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Strange Holiday (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 and distress.
   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.

Richard Bowden

DOWSE Guide to the Movies is compiled by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press
You can order videos and DVD releases reviewed on these pages at Blackstar

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