Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Final Programme (1973)
(aka The Last Days of Man on Earth)
"I have it on very good authority that the world is coming to an end, So I thought I'd go and watch it on television."
Directed by Robert Fuest (of The Abominable Dr Phibes fame), The Final Programme is a curious film. Set in a world in the midst of war (the Russians are fighting in Europe, the Vatican has been destroyed and Amsterdam has just been reduced to 28 square miles of white ash by the Americans), mankind appears to be on the brink of disaster. As one character announces: "The Third World War has been going on for years. And everyone has been so bleedin' busy watching the adverts, they haven't noticed." In order to prevent the human race dying out, a mysterious group of scientists attempt to use their skills to create a genetically modified, self-reproducing superman who can survive the apocalypse.
Adapted from a novel by Michael Moorcock, The Final Programme features as its central character Dr Jerry Cornelius, a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Jon Finch plays the role with a delightful sense of mischief, at no point appearing to take the film seriously. He simply appears to be having fun, camping things up as probably the only dandy/playboy scientist in the history of cinema. If you had to describe Finch’s ‘Jerry Cornelius’, you might think of it this way:
Jon Finch
Imagine a modern, ironic remake of Department S, with Johnny Depp playing the Jason King role, but basing it on a mixture of Peter Wyngarde’s original portrayal and the glam-rock swagger of Marc Bolan …
Sandy Ratcliff & Jon Finch
… who appears to survive on a diet of whiskey and digestive biscuits.
The problem is that the film appears to have been made on a tiny budget. The opening scenes appear epic (and raise the viewer’s expectations) but are simply groups of people moving about on an open landscape.
Whilst the shadows displayed by the men carrying the wood for a funeral pyre offer an intriguing parallel to the crucifixion, the imagery seen here offers a promise that is abandoned in later scenes, apart from momentary flashes of stylistic inspiration:

Unfortunately the scale of mankind’s crisis is never really seen except for one simple scene in which a heap of abandoned cars is seen in London’s Trafalgar Square. The rest of society’s collapse is told through conversation – unless you count the sight of nuns playing pinball as being symptomatic of the coming apocalypse.

The budget’s failure to let the director convey the scale of the crisis facing mankind leaves the audience unable to wonder what all the fuss is about.
More to the point, the ending is crap (really crap).
Overall, the film is a disappointment, but remains essential viewing for those with a completist interest in the cinema of the apocalypse.
As someone who has no knowledge of the source material (Michael Moorcock's 1968 novel The Final Programme) I'm perhaps not best placed to give a full and fair appraisal of the film. For anyone interested in learning more, have a look at the Breakfast in the Ruins blog.
One thing to look out for: Here's Jenny Runacre as the mysterious Miss Brunner ...
Jenny Runacre
... With her oversized fur hat, one can't help but make the comparison to Vulnavia, the anti-heroine of Robert Fuest's The Abominable Dr Phibes.
Virginia North
And also of note, Jon Finch's suits were tailored by the legendary Tommy Nutter
Jon Finch in a suit by Tommy Nutter
Here's a look at the rest of the cast:
Graham Crowden

Derrick O'Connor

George Coulouris

Basil Henson

Delores Delmar

Gilles Millinaire

Hugh Griffith

Harry Andrews

Sandy Ratcliff (later to find fame as Sue Osman in EastEnders)

Mary McLeod

Julie Ege

Olga Lowe

Patrick Magee

Ronald Lacey

Sarah Douglas (Best known as the villainess Ursa in Superman and Superman II)

Sandra Dickinson

Sterling Hayden
Available from Network DVD:

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