Black Film Classics | The World, The Flesh and The Devil

4 02 2008

Today we continue our look back at classic, little seen Black films. Our latest offering tells the story of three survivors of a nuclear holocaust who are still dealing with dated social rules with an opportunity to begin a new world. Harry Belafonte stars in sexually-charged drama, “The World, The Flesh and The Devil.”

The World, The Flesh and The Devil (1959)

Stars: Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer

Plot: Ralph Burton (Belafonte) is a miner who is trapped for several days as a result of a cave-in. When he finally manages to dig himself out, he realizes that all of mankind seems to have been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. He travels to New York City only to find it deserted. Making a life for himself there, he is flabbergasted to eventually find Sarah Crandall (Stevens), who also managed to survive. Together, they form a close friendship until the arrival of Benson Thacker (Ferrer) who has managed to pilot his small boat into the city’s harbor. At this point the tensions rise between the three, particularly between Thacker, who is white and Burton, who is black.

Social Significance: Co-producer, Belafonte was very frustrated by the inability of his character and Stevens to really display a true interracial on-screen romance because of the time period. The film was met with much resistance by Southern audiences, even having one Georgia screening interrupted when racial tension erupted in the audience.

Why It’s On the List: Four decades before “Vanilla Sky’s” famous shot of Tom Cruise in a vacant Times Square, “The World” portrayed Belafonte walking around a vacant, stark beautifully photographed Manhattan alone. The precursor for later films such as “Omega Man” and the recently released, “I Am Legend,” this little scene classic asks audiences to ponder this provocative question: for three people who have managed to survive and save their skins, why would they still worry about the color of them?

Little Known Fact: To film the striking images of a deserted New York City, the cast and crew had to start filming at dawn in order to capture the city before the early morning rush. This gave them no more than an hour or two per day in which to film the sequence.

Film’s Best Line: Thacker: “I have nothing against Negroes, Ralph.” Burton: “That’s white of you.” – Burton and Thacker having an “uneasy” conversation about Crandall.

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10 05 2008
Notes from the road and beyond… » Where Is Everybody?

[…] earth as they lived out society on a micro scale.  Next up with Sidney Poitier in (and producing) The World, The Flesh and The Devil, a similar tale, but more urban and a bit more intense.  Lastly, on now is On the Beach, with […]

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