Radio drama autuer Arch Oboler made a few indie pics between runs of his signature LIGHTS OUT! radio-thrillers.* BWANA DEVIL/’52 retains a measure of fame for starting the ‘50s 3D craze, but this apocalyptic post-nuclear fable may be his most assured pic. The set up is familiar from batches of similar tales, a small group of stragglers try to sort out the why & wherefore of their unlikely survival and figure out what to do next. Complications pile up as class, jealousy & sex (natch) rear their ugly heads, often, as here, with a sole femme forced to fend off multiple suitors. The setting may be post-atomic, but this plays out less like ON THE BEACH/’59 than like Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT/’44. Note the sympathetic black guy (a surprisingly modern non-stereotypical characterization from Charles Lampkin); the Euro-superman racist (James Anderson); even a bare-chested workingman/proletariat type (William Phipps). Alas, no Tallulah Bankhead in this bunch. Instead, we get shy, pregnant Susan Douglas who can’t accept the loss of her husband. The film takes itself very seriously, far more than Hitch’s naughty wartime parable did. Heck, even a square like C. B. De Mille was kidding the idea back in ‘34 with FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE. But on its own simple terms, the story still churns up conflict, especially with the unexpectedly strong filmmaking instincts shown by Oboler who apparently did everything but brew the morning coffee to put this package together. The occasional skeleton corpses aren’t all that scary, but his shot choice and feel for placing his characters against vast landscapes make you want to take another look at his other stuff.
DOUBLE-BILL: *Follow this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HC2mNJcYtvw) to hear THE DARK from Arch Oboler’s LIGHTS OUT radio series. It may well be the creepiest 10 minutes in radio history. Turn up the volume, turn down the lights, and get ready to be afraid. Very, very afraid.