I have no idea what American audiences thought when confronted by the Robert Fuest directed and written The Final Programme, released here as The Last Days of Man on Earth.
Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Moorcock, this is the story of physicist, secret agent and dandy Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch, Frenzy, who replaced Timothy Dalton at the last minute), who first attends the funeral burning of his father, a man who created the titular Final Programme, which will create the ultimate self-replicating immortal human. The world is ending, but a series of scientists and government types want this to come to pass while all Jerry wants to do is rescue his sister — and quite possibly lover — Catharine (Sarah Douglas) from his drugged-out brother Frank (Derrick O’Connor), all the while avoiding the man devouring secret agent Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre, Jubilee).
Let me put this out there: this is a film that is all about its look more than caring if you understand the story. Either you’re going to love the ideas and Cornelius or you’re going to quit before its over. If you stick around, you’ll get a gigantic arcade filled with nuns playing slot machines for fruit (look for Moorcock and Hawkwind hanging out), needlegun battles, a hero addicted to drinking and biscuits, and an ending that really defies a conclusion, something that had to infuriate anyone not familiar with the source novel, which would be less than a handful, I believe.
Plus, you get Sterling Hayden as military man Major Wrongway Lindberg; Graham Crowden, Basil Henson and George Coulouris as the doctors; a Patrick Magee cameo; Fuest going wild creating sets and scenes that don’t always work (but who cares) and a strange feel that really makes this unlike any other movie I’ve seen.
It would be two years until Fuest got to make another movie — The Devil’s Rain! — and that didn’t work out so well either, sending him back to where he began, directing episodes of The New Avengers. He’d spend the rest of his career in TV, making ABC Afterschool Specials (Make-Believe Marriage, A Movie Star’s Daughter, A Family of Stranges and My Mother Was Never a Kid), The Big Stuffed Dog, Revenge of the Stepford Wives and episodes of Worlds Beyond, C.A.T.S. Eyes and The Optimist. He also made Aphrodite, a film that had both softcore and hardcore cuts.
In a perfect world, Fuest would have had great success, but who knows? Maybe he was happy that after two Dr. Phibes movies he wasn’t typecast as a horror director. Perhaps he was even happier than the failure of The Devil’s Rain! put a nail in that coffin. His movies are challenges, with sets her decorated himself, films that never tell the audience all — or often any — of what’s happening, that are anything but wallpaper to have in the background.