The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

95 mins | Drama | May 1959

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was The End of the World. The film ends with the words "The Beginning" on the screen. According to press material written by director Randall MacDougall, the 1901 novel on which the film was loosley based, The Purple Cloud, by Matthew Phipps Shiel, was purchased by a major studio in 1927. MacDougall called the novel "one of the first to concern itself with man's growing capacity to utterly destroy himself." According to various news items, Paramount planned to make the film in 1940 under the title The Last Man in the World and was negotiating for René Clair to direct and Conrad Veidt to star.
       Following the atomic bombings in Japan in August 1945, a number of producers were preparing films to deal with the subject of the end of civilization, including Frank Capra, M-G-M and Hal Wallis. When Paramount, in Dec 1945, decided to revive the Shiel project, using a script by James Hilton based on the novel, LAEx commented, "Stand back, boys! Now it's Paramount throwing another bomb into the atomic story ring." At that time, Zoltan Korda was to direct and Ray Milland to star. In Aug 1950, LAT announced that George Pal planned to make a film for Paramount based on Hilton's script. According to MacDougall, Sol Siegel purchased the rights to the novel in 1956 and decided to marry concerns about racial tensions to those in the novel about survivors in a world nearly destroyed. (The three characters in the original novel were Caucasians.) According to MacDougall, "Siegel felt strongly, as do many ...

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The working title of this film was The End of the World. The film ends with the words "The Beginning" on the screen. According to press material written by director Randall MacDougall, the 1901 novel on which the film was loosley based, The Purple Cloud, by Matthew Phipps Shiel, was purchased by a major studio in 1927. MacDougall called the novel "one of the first to concern itself with man's growing capacity to utterly destroy himself." According to various news items, Paramount planned to make the film in 1940 under the title The Last Man in the World and was negotiating for René Clair to direct and Conrad Veidt to star.
       Following the atomic bombings in Japan in August 1945, a number of producers were preparing films to deal with the subject of the end of civilization, including Frank Capra, M-G-M and Hal Wallis. When Paramount, in Dec 1945, decided to revive the Shiel project, using a script by James Hilton based on the novel, LAEx commented, "Stand back, boys! Now it's Paramount throwing another bomb into the atomic story ring." At that time, Zoltan Korda was to direct and Ray Milland to star. In Aug 1950, LAT announced that George Pal planned to make a film for Paramount based on Hilton's script. According to MacDougall, Sol Siegel purchased the rights to the novel in 1956 and decided to marry concerns about racial tensions to those in the novel about survivors in a world nearly destroyed. (The three characters in the original novel were Caucasians.) According to MacDougall, "Siegel felt strongly, as do many historians, that these two problems are interrelated and that we must solve both in order to solve either." Siegel formed an alliance with Harry Belafonte's new company, Harbel Productions, in 1957 to produce the film.
       MacDougall explained the concept of the film, as worked out between himself, Siegel and producer George Englund, as that of "the spirit of man is indomitable, unconquerable and impervious to either the threat, or actuality of the ultimate destruction." He wrote that the film "makes no pretense of solving the problems of man" and described the climax as "a reaffirmation of the truism that force solves nothing." In a letter published in LAMirror-News, following the release of the film, independent producer Arch Oboler related that he heard that an "indecisive ending" was forced on MacDougall. Oboler also pointed out that "certain aspects" of this film "are somewhat similar" to his 1951 film Five, which also had as a character an African-American survivor of a nuclear holocaust (See Entry for more information on that film).
       Time stated that the ending "was reshot after a big front-office foofaraw." A Nov 1958 NYT article on the film related that location shooting had taken place in New York a year earlier, and studio work in Hollywood was completed in Jun 1958, but a decision was made to return to New York to reshoot some of the material. MacDougall stated at that time, "Some of the stuff we had for our ending as well as the footage in other parts of the film done in Hollywood was not so powerful and authentic as the material we got here [in New York] last year. So, we decided to try again." In a LAEx article, MacDougall commented, "The precise ending must take place in the minds of those who see the picture. It was not our purpose in making the picture to tell people what to think. They must think for themselves." According to a biography of Belafonte, he and co-stars, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer were not satisfied with the treatment of racial issues in the film and complained to Siegel during production.
       Reviews generally admired the quality of the production, but criticized the ending and the handling of the racial conflicts. LAMirror-News wrote that the film "soon bogs down in a standardized Hollywood plot of racial issues and the old triangle." Time complained that "the grand drama of humanity's survival collapses into an irrelevant wrangle about racial discrimination that has no...real significance." SatRev wondered, concerning the ending, "Are we to assume that some sort of polygamous arrangement has been worked out, or will the three henceforth lead entirely sexless lives, thus dooming both white and colored races to extinction? No answer being given, we must assume that the color question was injected into the story more as a gimmick than out of any real seriousness."

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
PERSONAL & COMPANY INDEX CREDITS
CREDIT
HISTORY CREDITS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Jun 1959
pp. 346-47, 378-80
Box Office
13 Apr 1959
---
Box Office
20 Apr 1959
---
Cue
23 May 1959
---
Daily Variety
8 Apr 1959
p. 4
Film Daily
10 Apr 1959
p. 8
Harrison's Reports
11 Apr 1959
pp. 58-59
Hollywood Citizen-News
30 May 1959
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 1940
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1959
p. 3
LAMirror-News
14 Mar 1959
---
LAMirror-News
1 Jun 1959
---
LAMirror-News
17 Jun 1959
---
Los Angeles Examiner
18 Dec 1945
---
Los Angeles Examiner
24 May 1959
sec. 7, p. 1, 4
Los Angeles Examiner
30 May 1959
sec. 2, p. 3
Los Angeles Times
12 Aug 1950
---
Los Angeles Times
30 May 1959
pt. I, p. 9
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
11 Apr 1959
p. 219
New York Post
21 May 1959
---
New York Times
2 Nov 1958
---
New York Times
21 May 1959
p. 35
New Yorker
30 May 1959
---
Saturday Review
2 May 1959
---
The Exhibitor
8 Apr 1959
pp. 4573-74
Time
1 Jun 1959
---
Variety
8 Apr 1959
p.6
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Screen story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Inger Stevens' ward selected by
MUSIC
SOUND
Rec supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hair styles
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the novel The Purple Cloud by Matthew Phipps Shiel (London, 1901).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
SONGS
"Gotta Travel On," words and music by Paul Clayton, "Fifteen (Sixteen--Eighteen)" words and music by Alan Greene.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The End of the World
Release Date:
May 1959
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Cleveland: 23 Apr 1959; New York opening: 20 May 1959
Production Date:

Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Loew's Inc., Sol C. Siegel Productions, Inc. & Harbel Productions, Inc.
31 December 1958
LP12826
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
process lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
95
Length(in feet):
8,509 , 8,551
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19049
SYNOPSIS

In Pennsylvania, a black mining engineer Ralph Burton, is trapped in a cave-in for five days when the tunnel he is inspecting collapses. When sounds of rescue work cease, Ralph, in a rage that he is being left to die, digs until he reaches a ladder and climbs out. He finds the mine deserted, then sees newspaper headlines reading, "U.N. Retaliates for Use of Atomic Poison" and "Millions Flee from Cities! End of the World." In the deserted town, Ralph hotwires a car, then drives to New York City, but finds the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel clogged with empty cars. At a shipyard, Ralph finds a motorboat, which he navigates to the city docks. Ralph's shouts through empty streets bring only echoes, and at a vacant church, he cries in anguish. At a radio transmitting station, he listens to a recording of a broadcast in which he learns that a war started when a rogue nation began using radioactive isotopes to poison the world. Ralph fears that he may be the only person left alive in the world, but after he surveys his domain from the top of the Empire State Building, a white woman, Sarah Crandall, surreptitiously follows him to an apartment building he uses as his new home. Over the next few weeks, Sarah watches unnoticed as Ralph fixes up the building. He acquires two mannequins, whom he names "Snodgrass" and "Betsy," and talks to them. With a generator and a truck engine, Ralph lights the street lamps on the block on which he lives. When, in a fit of pique, he throws "Snodgrass" from a balcony to the ...

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In Pennsylvania, a black mining engineer Ralph Burton, is trapped in a cave-in for five days when the tunnel he is inspecting collapses. When sounds of rescue work cease, Ralph, in a rage that he is being left to die, digs until he reaches a ladder and climbs out. He finds the mine deserted, then sees newspaper headlines reading, "U.N. Retaliates for Use of Atomic Poison" and "Millions Flee from Cities! End of the World." In the deserted town, Ralph hotwires a car, then drives to New York City, but finds the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel clogged with empty cars. At a shipyard, Ralph finds a motorboat, which he navigates to the city docks. Ralph's shouts through empty streets bring only echoes, and at a vacant church, he cries in anguish. At a radio transmitting station, he listens to a recording of a broadcast in which he learns that a war started when a rogue nation began using radioactive isotopes to poison the world. Ralph fears that he may be the only person left alive in the world, but after he surveys his domain from the top of the Empire State Building, a white woman, Sarah Crandall, surreptitiously follows him to an apartment building he uses as his new home. Over the next few weeks, Sarah watches unnoticed as Ralph fixes up the building. He acquires two mannequins, whom he names "Snodgrass" and "Betsy," and talks to them. With a generator and a truck engine, Ralph lights the street lamps on the block on which he lives. When, in a fit of pique, he throws "Snodgrass" from a balcony to the pavement below, Sarah, thinking Ralph has jumped, screams. He confronts her and she explains she survived the catastrophe by taking refuge in a decompression chamber. As time goes on, the two become friends, but when Sarah suggests she move into his building, he says facetiously that people might talk. Ralph, who spends much time rescuing books from the library, advises Sarah to stay busy also. She explodes, saying she is "free, white and 21" and will do as she pleases. Upset at the remark, Ralph is further irritated when she talks about love and marriage. He tells her not to push him, then reminds her that he is "colored," a "Negro," "nigra," or "nigger," depending on who is speaking, and that in normal circumstances she would not know him because of his race. She breaks down in tears, but a few days later, Ralph brings her a diamond from Harry Winston and a newspaper headline he has printed proclaiming her birthday. That night, he plays doorman, maitre d', waiter and singer at a club to celebrate Sarah's birthday, but when she asks him to sit with her, he says he is not permitted to sit with customers and refuses her request to dance. Replying that she has pride also, she walks out. Later, Sarah calls Ralph to tell him that she has seen a boat in the East River. On it they find Benson Thacker, arriving from the Southern hemisphere in a state of exhaustion. Once Ben recovers, following a week of care from Ralph, he gets the impression that Ralph is deliberately leaving him and Sarah together. Ben thanks Ralph for the clear field regarding Sarah, but Ralph, who dislikes Ben for his condescending attitude, says that while he will not get in his way, he also will not get out of it. Peeved at Ralph, Sarah tells Ben he can kiss or make love to her, and they kiss, but she breaks away and drives off. Two weeks later, Sarah brings Ralph flowers. Ralph admits that he loves her, but when she confides that Ben has asked her to move in with him, Ralph stoically calls Ben a good man. Angry about Ralph's complacency, Sarah invites Ben to her apartment, but when he crudely suggests they have sex, Sarah declines. Unable to decide how she feels about either man, Sarah surmises she should go away alone, but Ben, saying he will make the decision for her, goes to Ralph's apartment with a gun and orders him to move on. Ralph refuses, and as he goes to meet Sarah outside the building, Ben shoots at him with a rifle from above. Ralph takes a rifle from a gun store, and throughout the night, they chase each other through the city, exchanging gunfire. At daybreak, as they reach the United Nations Building, Ralph looks up and sees an antiwar inscription written on the building. He then disposes of his gun, and after Ben follows suit, Sarah finds them. Ralph is about to leave them, saying he has work to do saving whatever he can, when she asks him not to go and puts out her hand, and he takes it. She then calls out to Ben, who takes her other hand, and the three walk together.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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