Sony // 1951 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // February 3rd, 2009
Words are way cooler with numbers in them.
No-one has ever called 5ive a great film, probably not even in the early '50s when the fear of nuclear holocaust loomed so dark on the horizon. By this point, it is little more than a campy reminder of a bygone era, more interesting as a cultural relic than as a serious film. I suppose that's why it landed in Sony's new Martini Movies series, a chance to dive into classic bad-movie nostalgia. And if it's that nostalgia that you want to tap into, you could do a lot worse.
The bombs have dropped, and the world has ended. Alone, a pregnant woman named Roseanne (Susan Douglas) wanders through the wasteland. She is about to give up hope of finding survivors when she meets self-proclaimed philosopher named Michael (William Phipps, Executive Suite) and they decide to stay together. They are soon accompanied by an irradiated banker and a black man named Charles (Charles Lampkin), and they form a small colony together. Trouble lands in paradise with the arrival of European Eric (James Anderson, To Kill a Mockingbird), who drives a stake of racism and conflict into the group.
Fifty years from now, I wonder which of our fears will seem the most silly. Will it be the fear of a global catastrophe? Our paranoia about national security? The fear that robots will rise up and take over the world? Either way, I suspect that generations to come will look back at some of our favorite films and dismiss them as ridiculous camp. This is, of course, the primary pleasure in watching 5ive, a true example of '50s atomic paranoia come to life.
In her famous essay on camp, Susan Sontag talked about the importance of camp's sincerity. Camp must be found, not made, she said, which is why so many of our current attempts at creating entertainment like 5ive fall flat. This is exactly what makes this film entertaining still, the knowledge that it is not a joke. There is real fear behind the telling of this story, and the realization that everything could fall apart in an instant should a nuclear war break out. The best moments of the film are the ones that show the empty world, still perfect except for the cars parked throughout the streets and the odd skeleton. Much of the rest of the film is taken up by bland conversation, but I suppose that's forgivable here.
There is also some societal analysis happening here, though it's all pretty mild. The best example is Charles, who is a clear precursor to Ben in Night of the Living Dead. Like that seminal zombie film, 5ive operates as a microcosm of a society falling apart with hatred and violence. For the people of the time, the recent memory of World War II and the hatred of racism seemed like enough evidence that human nature would lead to certain death for everyone.
For most of us now, though, we are too separated from these fears for 5ive to genuinely resonate as a science fiction film, or even as a morality parable. If it's your kind of poison, though, it's not a bad way to spend 90 minutes basking in the glow of vintage '50s camp.
Thankfully, Sony has done a fine job of restoring the film on DVD as well. It looks lousy, of course, but it's a far sight better than I feared it would be. The image is occasionally shaky but has held up well aside from that. The black level is deep and rich, though I fear that the blacks may have been crushed a bit at the bottom to add this depth. The contrast is fine, though, and the print has been cleaned up as well as the film deserves. The sound doesn't fare nearly as well. The dialogue is mixed much too quietly, and I found myself straining to understand at times. I'm sure the original elements are to blame for this, but it's still annoying. The only extras on the disc are a pair of "Martini Minutes," which are really just advertisements for the rest of the series.
As I said at the beginning, 5ive isn't a film I'm recommending for most people. If you're the kind of person who finds yourself up at 2:00 in the morning watching cheesy old movies, though, this might be a real ticket for fun. I'm sure a couple martinis will help, as well.
Aw, heck, not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Martini Minutes