Three Americans are living it up on vacation when the world ends.
After enjoying Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World recently, I picked out another Corman from my collection, one with the promising title of Last Woman on Earth (1960), and one that I hoped was something like Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth (1964). I didn’t get zombies, but Last Woman turned out to be really interesting because it’s very creative on a shoestring budget, gives the apocalypse a cool 60’s spin while remaining appropriately dark, and has the feature of seeing Robert Towne (screenwriter, Chinatown) playing a big role (credited as Edward Wain) in his own screenplay.
Antony Carbone plays a bombastic millionaire who’s on vacation in Puerto Rico with his wife, played by Betsy Jones-Moreland, and his put upon lawyer Robert Towne. Carbone is busy making deals and barking orders at Towne, who’s busy eyeing Jones-Moreland while she’s busy being a lush and flirting right back at him. One day the three go scuba diving and when they surface they discover they’re the only ones left alive in the area, and possibly the whole world. While they conveniently had tanks strapped to their backs, the rest of humanity has been suffocated by a momentary lack of oxygen.
As low budget cataclysms go, a lack of oxygen is pretty clever; no FX needed, no big footed monsters, explosions or collapses, just random bodies lying about, cars careening down hills and the shocked faces of the survivors. It is very creepy to watch the trio walk stunned through the previously lively town and back to their hotel and see nothing but death, and then frankly discuss the prospect of rotting corpses in the tropical heat. They go out of town and live in a lavish villa for a while, spending the time learning to fish, survive, and read the stars for their planned sailboat trip back to the States. Life is almost idyllic despite the depressing reality, but their little world starts to pull apart as a romantic triangle forms.
Don’t expect any Oscar caliber acting here but all do their parts well despite some too-philosophical dialogue (then again people are bound to get deep if they’re left alone on Earth so I won’t judge). Gravel voiced Carbone is the efficient, oddly optimistic voice of reason and actually has a good plan for everything, no matter how brusque and condescending he gets. No wonder Jones-Moreland admires him. Towne is wry, flippant and romantic, no matter how pessimistic he gets. No wonder Jones-Moreland is attracted to him. When they have the inevitable fight over her, Carbone almost smashes Towne’s head in, prompting Towne to ask if he plans on “killing one third of the human race.” Another memorable line has Towne making a morbid joke about his “blind date” on the beach (a body he found there) just to make Carbone go look.
Jones-Moreland does decide to run off with Towne but is shocked to discover he has no intention of having children, believes in no God or future, only hedonism to while away their remaining time. She runs into a church (just like The Last Man on Earth!), leaving the men to work out which third of humanity will survive this round. That’s about it for the action, things are mainly cerebral and talky and definitely cheesy but still kept me interested all the way through. Corman made this movie while shooting Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) in Puerto Rico, making thrifty use of locations and recycling the same three lead actors. The setting is indeed a big and rewarding plus, giving us lots of memorable and unique scenes on beaches, under the palms, in old San Juan, on steps and in castles and various other gorgeous spots. Things are shot creatively too, from the dive to the fights and chases, so overall, despite the acting and writing going wobbly in places, you get a perfectly fine, even attractive B with the right disturbing, unusual tone in which these people ponder the end of the world and fight over the Last Woman.