Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil


Some sort of weird isotope (of sodium, we’re told) is released in the upper atmosphere by a nation unknown. It kills everyone it contacts, and then in five days it is spent. Harry Belafonte (for some reason I had remembered that Sidney Poitier was in the movie; I guess it was easy to confuse them, as just about the only black stars of this era) was caught in a mine collapse and it took him almost a week to dig out. He makes his way to New York City, where after a long, lonely time he is discovered by a white woman, Inger Stevens. She quickly falls in love with him, but he is still too embittered and emasculated by the color bar to return her affection. A second man shows up (Mel Ferrer) and it doesn’t take long for a rivalry to develop, though Harry won’t participate. Mel decides he has to kill Harry before Harry kills him, and they stalk each other through the deserted streets of Manhattan.

This must have been quite the daring film in 1959. I’m sure it didn’t play in many theaters in the South. There is no intimacy between Inger and Harry, but it is clear that she is not in the least reluctant to become the Eve to Harry’s Adam. And the ending (which I will reveal, with a SPOILER WARNING) might have shocked anyone anywhere in the country. Harry decides not to fight, and Mel realizes he doesn’t have it in him to kill an unarmed man. Inger shows up, and takes both their hands, and they walk off into the sunset, presumably to form a ménage à trois somewhere in Harlem.

Other than those social aspects, the chief pleasure here is the shots of deserted streets in the Big Apple. They had narrow windows to shoot, presumably on Sundays very early in the morning. It must have been very striking back then, and is still interesting. And, of course, Harry being Harry, he has to sing a few songs. They are nicely fitted into the story, though, and the man really was a good singer. Still alive at 87, he may still be, for all I know. He has all my respect as a pioneer and great humanitarian.