The first post-nuclear apocalyptic film I ever saw was Five, or 5ive, which was on television one evening back when showing a movie on TV was a big deal. Mom let me stay up. I remembered the general plot (but not the characters’ names). There was one man (Michael), more or less the hero, in a beach house. A pregnant woman (Roseanne) found him. He was attracted to her, but she was hoping that somehow her husband also survived. An affable old white man (Oliver) and a young black man (Charles) showed up, saying they had survived the radiation inside a bank vault. Then they found a man washed up on shore (Eric). He had been climbing a mountain when it happened. It was implied that these were the last five people on earth. Or six if you count the unborn child.
Four of them were trying to survive, grow crops, etc, but Eric was nothing but trouble. Oliver succumbed to radiation sickness. I remember him saying, “It looks like I’m bleeding under the skin,” while Roseanne swallowed back a sob. Michael and Charles buried Oliver. The baby was born – I think it was a boy. Eric hated Charles for being black almost as much as he hated to work. He got drunk and drove a jeep over their crops. He stabbed and killed Charles. He argued that since they hadn’t died, they all must be immune to radiation, and convinced Roseanne to leave with him to look for her husband. Eric wanted her, but mostly wanted to loot the stores. When Roseanne found her husband, he was just a skeleton in a suit. Eric saw that he had radiation sickness and ran away screaming. She returned to Michael, but on the way bathed her baby in a stream. Later it started to cry. She was flustered and tried comforting him, but eventually he died. So the film ended with just Roseanne and Michael.
Promotional posters made 5ive seem like a sexy potboiler with a love triangle – I had forgotten the scene where Michael tries to seduce Roseanne – but reviewers said the characters were flat and spent a lot of time reciting deep philosophical thoughts. TCM claims 5ive was the original post atomic bomb movie. It was subtitled ‘A Story About the Day After Tomorrow’ (the 1983 post-apocalyptic tv movie with Jason Robards was called The Day After). It was shot in 1951 at Eaglefeather, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed cliff house that belonged to the writer-director, Arch Oboler. Film code officials objected to the realistic depiction of Roseanne’s labor, so some of that scene was cut, and 5ive was distributed as an art-circuit film.
Writer and Director Arch Oboler started in radio, and had already destroyed the world once – in the ‘Chicken Heart’ episode of Lights Out that was lampooned by Bill Cosby. He often worked anti-Fascist propaganda into his stories. Three of the actors were former USC film students. William Phipps (Michael) started in cheap scifi flicks but had a long acting career. Susan Douglas Rubes (Roseanne) worked on Broadway, in soap operas, and on network television and founded Young People’s Theatre. Earl Lee (Oliver) had a very brief career and died the day I was born. James Anderson (Eric) played a lot of cowboys, and even a farmer in To Kill a Mockingbird. Charles Lampkin (Charles) convinced Oboler to include lines from the poem “Creation” by Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson in the opening. If you can trust wikipedia, Lampkin has the distinction of being the first African-American actor in a substantial role on a Hollywood movie that was not playing a singer, dancer, athlete or buffoon. (The Emperor Jones was made outside the Hollywood system). Lampkin was a debater, musician, lecturer, actor and once directed Paul Robeson in a concert.