Movie News & Reviews

When the end is near, there's only one prize

Public perception of science fiction is kinda schizophrenic.

On the one hand it's widely acknowledged as the playground of losers and weirdos, but on the other hand so many people have seen Avatar in the last two months the only explanation is that time travelers from 2020 still can't get in and are sending themselves back to now to see it instead.

I said, the only explanation.

The genre's so ubiquitous we've got a whole convention dedicated to it here in town this weekend.

In honor of RadCon, I present a sci-fi not-classic, 1960's The Last Woman on Earth.

On vacation in Puerto Rico, businessman Antony Carbone, wife Betsy Jones-Moreland, and lawyer Robert Towne return from scuba diving to discover everyone else on earth is dead after a sudden and temporary lack of oxygen.

As Carbone and Towne vie for the last woman's attentions, tensions threaten to turn violent.

OK, so let's say you came up from diving or a particularly deep bath to find society had ended. What would you do? Scream a little, right? Maybe steal some stuff? Run naked down the street? Freak, in other words, the hell out?

In The Last Woman on Earth, they quietly go home and teach themselves to fish. It's a pretty restrained bit of storytelling from director Roger Corman, known for much wilder movies like Death Race 2000, but then again you can't exactly shell out for your freedom-drunk characters to eat Honey Bunches of Diamonds and light cigars with Faberge eggs when your budget's so tight you have a credited cast three whole names long.

Still, even when they're beating each other into blindness no one seems especially upset.

Not to say it doesn't have its excess, both intentional and un-. The fishfight --not a typo -- between Carbone and Towne (who also wrote this, by the way, along with a later movie called Chinatown) predates Beverly Hills Ninja's by several decades. In an early scene, a dead girl is clearly a real extra in one shot and a no-duh dummy in another.

But it's Towne's writing that gives the film its weird power. His dialogue is portentous as the Bible. While The Last Woman on Earth is most certainly a B-movie, by its end the story goes on to allegorize the entire next decade, turning into a pitched battle between blind revolutionaries and the forces of business and order over the only prize that matters: hot chicks.

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com.

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