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  No Blade of Grass Apocalypse Now
Year: 1970
Director: Cornel Wilde
Stars: Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace, John Hamill, Lynne Frederick, Anthony May, Wendy Richard, Patrick Holt, George Coulouris, Nigel Rathbone, Christopher Lofthouse, Mervyn Cumming, Ross Allan, Christopher Neame, Anthony Sharp
Genre: Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Come the nineteen-seventies pollution has grown so devastating across Planet Earth that the population of the world are beginning to panic, and now that a virus is striking the grass itself, caused by that pollution, the whole ecosystem has become difficult to sustain. One man who knows that all too well is John Custance (Nigel Davenport), an architect who when he hears that the city of London is about to fall victim to martial law decides to take his family and leave before things get too awful - but is he too late?

If there was one thing you could say about No Blade of Grass, writer and director (but not star) Cornel Wilde's adaptation of sci-fi author John Christopher's novel, it was that its message was presented earnestly. But the nature of that message was thrown into doubt when the dire warnings of unavoidable anarchy were conveyed with such gusto that rendered the action sequences, of which there were a number, looking more like a libertarian's dream, sort of "wouldn't it be great if a civilised country like Britain was to descend into the Wild West?" Whether Wilde was more interested in that aspect was a moot point.

If anything, he seemed torn between the excitement of getting to gun down people in a perfectly justified manner and his ecological themes, the latter we were repeatedly reminded of thanks to the documentary-style inserts of that pollution doing its deadly work and animals and plants - and people - suffering as a result. It certainly made you think, but as the seventies are well passed by now and while we have the same problems, there has been no breakdown of society on a grand, continents-wide scale, you tend to take Wilde's bludgeoning rhetoric with a pinch of salt. Not that environmental concerns are to be dismissed, but neither does going over the top in the warnings help any.

Besides, this was as much an adventure yarn as it was a lesson to society, even if it was a square-jawed and often bleak one. As if it was a predecessor to 28 Days Later..., although it had its own grounding in the likes of Ray Milland's Panic in Year Zero, the Custance family has to make its way north to a farm in Yorkshire, and along the way pick up a collection of survivors as well as having to negotiate those members of society who have taken up arms. They do this either to protect their land or homes, or more worryingly to attack the vulnerable when they see a chance to raid their belongings or rape the women, something Custance's wife (Wilde's wife Jean Wallace) and daughter (Lynne Frederick, making her debut) find out to their cost.

Custance also has Roger (John Hamill), a scientist who has been researching a cure for the virus, as his right-hand man, but problematically the party have to take along the far more violent Pirrie (Anthony May) and his wife (Wendy Richard), who proves more useful in fighting off the bad guys, except that he's something of a bad guy himself, and enjoys the chance to shoot that bit too much. He sums up the way the country is increasingly going as nobody is interested in rules anymore, and is only out for what they can get, a selfish attitude taken to its extreme as mayhem predominates. As much a forerunner of the post-apocalypse action movie in its descent into scenes of gun battles and the odd explosion, No Blade of Grass may have been entirely sincere, but its overall grimness acts as a finger-wagging moral to the human race to get its act together while somewhat hypocritically seeking to thrill the audience with the same methods. Yet for all that, it does grind along efficiently. Music by Burnell Whibley, including a folk song from Roger Whitaker helpfully summing up the issues.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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