The World, The Flesh and The Devil is a 1959 film of which I had never heard of until it was sent to us to review. It follows a miner who was trapped after a cave-in as he finally frees himself only to discover that the world has drastically changed since he has last seen the light of day.
Ralph Burton (played by Harry Belafonte), of course immediately begins to celebrate when he gets out of the cave in. But he quickly discovers that no one is around, the phones are not working, and the town is completely empty. A newspaper strewn aside claims that a nuclear holocaust had happened and killed everyone on the planet.
Using some quick wit, and his handyman skills, Ralph makes his way into New York City and takes up home in his very own building, getting generators working and restoring power. He spends time searching for other survivors and getting a working radio in the hopes that someone out there will hear him.
In fact, someone does discover him, Sarah Crandall (with two L’s) has been watching Ralph for weeks, not sure if she should approach him or not. In the end, the two meet and a friendship is forged. That is, until another man drifts into the city on his boat and raises tensions in the group. Does he have good intentions? Or is he only looking out for himself?
First off, I want to say that I was thoroughly impressed with this film. It tackles some social issues that are still relevant today, and does so in a way that feels natural to the story (even though it does date itself). Specifically, it deals with racism and the way people of color can interact with white people at the time. Also, it has a lot of things to say about gender. Both topics are still important to this day, even though we have made leaps and bounds of progress since the 50s (we still have a ways to go yet). I really appreciate it’s ability to take on stance on these topics while also being a great movie and not feeling forced.
A lot of that comes from the acting, I believe. Apart from Blackkklansman, I have not seen Belafonte on screen before, but he is a delight to watch, which is good, because a large amount of the time we are watching him interact with his environment and talking to himself.
Inger Stevens was also just wonderful in her role. Her character could have easily been annoying or come across too strong or too weak, but she walked the line perfectly. I look forward to looking into more of her films for sure.
The one weak point in this film for me is the ending. And by that I mean literally the last few seconds of the film. Personally I would have just cut those seconds and let it go, but there was a decision made that sort of resets a thing (I’m trying to be vague here), and I see why they decided to do it, I just wish they hadn’t. This film is still fantastic and worth a watch.
Given the fact that this movie is 69 years old, it is amazing at how good it looks. Of course there is film grain, but the image is still quite sharp (some transitions were on the blurry side, but I would assume that that was by design, or at the very least, a very good coverup of blurry footage). The entire film is in black and white, but contrast is good and the lack of color not only adds to the mood and tone of the film, but also emphasizes the social issues being portrayed.
The audio track is a 2 channel mono track, so it won’t wow anyone or have much depth to it, but while watching the film I never considered it a detracting factor for me. It sounded pretty good for it’s age, and sounds very much like a film of it’s time.
Unfortunately, the only included special feature is the film’s trailer.
Our Recommendation for The World, The Flesh and The Devil:
This film is a joy to watch, covers important and relevant social issues, and has clearly been an inspiration for other post-nuclear and post-apocalyptic films, which says a lot for something that is nearing 70 years old. I would highly recommend this one.