ICFIFC: No Blade of Grass

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Monday, September 30, 2013

ICFIFC: No Blade of Grass

The Death of Grass (published in the United States as No Blade of Grass) is a 1956 post-apocalyptic science fiction novel written by the English author Samuel Youd under the pen name John Christopher.  It was the first in a series of post-apocalyptic novels written by him, and the plot concerns a virus that kills off all forms of grass.

The novel was written in a matter of weeks and liberated Samuel Youd from his day job.  It was retitled No Blade of Grass for the US edition, as supposedly the US publisher thought the original title "sounded like something out of a gardening catalogue". 

A new virus strain has infected rice crops in East Asia causing massive famine; soon a mutation appears which infects the staple crops of West Asia and Europe such as wheat and barley, all of them types of grasses (thus the novel's title), threatening a famine engulfing the whole of the Old World, while Australasia and the Americas attempt to impose rigorous quarantine to keep the virus out.

The novel follows the struggles of engineer John Custance and his friend, civil servant Roger Buckley, as, along with their families, they make their way across an England which is rapidly descending into anarchy, hoping to reach the safety of John's brother's potato farm in an isolated Westmorland valley.  Picking up a travelling companion in a gun shop owner named Pirrie, they find they must sacrifice many of their morals in order to stay alive.  At one point, when their food supply runs out, they kill a family to take their bread.  The protagonist justifies this with the belief that "it was them or us."

By the time they reach the valley, they have accumulated a considerable entourage as a result of their encounters with other groups of survivors along the way.  They find that John's brother is unable to let them all in to the heavily-defended valley.  Pirrie acts to prevent John leaving the group and taking only his immediate family into the valley; instead, the group takes the valley by force.  Pirrie and John's brother are killed; John takes possession of the valley.


No Blade of Grass (1970)

  • Genre: Drama - Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Cornel Wilde
  • Produced: Cornel Wilde
  • Written:
    • John Christopher (Novel) 
    • Sean Forestal (Screenplay)  
    • Cornel Wilde (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace, Anthony May, John Hamill, Lynne Frederick, Patrick Holt, Wendy Richard, Anthony Sharp, Bridget Brice, Bruce Myers, Christopher Neame, Cornel Wilde, George Coulouris, John Buckley, John Lewis, Michael Percival, Norman Atkyns, Ruth Kettlewell, Tex Fuller, William Duffy
  • Music:
    • Burnell Whibley 
    • Charles Carroll 
    • Louis Nelius
  • Cinematography: H.A.R. Thomson
  • Editing:
    • Eric Boyd-Perkins  
    • Frank Clarke
  • Studio: Theodora Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  
    • MGM-EMI  
    • MGM/UA Home Video  
    • Warner Home Video   
    • Cinefear
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 23 October 1970
  • Running Time: 96 minutes
  • Country:
    • United Kingdom
    • United States
  • Language: English

Environmental pollution turns a normally harmless virus into an uncontrollable plague that is deadly to crops, and famine spreads throughout Britain.  Biochemist Roger Burnham convinces his friend John Custance that Custance and his family must leave London immediately.  On the way to the well-stocked farm owned by Custance's brother, they stop to steal firearms from a supermarket.  The shopkeeper tries to stop them, but hoodlum Andrew Pirrie, who with his wife, Clara, has joined the party, shoots the man, and the group escape.  Later, Custance's party is attacked by a band of motorcyclists who steal their cars and supplies and rape Custance's wife, Ann, and their daughter Mary.  When they finally camp for the night, Clara attempts to seduce John, but the outraged Pirrie shoots her.  Continuing on foot the next morning, they join another escaping group and finally reach the farm.

John's brother David is unwilling to permit such a large number of people on his farm, however, and John, unwilling to abandon the rest of the people, leads an attack on the farm.  David and many others are killed; the Custances and other survivors take over the land, determined to live in peace.

This potentially powerful material is unfortunately dealt with too melodramatically.  An overly conventional script and the confusing use of flash forwards mitigate the suspense the film might have generated, especially during the climactic action sequences.  What's more, characters are often merely stereotypes, especially the evil characters. However, there is an arresting bleakness to the arrangement of scenery and properties that makes this film worth a look.  Crops lie destroyed, and fields are littered with bodies of the dead.  Significantly, this desolate landscape predates the apocalyptic vision of George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD.  The direction is by Wilde, who starred in numerous swashbucklers during the 1940s and 1950s after being a member of the US Olympic Fencing team.

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