William Phipps as Michael Rogin
Susan Douglas Rubes as Roseanne Rogers
James Anderson as Eric
Charles Lampkin as Charles
Earl Lee as Oliver P. Barnstaple
Arch Oboler Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Arch Oboler
Produced by Arch Oboler
Screenplay by Arch Oboler Story by Arch Oboler
Music by Henry Russell
Louis Clyde Stoumen
April 25, 1951 (United States)
Country United States
Five is an independently made 1951 American black-and-white post-apocalyptic science fiction film produced, written, and directed, by Arch Oboler, starring William Phipps, Susan Douglas Rubes, James Anderson, Charles Lampkin and Earl Lee. The film was distributed by Columbia Pictures.
The plot of Five involved five survivors, one woman and four men, of an atomic bomb disaster, which appears to have wiped out the rest of the human race while leaving all infrastructure intact, come together at a remote, isolated hillside house; they not only try to figure out how to survive,
but come to terms with the loss of the personal worlds they have lost, while also facing an unknown future.
Roseanne Rogers (Susan Douglas Rubes) trudges from place to place, searching for another living human being. A newspaper headline reports a scientist's warning that detonating a new type of atomic bomb could cause the extinction of humanity.
Rosanne eventually makes her way to her aunt's isolated hillside house and faints when she finds Michael (William Phipps) already living there. At first she is too numb to speak and slow to recover. She later resists Michael's attempt to become intimate, revealing that she is married and pregnant.
Two more survivors arrive, attracted by the smoke coming from the house's chimney. Oliver P. Barnstaple (Earl Lee) is an elderly bank clerk who is in denial about his situation; he believes he is simply on vacation. Since the atomic disaster, he has been taken care of by Charles (Charles Lampkin), a thoughtful, affable African American. They both survived because they were accidentally locked in a bank vault when the disaster happened. Roseanne was in a hospital's lead-lined X-ray room, while Michael was in an elevator in New York City's Empire State Building.
Barnstaple sickens, but seems to recover and then insists on going to the beach. There, they drag a man named Eric (James Anderson) out of the ocean surf. He is a mountain climber who became stranded on Mount Everest by a blizzard during the atomic disaster. He was flying back to the United States when his aircraft ran out of fuel just short of land. Meanwhile, Barnstaple dies peacefully.
Eric quickly sows discord among the group of survivors: He theorizes that they are somehow immune to the radiation and wants to find and gather together other survivors. Michael, however, is skeptical and warns that radiation from the disaster will be the most intense in the cities Eric wants to search.
The newcomer later reveals himself to be a racist; he can barely stand living with Charles. When Charles objects, he and Eric fight, stopping only when Roseanne goes into labor; she gives birth to a boy, delivered by Michael. Afterwards, while the others work to make a better life, Eric goes off by himself. Maliciously, he drives their jeep through the group's cultivated field, destroying a part of the crops. Michael orders Eric to leave, but Eric produces a pistol and announces that he will leave only when he is ready.
Later one night, Eric tells Roseanne that he is leaving for the city. Needing to discover her husband's fate, Roseanne agrees to go with him, as he had hoped; he insists that she not tell Michael. After stealing supplies, Eric is stopped by a suspicious Charles; they struggle, and he stabs Charles in the back, killing him.
Once they reach the city, Eric begins looting, while Roseanne goes to her husband's office and then to a nearby hospital's waiting room; there she discovers her husband's skeletal remains. She wants to return to Michael, but Eric refuses to let her go. They struggle and his shirt is torn, revealing arms that show unmistakable signs of advanced radiation poisoning. In despair, he runs away, not at all immune as his ego had led him to believe.
Rosanne begins the long walk back to her aunt's isolated house, but along the way, her infant son dies. Michael, who has been searching for Rosanne, eventually finds her, and they return home. When Michael resumes farming, Rosanne fatalistically joins him, both of them the heirs to an unknown future.
According to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, the film is the first to depict the aftermath of an atomic bomb catastrophe.
The unusual house that is the setting for most of the film was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and owned by producer/director/writer Arch Oboler.
Actor Charles Lampkin introduced Oboler to the prose poem The Creation by James Weldon Johnson and convinced him to include excerpts of it in the final script of Five. It would become Lampkin's soliloquy for his character Charles; this may be the first time that audiences in the USA, Latin America, and Europe were exposed to African-American poetry, albeit not identified as such in the film.
Oboler shot this very low budget feature for $75,000, using as his crew a small group of recent graduates from the University of Southern California film school and starring five (then) unknown actors. Upon its completion, Oboler sold the film to Columbia Pictures for a tidy profit.
Film reviewer Bosley Crowther in his review for The New York Times, noted the characters handicapped the film as much as the tepid plotline created by Arch Oboler, "the five people whom he has selected to forward the race of man are so cheerless, banal and generally static that they stir little interest in their fate. Furthermore, Mr. Oboler has imagined so little of significance for them to do in their fearfully unique situation that there is nothing to be learned from watching them. Mr. Oboler might as well be presenting five castaways on a desert isle."
In a recent review, film critic Sean Axmaker lauded the film, writing, "For all of his budgetary limitations, it's a strikingly atmospheric and handsome film, and Oboler creates an eerie sense of isolation with simple techniques."
In other films
During the film Great Balls of Fire!, the characters Jerry Lee Lewis and his future wife Myra Gale Brown can be seen watching Five in a scene.