Apocalypse Now – Rediscovering ‘No Blade of Grass’ (US/UK 1970 – 96 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - January 07, 2016
Apocalypse Now – Rediscovering ‘No Blade of Grass’ (US/UK 1970 – 96 mins)

Derided by some critics but an always interesting piece of Sci-fi, Cornel Wilde’s eco-horror ‘No Blade of Grass’ is a gloomy doomsday drama and an interesting addition to the ‘End of the World’ genre. Kicking off with a strong opening montage of an over-populated and polluted world, it paints a depressing picture of how the environment can slowly choke us to death.

When the world is gripped by a severe grass plague, John and Ann Custance (Nigel Davenport and Jean Wallace) pack up their family, and leave a panic-stricken London to find shelter at his brother’s farm in the Lake District. Along the way they join up with Pirrie (Anthony May) and his tarty wife Clara (Wendy Richard), where they encounter trouble from both sides of the law. After eventually making it to the safe haven of the farm, they once again find themselves fighting for their lives, this time within their own group.

Based on John Christopher’s 1956 best-seller ‘The Death of Grass’, the picture was filmed in England and Scotland with a largely British cast, led by an eye-patch wearing Nigel Davenport, who takes it all wonderfully serious. The director’s wife, actress Jean Wallace, played Davenport’s mournful looking wife, while strong support came from Patrick Holt as John’s brother David Custance, and Anthony May as the unlikable and trigger-happy Pirrie. 16 year old Lynne Frederick made her film debut here as Davenport’s daughter Mary, and John Hamill was her older boyfriend Roger Burnham.

This was the 8th movie directed by former Hollywood matinee idol Cornel Wilde, who did a pretty good job, even though he was prone to adopting a heavy-handed manner at times. The early restaurant scene where posh diners are seen stuffing their faces, oblivious to the scenes of famine being broadcast as they eat, is Wilde at his least subtle, yet it puts his greed message across nicely.

There’s some fashionable 70’s violence here and there, including the oft-cut rape scene of John’s wife and daughter at the hands of a savage biker gang. I found the over-use of ‘flash-forwards’ a bit distracting and would rather they had been left out, as they felt more like ‘spoilers’ than serving any real purpose. I did like the powerful narration, which sounds like it was spoken by the director, especially his ominous last line at the end – “this motion picture is not a documentary……..but it could be”.

With scenes of looting, fleeing masses, and self-important politicians, ‘No Blade of Grass’ is a thought-provoking and diverting cautionary tale. Although it’s rather scrappy at times, I still think it’s a very good pre-apocalypse picture, and one that’s far more relevant today than it was when it was made.

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