Last Woman on Earth (Roger Corman / U.S., 1960):

The credits are printed on the female form, and suddenly you recall art class, ready to begin a study. Robert Towne's screenplay wasn't yet done when production started, so Roger Corman recruited him as an actor in this post-apocalyptic triangle. The expatriate businessman (Anthony Carbone) pads around Puerto Rico with his trophy wife (Betsy Jones-Moreland) and hostile lawyer (Towne) in sharp scenes reminiscent of Out of the Past and, as the three rent a boat for a bit of scuba-diving, Knife in the Water (vide the husband's pipe-puffing complacence and gadget-futzing). Canny existentialist that he is, Corman unleashes a thrifty armageddon onto his tropical resort: "Something took the oxygen out of the air... and now it's back!" Dodging stingrays when the freak accident took place, the characters find themselves the island's sole survivors; glances of the depopulated town (complete with an out-of-control car with corpse at the wheel) are rapidly sketched, then on to a beachfront home for tensions to simmer and spill over. The last woman on earth is a jaded Eve last seen inside a hollowed-out church, suspended between her husband's '50s macho-entitlement and her lover's budding-hipster nihilism, voiced by the future author of Chinatown: "All that's left for us is to live with our pain." (More Towneisms: "I've so little to say, and no one who'll listen," or "I didn't make my money in one day... You lost it in twenty minutes.") The Day the World Ended, practically, sans monster in order to crystallize the absurdist view of human relations; Corman summons up an absolute abyss out of fern trees and nondescript living rooms, and wraps this micro-masterpiece with an exchange to set the brackish tone for the self-contemplating decades that followed ("Let's go home." "Where's that?"). In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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