also allows the frugal filmmaker to avoid creating expensive special effects of widespread destruction). In his book Nuclear War Films, Ernest F. Martin calls the movie "fatally flawed" and takes Oboler's intentions much too literally when he says the film "...attempts to depict an outrageously absurd reality of a nuclear aftermath in a romantic, emotional manner, suggesting mankind will continue no matter what." Here Martin seems to dismiss a valid approach to the scenario, although he does emphasize the lack of visual punch in Oboler's film and makes a good point when he writes that "the most moving and effective scene in Five occurred when Eric and Rosanne were moving through a dead city, past busses, cars littered with skeletons, in a macabre search for the girl's husband. Here the film achieves some visual impact."
Oboler continued with a sporadic and peculiar directing career. He returned to the science fiction genre twice; in The Twonky (1953), Hans Conried stars as a college professor doing battle with his living television set, and in The Bubble (1966), a young couple stumble onto a small town which has been encapsulated and turned into a zoo by an unseen alien presence. The latter film was Oboler's second in 3-D. His most successful film was Bwana Devil (1952), which was filmed independently in NaturalVision 3-D and picked up for distribution by United Artists its enormous success at the box-office sparked the 3-D boom of the 1950s.
Producer/ Director: Arch Oboler
Screenplay: Arch Oboler
Music: Henry Russell
Cinematography: Sid Lubow, Louis Clyde Stoumen
Editing: John Hoffman, Ed Spiegel, Arthur Swerdloff
Art Direction: Arch Oboler
Cast: William Phipps (Michael), Susan Douglas (Roseanne Rogers), James Anderson (Eric), Charles Lampkin (Charles), Earl Lee (Mr. Barnstaple).
by John M. Miller
Five - FIVE - Arch Oboler's 1951 Nuclear Holocaust Drama on DVD
They are the first two of the five who slowly converge on the home in wilderness: Roseanne (Douglas), a pregnant woman desperate to know if her husband survived; Michael (Phipps), a working class philosopher ready to build a home far away from the dead cities; Charles (Charles Lampkin), a black ex-G.I. who worked in a menial position at a bank with the aged Mr. Barnstaple (Earl Lee), who has sunk into a state of denial; and German mountain climber Eric (James Anderson), an arrogant racist with delusions of genetic superiority. For all they (or we) know, they are the only humans left alive in world.
Arch Oboler made his reputation as a radio innovator, most notably for his hit series Lights Out, which he wrote and produced. According to Oboler historian Matthew Rovner, Five was in part inspired by his earlier radio play The Word, the story of a newlywed couple who awaken to find they are the only humans left in a deserted New York City after the population mysteriously vanishes. Five is more allegorical than realistic, full of debates on morality and responsibility in the face of human extinction. In one lovely interlude, Charles Lampkin (a jazz musician and Julliard graduate) recites James Weldon Johnson's poem "Creation" while he looks over the potential of the new Eden.
Michael, who was in the Empire State Building when the end of the world came and made his way across the continent to this house on the California coast, has seen the urban devastation and has no interest in entering the cities to scavenge food. The closest he gets is the occasional visit to a local country store for canned goods (the sign in the door reads "Back in 5 minutes," a bit of grim humor in an otherwise humorless film). Think of him as the film's nature boy, eager to return to the earth and turn this outpost into a farm. Eric was at the top of Mount Everest when the bombs hit and he made he way, alone, to the Pacific Ocean and flew solo across the sea (one of the film's biggest stretches in credulity). He's Michael's opposite, a thrill-seeker and a social animal who craves attention and creature comforts. It's like he has no identity outside of civilization and he tries to convince Roseanne to return to the dead city with him, where they can play king of the world amidst the skeletons of the old world. They define the film's philosophical contrast between an existence built on cooperation and community versus the singular desires of the individual acting in his own interests. For her part, Roseanne represents the only hope for the survival of the human race: a fertile womb.
Oboler produced the low budget production himself outside of Hollywood, casting relative unknowns onscreen and drawing his crew from filmmaking students at USC, and largely shot most of the film on his own ranch, predominantly in and around his guesthouse (built by Frank Lloyd Wright), built on a hill overlooking a magnificent forest. For all of his budgetary limitations, it's a strikingly atmospheric and handsome film and Oboler creates an eerie sense isolation with simple techniques. The pristine wilderness looks untouched by man or war, but there are no animals in this Eden, just birds, heard on the soundtrack but never seen. The few city scenes are silent but for a hollow wind, which accentuates the sense of urban desertion and desolation, and empty but for the cars left on the streets and the occasional skeletons of the victims, who seem to have died instantly. And while the film is rife with high-minded debates, the more immediate reality is more often suggested than confronted. Radiation poisoning is a mortal threat and the characters can be seen checking themselves for the telltale sores and boils that will mark their doom. And though it's never stated, Michael's avoidance of the city is likely fueled by his suspicions that radiation is worse in the urban areas targeted by the bombs. Oboler ends the film on a note of hope, but he takes an unexpectedly grim path to it.
The low budget, black and white film, presented in the original 1.33:1 Academy ratio, appears to be mastered from a print with grit in some scenes (it looks like it could have been in the camera negative) and what could be emulsion damage or degradation in other spots, but for the most part it looks fine. The disc features the original trailer and a couple of tongue-in-cheek promotional featurettes for Sony's "Martini Movies" series of releases.
For more information about Five, visit Sony Pictures. To order Five, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker
Five - FIVE - Arch Oboler's 1951 Nuclear Holocaust Drama on DVD
According to onscreen credits, the film's subtitle was "A Story About the Day After Tomorrow." Lines from the poem "Creation" by Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson appear in the opening credits, and a quote from the biblical book of Revelation. 21 appears onscreen at the end. Arch Oboler's first onscreen credit reads: "Produced, written and directed by Arch Oboler." Although Earl Lee's character is listed as "Mr. Barnstaple" in the cast credits, he is called "Oliver Peabody Schaeffer" in the film. Oboler also wrote a radio show similar in theme to Five, which featured Bette Davis. The film was shot at Oboler's 360-acre ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, and "Cliff House," a Frank Lloyd Wright design. Cliff House was the Oboler family residence.
According to correspondence in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Five risked not receiving a code seal because of a "too graphic montage depicting the pangs and struggles of childbirth." No drafts of the script had been received by the PCA, and Oboler, who made the film as an independent venture, stated that, although he could re-edit the film, re-recording the soundtrack would prove too expensive. According to an February 8, 1951 PCA memo, Oboler agreed to distribute the film in the "'art circuit'" without a certificate. The childbirth scene was apparently edited down, but not entirely eliminated. A December 14, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Five was to have its first showing "in early January at Lake Success for a special committee of United Nations delegates," but it has not been confirmed that this screening took place.
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Oboler sold all interest in Five to Columbia, the film's distributor, in 1952. Oboler, a former radio writer, made Bwana Devil, the first feature-length 3-D movie, and also innovated a 3-D process called Space-Vision. Ed Spiegel, Louis Clyde Stoumen and Arthur L. Swerdloff were all former USC students. The onscreen credit for Spiegel, Stoumen, Swerdloff and Sidney Lubow reads "Photography, editing and production assistance through arrangement with Montage Films, Inc."