Thursday, February 16, 2012

Beginning of The End c 1957

I'm fairly certain there was no half clothed chick in red laying on the floor at any point in this movie.

To kick the movie off we start with the cliche standard 1950's cookie cutter couple, necking in a convertible. She screams at something or other, but before we can see what caused her blood curdling yowl, the title scrawls across the screen... a typical start to a campy 50's atomic horror film*.  From there we cut to cops driving (or rather - cops parked in front of a screen of moving footage making it look like they are driving) continuing our rather bland beginning to 'the end' until (queue dramatic music Duh duh dun!) one of them sees "something" so they pull over to investigate.  Said cop finds the convertible which is now empty.  Oh no!  Where could they be?  This is where we learn the movie takes place within a couple of hours drive to my neck of the woods - Champaign-Urbana, Illinois!  I don't recall southern Illinois looking exactly like the foothills of California, but it's a movie so we'll go with it.
The cop calls dispatch and dispatch calls a different cop - and he says the whole town of Ludlow has been destroyed!  Amazing right?  Not only because the army is sent to Champaign -Urbana based on this single report but more importantly because we get to see a bird's eye view of this quaint locale... and the beautiful mountains which er... um... dot the plains of Illinois?  Ah, movie magic.
Enter our lead female, journalist Audry Aimes.  She has a giant camera and a bullet bra so impressive you can practically hear the needle scratch off the record when she appears.

See?  I told you - that is one big stinking camera.

She of course becomes entangled with the recently deployed army, but gives her word to military personnel that she won't tell anyone that a whole town of 150 people simply disappeared!  Wait, was it destroyed or did it disappear?  Guess we'll have to wait and see.
The army conducts an "investigation" by interviewing locals, or what's left of them.  Apparently there was a booming noise like thunder and then the phones went out, or something like that sometime early in the morning.  Such detail!  And we all know the only thing that could go 'boom' would be a bomb.  A radioactive bomb?  Despite her promise to keep her yap shut, Audry blabs to her office and has them poke around for her.  They tell her that the only people playing around with anything radioactive is the US Department of Agriculture.  What?  Audry investigates and finds tomatoes the size of beach balls, and the male lead of our scientific tale,  head of the Department of Agriculture, Peter Graves - whom most of us know from Airplane.

Peter Graves: Airplane goofball vs Beginning of The End stud/Nerd Hero

He explains that they used radiation to make giant tomatoes which will, one day, feed the world!  Oh 1950's futuristic problem fixit man, how I adore your optimism.  I am in the future - where the hell are my giant radioactive tomatoes?!  I want to make giant vats of radioactive spaghetti to feed the starving masses!  On second thought, maybe not.

No, this is not a picture of a giant radioactive tomato bred to feed the world.  It is, instead, a locust taco.  You're welcome.

Audry finagles her way into going to the decimated town of Ludlow to take pictures.  It looks strangely similar to photos of real tornado ruins in Kansas or some such place - it couldn't possibly be Illinois!  There are no mountains in the background, I mean zero mountains, not so much as a bump... how odd.  Certainly this has something to do with giant radioactive vegetables.  What other conclusion can you draw?  Audry goes back to the USDAG and talks Peter into going to see the site where a warehouse disappeared.
A warehouse disappeared?  Yes, a warehouse disappeared.  'How convenient' you say... and I agree with you.
Our Audry has never heard the term 'loose lips kill botanists' or... uh....  'loose lips sink ships' because she lets the cat out of the bag - again - about Ludlow to Peter so he'll show her where the convenient warehouse was once located.  Hey, journalism carries a price - military top secrecy be damned!  An out of place deaf botanist goes along for the ride, gee I wonder how long he'll last?
Wait - what is that!?  Is it a giant wooden noise maker?  Yes!  Well no, it's a giant grasshopper making noises like a wooden noise maker.
Hate to say I told you so... but they leave the poor botanist behind.  To die.  Poor guy never stood a chance.
Enter the stereotypical old science guy, the entomologist.  He says the monsters are giant locusts, they must have eaten the giant radioactive tomaters, become giant and radioactive themselves - therefore destroying the warehouse!  Why, the warehouse didn't disappear at all.  It was simply trampled by gargantuan bugs!  Grasshoppers that ate Ludlow!  OMG!!  Sorry, got caught up in the campy drama.  The entomologist and Peter convince the military to go take a look.
Predictably, the grasshoppers attack and eat many of the soldiers.  Despite this set back we are assured that the Illinois National Guard of California can manage the thousands of bus sized locusts ravaging the forests of Illinois.

As is the case with most science fiction radioactive action movies the Military Monkeys are pitted against the Scientific Superiority and we are shown how horribly inadequate our government would protect us without nerds.  Guns aren't working!  Insecticide isn't working!  Firebombs aren't working!  Nerds - what are we to do!?!?  While trite, this scenario provides for the best kind of hero - the Nerd Hero.  Guys like Peter Graves led the way for our modern day Nerd Heroes.  Hello Jeff Goldblum!

I digress.  By now our ginormican locusts have reached the Chicago and are hiding out in the alleys - as though they are just waiting to mug some innocent passerby.  The military wants to evacuate Chicago and drop an atom bomb which leads Audry to estimate there would be one billion dollars of property damage - that's just crazy.

Obligatory King Kong shot.
The army and science geeks combine forces and decide to tranquilize a grasshopper and bring it back to a lab for study, where Peter finds a noise that attracts the grasshoppers.  Giant speakers are affixed to a boat in Lake Michigan, which broadcasts the locust death call so that all locusts are drawn to the lake where they drown.  Our nerd heroes prevail over not only the locusts, but against the simplistic brute force provided by the military showing that we must work together if we are to survive a colossal bug apocalypse.  
Note:  I feel like this movie was really missing a good PeTA demonstration; after all, they would have been outraged at the immoral treatment of destructive, cargo container sized, radioactive locusts - right up until they were eaten by one.  Also - Lake Michigan is evidently full of dead grasshopper carcases.  Anybody want to go for a swim?

*I should mention love old movies, particularly science fiction and horror movies from the 1950's.  This movie was reviewed as a recommendation from Twitter - got a good movie for me to review?  Let me know in a comment!  Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. I would totally watch that movie because they're always so fun. Of course I would be expecting dialog from Peter Graves in the form: Her: Surely those tomatoes can't be safe to eat?! Him: They are and don't call me Shirley. :)

    Oh and locust tacos, yum! LOL!

    Great writeup, I look forward to the next one!