Archive of Genre Movies
(aka: The Day After Tomorrow)
62 minutes 1946
Director: Arch Obler
review by Richard Bowden
Arch Oboler was one of those Z-grade directors (died 1987) whose
career often contained cult nuggets of low budget movie making.
He habitually worked on the production design, as well as writing
many of his projects. As with his more talented and perhaps better
known contemporary, Edgar Ulmer, the liberty of working with such
low budgets meant that his personal vision and eccentricities were
able to reach the screen intact, without the restraint and
interference common in larger studios from front office. He also
made the stark and memorable post-catastrophe film Five.
This offering is a crazed film, way out on the borders of early
film noir and commie-baiting, one which overrides many of the
comfortable and regular, expectations of an audience. Rains,
playing way out of his usual A-league, is the complacent middle
class American John Stevenson, who goes on a fishing trip - only to
discover upon his return that America has been turned almost over
night into a brutal dictatorship, and what he once held for granted
and most dear is now denied him and trampled upon. America has
been transformed into an occupied country.
Whether or not Oboler agreed with the stark warning explicit in his
Strange Holiday, (and one suspects he did given, the thorough job
he made of it), the result of this plot premise to create something
akin to a cinematic rant. The idea of discovering political extremists
was to be repeated far more subtly in other films as the 1950s began.
In Strange Holiday the message is still bald and uncompromised.
The nearest equivalent I can think of in tone at this time is Menzies'
The Whip Hand (1951 but completed earlier), in which extremists
are also stumbled upon in rural America. (Interestingly, the
discovery of proto-dictators in Menzies' film is also made after an
abruptly concluded fishing trip by the hero.) Oboler's film is a tale of
suspense and danger, a political thriller but with the paranoia
elements turned up full volume. It also has the super-reality and
madness of an hallucination, one sure sign that trash cinema is
doing its job.
Claude Rains' gives his usual cultured performance (and indeed is
far too good for this sort of material). But there is no denying that
his familiar persona of cultured smugness, suddenly shocked into
political reality, is all the more effective because of the sort of
character he was normally associated with. And his 'awakening'
politicises the audience in a way rare for the neutered American
cinema of the time. This shocking 'call to arms' is what gives
Strange Holiday its edge today.
The final scene, with Rains confined alone in his cell, at the end of
his tether, repeating democratic tag lines and fragments of his hard
learned experience is monotonous and frightening at the same
time. We keep hoping, perhaps remembering more other,
compromised films, that he will awake from his dream to be re-
embraced by the community and his familiy. Unfortunately Oboler
denies us this comfort and all we are left with is a feeling of unease
A film to watch, but not an easy one to enjoy and still remain
comfortable. Perhaps that was the point, as, on the verge of the
Cold War, the outrage, anger - even panic of the filmmakers is
tangible throughout. As a relic of burgeoning social hysteria, it is
certainly unique. As a document of Oboler's power, rising from the
overheated depths of B-cinema, it is worth tracking down.
Guide to the Movies
compiled by Tony
Lee editor of Pigasus Press
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