Friday, 23 April 2010

Zero Intolerance

Panic In Year Zero 1962 US
Directed by Ray Milland
MGM Midnite Movies DVD Region 1

Wow. Just saw a really interesting movie... so I thought I’d better “blog” about it while it’s still fresh in my mind. Now the only reason I got interested in this movie was because of La La Land Records. I’d not heard of this one until La La Land released a 1200 units limited edition of Lex Baxter’s score last year. I grabbed one quick before they sold out and, as I usually do, got interested in seeing the movie after hearing it.

Now Panic In Year Zero is quite an interesting movie. It stars and was also directed by Ray MIlland. It’s shot for AIP (low budget) in black and white and it’s in a 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. And it’s the kind of film which is completely non-formulaic. It’s actually quite bold and you just don’t know what’s going to happen from one scene to the next. It also doesn’t “quite” have a full resolution either... it almost gets there and one wonders if perhaps AIP just didn’t quite get Mr. Milland enough money to “quite” finish the picture... but either way, a slightly positive and not quite so ambiguous ending for a movie is as good as any other.

The film concerns itself with a typical American family - Ray Milland, his wife, his daughter and his son (played by young heartthrob Frankie Avalon... Grease is the Word!) who leave their Los Angeles home and embark on a road trip to their family vacation. On the way there, a nuclear bomb takes out LA and many other major American and European cities (London and Paris are apparently wiped out completely). And very quickly this film becomes a movie about survival. Not about surviving the nuclear attack but basically surviving the basic, primitive evil of human nature as the many out of town survivors loot and kill and rape and generally make things hard for each other. All the way through, Ray MIlland and co are trying to be morally incorruptible people but it doesn’t take long for that to go pear shaped and pretty soon they find themselves sacrificing their own moral standards and doing some stealing and killing of their own as they attempt to survive the state the world is left in.

This is not big budget action/disaster spectacle (especially not on those old AIP budgets)... this is an interesting study of a typical American family unit as they watch the world around them get all “Lord of the Flies” on their arses! This is a film that, given its context, seems pretty fresh and ahead of its time. I’m pretty certain George A. Romero must have somehow been influenced by the moral philosophising the characters do in this film and took it all in and injected the essence of it into similar scenes in his breakout movie Night of the Living Dead.

To be fair, Les Baxter’s small ensemble jazz score seems a little out of place in certain scenes which may have called for a little more gravitas but... you know... it’s AIP... time is money. It was enough to get me interested in watching at least.

If you want less carnage and more humanity under scrutiny in your post-apocalyptic survival films... then this may not be a bad one to give a spin sometime.


  1. And seeing Jean Hagen in anything, it's a fun entry towards the end of her career. She had a good size role in Bette Davis' 1964 DEAD RINGER (which is jammed full with a name cast for a yawner), and then Jean wound up with a few single-episode TV shows.

    But the long-suffering girlfriend to wounded Sterling Hayden in ASPHALT JUNGLE never topped one of my favorite performances as Lina Lamont in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. The voice with all the personality of a dentist's drill-! What a wonderful performance.

    1. Hi again Chuck,

      Singin' In The Rain is one of my favourites (see the list on the left of this blog).

      It's ironic that in real life she actually dubbed Debbie Reynolds voice in that for real. :(

      Another illusion shattered.