FIVE belongs to that rare class of science fiction film that lingers in the memory even decades after a first viewing. Director/producer/writer Arch Oboler tried for something daring in an era that was dominated by threat of nuclear war. He combined stark black and white images with literally no special effects with five survivors of an atomic armeggedon who faced both the harshness of survival and personal crisis to produce a film that some reviewers have termed simplistic and pretentious. Such negative reactions are, I think, more of a reflection of the desire of most audiences to have slang bang action sequences with Rambo punching out hordes of Commie troops. Here Oboler went with a more low key, more believable approach. When the nuclear dust settles over the world, the lucky few survivors will indeed be fortunate to find each other, and when they do, Oboler suggests that the prejudices and hates of the Old World will not go away.
William Phipps is Michael, who survives only because he happens to be in an elevator in the Empire State building. He meets Roseanna (Susan Douglas), who similarly survives because she was rolled into a lead-lined X-Ray machine. Against all odds, they meet in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, where they must overcome the emotional baggage that each brings. He with loneliness, she with pregnancy and a desire to find her husband. Michael tries foolishly to kiss her and she repulses him. They work around this and slowly grow attached to each other. And all the while they talk. This talk is the ordinary stuff of life, ordinary only in the extraordinary circumstances of their new life. Far from viewing this torrent of words as pretentious, I saw it as a sincere desire to hold on to the fast evaporating vestiges of the post-war mindset. Soon they meet three other survivors, all of whom believe in the power of words to alter reality. At first these three talk of food. Then they shift to other topics, some of which are ignoble (blunt racism) while others are a disjointed attempt to hold onto the past life even against all logic. The camera work is grim and grainy, and in a film like this, it adds a powerful note of realism. FIVE begins with two, expands into five, then shrinks back to two. The ending is one that Rod Serling may have had in mind a decade later when he presented a TWILIGHT ZONE episode with Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery in a similarly themed post war Adam and Eve allegory.
FIVE is a brute demolition of the hope that in an emergency people will overcome their cultural and moral divides to reach a living compromise. In Arch Oboler's hands, the reality is unsettlingly different.