One of my guilty pleasures on Friday evenings here in Utah is watching UEN-TV’s SciFi Fridays. Many times the films are pretty bad and they don’t usually hold my interest for long, but the forum and films bring back memories of my childhood with the many hours spent watching Creature Features on Friday and Saturday evenings in northern California. Last Friday evening’s film did hold my attention, however, starting with the title, The Last Woman on Earth (1960). I had never seen this film before, and the exploration of an apocalyptic scenario that deals with the struggles of the last woman rather than the last man on the planet was refreshing, as explored in the various treatments of Richard Matheson’s story in films like The Last Man on Earth, Omega Man, and I Am Legend. The story was even more intriguing in that while the title would seem to indicate a narrative dealing with a single individual it actually presents a single woman living with two men. The plot thickens.
The Last Woman on Earth is a science fiction film directed by Roger Corman. I have enjoyed many of Corman’s films in the fantastic, especially his horror films based upon the Edgar Allen Poe stories, so I was encouraged to see his guiding hand in this early effort. This film tells the story of three people, Harold Gern, a wealthy businessman, his wife Evelyn, and Martin Joyce, Gern’s lawyer and business associate. The three are on a trip to Puerto Rico, and eventually Gern convinces everyone to add scuba diving to their boat outing. After surfacing and attempting to remove their scuba equipment, the three immediately develop breathing problems, and upon reinserting their breathing apparatuses they swim back to their boat. After they climb back on deck they find their crew is dead, having suffocated from whatever caused the others problems when they surfaced. The three head back to shore only to find that everyone is dead, the victims of some unexplained phenomenon (thankfully for the story’s sake) that they assume has plagued the world. This sets the stage for an end-of-the-world scenario that impacts the three as they attempt to survive and wrestle with the ramifications of the apocalypse on their relationships.
I found a couple of the aspects of the story of interest. First, the normal social conventions that operate pre-apocalypse were called into question by two out of the three, with the exception of Harold Gern. Gern assumed that his wealth, prestige, business sense, and marital relationship all retained value in the new world order. His fellow remaining human beings felt differently, pointing out that each of these were open to question at best, worthless in the extreme. Everything was now open to reinterpretation and fresh navigation, including Gern’s marriage to Eve, a relationship he valued beyond the construct of society, but which both Eve and Martin thought was no longer valid and subject to new possibilities both romantically and reproductively. Second, as my wife and I watched this film I turned to her and mentioned that this film would have gone very differently, in my view, had the scenario been two women and one man as the last survivors on earth. In the storyline of The Last Woman on Earth, Eve has conflicting romantic feelings, and with disappointments in her marriage she is all too eager to abandon her husband and to start life anew with Marvin. This leads to a violent showdown between the two men and Marvin’s death. In an alternative storyline involving two women and one man I don’t think it would have led to intense feelings of jealousy between the women, and most certainly would not have led to violent conflict and death. Two women would not have felt such intense desires to objectify a man, and perhaps would have even been more willing to share in such an apocalyptic scenario. My wife agreed so perhaps there’s some merit to my thinking here.
While I wouldn’t list this film as one of my favorites and part of my classic canon of science fiction, I did find it entertaining, and well worth its brief seventy-one minutes. For those interesting in checking it out, The Last Woman on Earth is in the public domain and can be viewed online in its entirety here.