Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Blade Of Grass (1970) With Lynne Frederick

This rare film is finally coming out on DVD on an on-demand basis from one of the production houses, I think.

I've heard good things about it -- and I'm a Lynne Frederick fan -- so I didn't want to wait to see it.

Can't reveal my sources but it's out there.

Directed by Cornel Wilde the actor, No Blade Of Grass (1970) is a post-apocalyptic freak-out.

Sadly, it's also a trainwreck. Read on.

The IMDB listing says the film runs 96 minutes but the cut I watched was only 85 minutes long. Not sure what I'm missing or if there are multiple cuts of this feature.

The film opens with a very-Seventies style montage of starvation-and-suffering scenes over a fairly wretched Roger Whittaker song on the soundtrack. Seems a virus is wiping out the world's grass supply. Can a famine be far behind?

John Custance (Nigel Davenport) takes his wife out of London as the news of riots plays over the car radio. I guess that the film-makers didn't have a large budget as things seem very mellow in these scenes. I reckon that the real events would have driven people mad into the streets.

Meanwhile, daughter Mary (Lynne Frederick) is urging her boyfriend to take her virginity before the shit hits the fan. Again, the scenes are so underplayed that the effect is like something from an Ed Wood film. Sure, the actors are of a higher caliber here, but there's no sense of doom in this film. It's all a bit dream-like instead.

The one on-camera riot is a decidedly small affair, though it was probably big budget for 1970. It reminded me of the battle scenes in some of the Planet Of The Apes pictures, as the budgets dwindled with each so-called epic release in the series.

Custance goes to an old man (George Coulouris) to buy firearms. When the guy asks Custance for a permit, things turn into a hold-up. Given the rioting in the streets, the scene is odd. Wouldn't this London gun shop have been ransacked by mobs by the time this scene occurs?

Soon, there are more people in the caravan heading north and when Dad Custance shoots an army officer who was about to shoot an angry citizen, you know things will only get worse.

Still, what's missing is character development of any kind. Watching the father shoot the soldier has little effect on the viewer. There's been no real build-up to get the viewer on the side of the family, and little information provided about the father's background. We don't get a sense of the father being pushed to the edge to resort to murder, nor do we understand just how bad things are that the soldier was about to kill an unarmed citizen. It's just empty spectacle and plot device.

Anthony May and Wendy Richard as a crass couple provide a bit of life to the proceedings as the tension between the two of them and the uptight Davenport adds some human drama to what's otherwise an empty and plodding story.

Things turn ugly when some bikers sneak up on the family at a railway stop and rape the mother and daughter. It's a seedy bit of business and the presentation is less horrific and more salacious. The funky music on the soundtrack doesn't help matters either. It's just a grim scene. When the mom cracks and shoots one of the bikers, it's the first bit of real emotion in the film.

Still, the rape scene could have been presented in a less exploitative manner. And, given that actress Lynne Frederick was only 16 at the time, the whole episode feels even more distasteful and unnecessarily graphic.

By the time Dad kills another woman who pulls a gun on him, I had given up on expecting the film to display anything resembling real emotion.

Somehow out of gasoline already, the family heads north on foot. The landscape is full of dead animals but otherwise quite normal.

No Blade Of Grass (1970) would probably have worked at a shorter length. Maybe as an episode of some TV anthology show like "The Twilight Zone" or something similar? As it is, the film is so uneven in tone and style, that I gave up on taking it seriously and watched it simply as a time capsule of its era.

It also serves as a nice introduction to the charms of Ms. Frederick who was a lovely, if unpolished, teen actress when she made this film. She's natural and unaffected here.

After Wendy Richard's tarty gal gets herself shot, her lover takes possession of Mary (Lynne Frederick) during a surprisingly effective hill-top scene. It could very well be the one moment where the film works without being 90-minutes of complete claptrap.

Perhaps what gives No Blade Of Grass (1970) its cult status is the cavalier use of firearms in the picture. Not since the days of TV's "The Rifleman" has a family patriarch so easily blown away assailants. What makes this such a weird film is that everyone is, to my mind, so English even while guns are going off and stomachs exploding in ketchup-like blood splatters. There's something downright disturbing about Davenport's urbane demeanor coupled with his trigger-happy nature.

I wonder if the film-makers knew how odd this played? Was it intentional or just an after-effect of poor planning and inept execution? After a few of these shoot-outs with Dad, it starts to get surreal for a viewer.

Shortly, the family is leading a large, multi-racial band of survivors with Dad playing boss. They run into another army brigade and hide from them for the time being.

Then those bikers show up again and the shooting really kicks off.

There are some interesting ideas in No Blade Of Grass (1970) but it's largely a failure. Maybe with a better script, or a more assured director, the film would have turned out differently.

As it is, it's a curio, and hardly a classic of the science fiction genre.

Nigel Davenport (and Lynne Frederick) would go on to star in a true classic of the genre: 1974's Phase IV.

That film was one of ideas but No Blade Of Grass (1970) is a film of cheap kicks. Aside from that rape scene, the film is not entirely an exploitative work, but neither is it a very well constructed work of art.

Maybe there's a longer version of the film that provides more motive and introspection for these characters. I just kept scratching my head at the on-screen murders.

Dad Davenport seemed pretty quick on his gun without the rest of the cast being too desperate.

Given the circumstances of the famine in the film, you'd think that there would be more on the minds of these people than just shooting up people who mildly opposed them.

And, frankly, I don't think Cornel Wilde or the writers of the film really meant this to be some message picture. There's no message about desperation. Nor is there any message to mankind about the environment, or something similar.

It's just a (very) thin plot with a bunch of hollow characters wandering around the English countryside.

And shooting rifles every few minutes.