I understand that the movie-house biz isn’t doing so well. Looking through my trade magazines, I found some pretty alarming statistics. During the War, Americans spent about a quarter of their recreation budget on movies. Now, we spend just 5% in the cinemas. Movie revenues are down a third, from $1.4 billion to $950 million. Only half as many films are coming out this year as did during the War–200 versus 400.
The causes of film’s decline aren’t too hard to discern. Television is free and constant. More homes have air conditioning. Going to the movies isn’t such an event anymore.
Not that the film parlors haven’t tried. Cinescope. Cinerama. Aroma-rama! Double features. Drive-in viewing. Nothing’s working.
Well, never let it be said that the Journey shirks its civic duty. Thus it was that the Traveller and his family all went to see the Roger Corman double-feature at the local movie palace.
Yes, you heard right. They billed a Corman B-movie with…another Corman B-movie! Boy are we gluttons for punishment. Actually, the experience wasn’t so bad. We’d heard that his Little Shop of Horrors was a clever little comedy, and we weren’t disappointed.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, for Shop was the second feature on the billing. Number one was:
This is a post-apocalyptic film, a genre that is booming these days. In Woman, some sort of bomb or act of God momentarily destroys all free oxygen in the atmosphere, killing humanity and most of Earth’s animal life. A crooked billionaire, his beautiful and disillusioned wife, and his nebbishy young attorney manage to survive the end of the world thanks to some timely scuba diving off the coast of Puerto Rico.
In the first 15 minutes of the movie, we get to meet the three protagonists as they are in the civilized world. Harold is a rich cynic who takes nothing very seriously, including his wife. He spends much of his life drinking, gambling, and making his fortunes. Martin is Harold’s lawyer. His defining trait seems to be caution. And then we have the lovely Evelyn, who is tired of being ignored, tired of being kept at arm’s length from her new husband. She makes a pass at Martin in just the second scene, though it’s hard to see what the attraction is, other than convenience.
Then comes the disaster. The characters emerge from the water and take in lungfuls of air that do not satisfy. Matches don’t light. Engines don’t catch. When the trio gets back to town, everyone is suffocated. It’s really quite nicely done.
The three take refuge at a swank residence with enough food and booze to last months, if not years. Sounds idyllic… except Harold is a rolling stone, a man of action. He worries about disease and wants to look for other survivors. What made him venal and dirty in the old world makes him a natural leader in the new one. One can’t help but like him.
Except Martin doesn’t much like him. Under the new conditions, Martin sees no reason to follow the driven Harold.. And Evelyn sees the catastrophe as a sort of liberation, a chance to start anew. With Martin.
Martin and Evelyn consumate an affair, and Harold exiles his attorney from their little paradise. Martin leaves…with Evelyn, and the pair plan to steal Harold’s yacht and make for Florida. But Martin is not really a rebel–more of a depressive. His basic pessimism and lassitude become evident when he rejects Evelyn’s suggestion that they start a family, and she starts to have second thoughts about their relationship.
Then Harold shows up, and we are treated to a long chase and fight scene in which Harold mortally wounds Martin. This leaves Harold and Evelyn a couple by default, if a rather shaky one.
I like dramas in a bottle, and I like post apocalyptic stories. This one had its issues, however. It’s not so much bad as it is disappointing. The film sort of fizzles out halfway and never does much with its material. It doesn’t help that two of the three characters aren’t very likable, and the fellow who plays Martin isn’t much of an actor. The ending is a letdown, too; I think it would have been more compelling if Harold had let the others go, with Evelyn ultimately returning to her husband.
Of course, the real issue is that this movie has been done before, and better: The World, The Flesh, and The Devil.
But, if nothing else, it is a lovely film. Corman makes expert use of the local scenery: beaches, forest, a coastal fort. I can only imagine that he had other business on the island. There’s no way he’d have the budget to head out there otherwise!
Stay tuned for Little Shop of Horrors in a couple of days…