Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Panic in Year Zero!

Panic in the Year Zero! ~ When you read the TCM description for Panic in Year Zero! - "A California family try to survive looters, armed vigilantes and doped-up motorcycle punks as they flee a nuclear disaster in Los Angeles and head to their remote vacation spot." - it conjures visions of The Road Warrior or The Hills Have Eyes, right? But then there's the kicker, Panic in Year Zero! was made and released in 1962.

Panic was shot in black and white and directed by star Ray Milland, his debut as a director, and with themes close to his heart. The movie was written by John Morton and Jay Simms, yet bears a remarkable resemblance to the "Lot" and "Lot's Daughter" short stories by Ward Moore, for which he has never received official credit. The parallels are however obvious.

The jazzy upbeat score was equally iffy, by the controversial Les Baxter, which means it may really have been done by Nelson Riddle or someone else. The rumor was that Baxter couldn't read or write music and that many of his scores were ghost written. This one has that Riddle flavor, reminiscent of the "Batman" TV series, either way, the soundtrack is very good.

As in the description, Milland and his family are headed to a nice vacation when they hear on the radio that LA has been nuked. Milland plays a man obsessed with survival and every man for himself. To quote his character, the incredibly resourceful yet obsessed Harry Baldwin, "When civilization gets civilized again, I'll rejoin it." This movie, especially the shopping sequence, probably makes the survivalists very happy.

Frankie Avalon, in a studio bid for a different audience, is his son. He doesn't do much at first other than "Yes, Dad" but he comes along to be just as nuts as Dad. Avalon does get a little acting in when a girl he's not related to shows up. A young version of character actor Richard Bakalyan plays one of the thugs that terrorize the family. The women in the flick unfortunately are victims of its time, and thought of as helpless or possessions.

The movie does fall apart a little bit when coincidence brings most of the cast, good and bad, all to the same place. And we never do quite reach the madness or brutality of Road Warrior or Hills, but certainly the potential and possibility are here. All in all, this is not only a more than average entry from American International, but an excellent look at what it really might be like in this situation. Definitely worth a look.

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