. . . Cue the obligatory, budget-conscious voice over-photo montage (bellowing smokestacks, animal carcasses, muddy water, etc.) of a ravaged Earth (in the “future” of 1972; again “budget”) as we learn about a disease that devours the Asian continent and lays waste to all members of the grass-grains family, such as corn, rice, wheat, and oats. (Yep, it’s more sterile sci-fi cereal grasses, à la the 2001-inspired Interstellar.) As starvation and cannibalism rip across Africa, Europe, and South America, and encroaches China, the Chinese gas-murder 300 thousand of their citizens in a twisted effort to assure their survival.
A year later . . .
The philosophical-talk action begins as we meet John Custance (Nigel Davenport; snooty film critics will cite the award-winners A Man for All Season and Chariots of Fire . . . we at B&S Movies prefer the serial-killer romp Peeping Tom, the crazy-ass ant movie Phase IV, A.I.P’s H.G Wells frolic The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Stallone’s Nighthawks) who flees with his family from a devastated London into the mossy-countryside on a quest to an “easily protected valley” that shelters his brother’s farmstead in northern England on the Scottish border. Along the way they battle rogue army officers, his teenaged daughter (as is the case with post-apoc films) is raped by the ubiquitous slobbering idiots who, in the face of an apocalypse, always believe the key to survival is raping women. (Lynn Frederick, star of Hammer Studios’ classic, Vampire Circus (1972), the aforementioned Phase IV, and Pete Walker’s Schizo (1976), stars in her acting debut as the daughter.)
So now, while John is on a spaghetti western quest to avenge the rape of his daughter (like Richard Harris in Ravagers), he becomes a defacto Moses as the leader of the ragamuffins they meet along the way (like Richard Harris in Ravagers). Of course, no apocalypse landscape is complete without some Toecutter-pillaging (Mad Max) mayhem courtesy of a chain-wielding motorcycle gang — complete with red-racing striped, cow-horned helmets. (Piffle. Roger Corman’s laser-blasting Death Machine and Fulci’s Kill Bike hoards would kick their grassy-asses across The English Channel and all the way into Italy for a pasta-zombie barbeque.)
Finally, this sci-fi take on the biblical story of the Exodus reaches “utopia” . . .
That is until John’s brother, David, declares John’s little Red Sea gang is too large to be supported by the valley’s riches. So John declares war on David and mounts a daring night attack to take control of the valley and rebuild . . . a society without grass.
Released early on in the ‘70s post-apocalypse riot-races, beating Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man to the big screen — and most likely put into production by MGM when news hit the trades that Warner Bros. was going into production with their Richard Matheson adaptation — No Blade of Grass, as with most apoc-films of the era (Soylent Green, Damnation Alley, Ravagers, etc.) was based on a successful novel, The Death of Grass, published by British novelist John Christopher in 1956.
The film was directed by Hungarian-born bad-ass Cornell Wilde (Gargoyles, Sharks’ Treasure) who walked away from a career in medicine after aceing his pre-med studies and earning a scholarship to Columbia University — to qualify for a spot on the 1936 Olympic Fencing Team. The dude taught Sir Laurence Olivier to fence for a Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet and, as result; he scored a film contract with Warner Bros. (I wish my life took those shocking, out-of-left-field luck turns.) Forming his own production company, Theodora, Wilde came to produce, write, and direct his pet-project adaptation of Christopher’s novel, a dream that goes back to the days of his first production: the film noir The Big Combo (1955).
“Cornell who?” the younger B&S Movies reader might be saying.
Surely you have seen Cornell Wilde in TV reruns with his notable appearances as a surgeon in the U.S television anthology series Night Gallery (“Deliveries in the Rear”) and, in the highly-rated TV horror film, Gargoyles (1972). Trash cinema lovers of the ‘80s video fringe definitely remember Wilde with his contribution to the ‘70s sharksplotation cycle inspired by Jaws (see our “Bastard Pups of Jaws” week)—Shark’s Treasure (1975) — the first of the genre’s rip-offs, which Wilde produced, wrote, directed, and starred. Film buffs of old will fondly remember Wilde from The Naked Prey (1965; another Wilde produce-direct-star effort that we’ll call a pseudo “human death sport” precursor).
Shot for a paltry — well, back then it was a “big budget” — 1.5 million dollars, once again the grassless “future” looks exactly like our present, only with anarchy as the rule of the day . . . with the same ol’ cars, architecture, and weapons. And as with most — well, all — of the novel-to-film adaptations of the apoc-‘70s, the film widely deviates from its source material, in this case, excising the book’s cautionary Communism tale about awry biological warfare experiments in Red China . . . and replacing it with a yawn-inducing environmental message. At least the studio kept the “dying grass” part of the story (and that’s about all they kept).
You can watch No Blade of Grass on YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Google Play. And if it all seems a bit familiar — like Panic in the Year Zero (1962) familiar — that’s because director-actor Ray Milland’s film “borrowed” it’s overall premise and some incidents from John Christopher’s novel.
Not surprising: The uptight British shuddered at the film’s double rape scene (which, I admit, is pretty brutal; what were you thinking, Cornell?), and a rather dark, nasty birth of a stillborn baby, punctuated by lots of shootings and deaths. Thus, in order to receive an “AA” certificate for a UK release, the BBFC cut the sex and violence by 15 minutes — which was restored for us bloody, liberal Americans, sans one and a half minutes of the rape scenes. (How uptight are the Brits? Check out our “Video Nasties” explorations for the UK’s Section 1, Section, 2, and Section 3 “red flag” films. Come take my VHS nasties. I dare ya.)
As is the case with The Ultimate Warrior, Damnation Alley, and Ravagers, No Blade of Grass has wonderful production values and isn’t a total waste of time . . . it’s just that it could be so much better, as it suffers from too much of the “why we’re here and what are we gonna do now” yakity-yak. You won’t be seeing any The Simpsons’ Tree House of Horror tributes to No Blade of Grass, like you did with The Omega Man (Part 1/Part 2), anytime soon. In the end: Where’s Chuck Heston in a silver-football helmet going up against Matthias and his albino-mutants minions when you need ‘em?
And with that: I’ll let my ol’ buddies from North Carolina’s Animal Bag take us out with their grungy tribute to the “Spirits of Grass.”
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em: we might lose our weed in the next apocalypse.