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BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)

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"We may be witnessing the beginning of an era that will see the annihilation of man!"
"Annihilation?"
"Annihilation! The beginning of the end…."

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BEGINNING OF THE END (1957)

Director: Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, Morris Ankrum, Thomas Browne Henry, Than Wyenn, Richard Benedict, James Seay, Frank Wilcox, Paul Grant
Screenplay: Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn

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Synopsis: Two teenagers are necking in a car outside of Ludlow, Illinois, when the girl sees something coming towards them. She screams…. A passing patrol car sees a wrecked car, but there is no sign of any people. A wallet found at the site indicates that the car may have belonged to a resident of Ludlow. One of the policemen goes to check out the address, while the other calls for assistance. The police officer sent to Ludlow reports in a panic: the town has been destroyed, its population has vanished…. Reporter Audrey Aimes (Peggie Castle) is on her way to cover a story when she is stopped at a roadblock manned by the Illinois National Guard. Unable to get any information out of the soldiers, Audrey turns into a side road, and finds a spot that gives her a view of Ludlow. What she sees horrifies her. She takes a photograph, only to have her camera confiscated by a Guardsman. Audrey drives into the town of Paxton, where she speaks to Captain Barton (James Seay). Recognising Audrey from her coverage of the Korean conflict, Barton allows her in on the investigation of Ludlow, on the proviso that she does not release her story without clearance. Barton and Audrey listen as Colonel Sturgeon (Thomas Browne Henry) interrogates witnesses, establishing the time of the disaster. Refused permission to enter Ludlow, Audrey phones her editor, Norman Taggart (Paul Grant), asking him to check on a plane that flew over Ludlow the night before, and also whether there are any atomic instillations in the area. She then goes to reclaim her camera. Taggart calls back. The plane was a commercial flight, and the only people working with radioactivity are with the Department of Agriculture. Audrey drives to the Illinois Experimental Station, where she meets entomologist Ed Wainwright (Peter Graves) and his colleague Frank Johnson (Than Wyenn), a botanist, who are producing huge food crops through stimulation with radioisotopes. Frank is a deaf-mute after an accident with the material. Ed assures Audrey that radiation couldn’t have caused the disaster in Ludlow. Back in Paxton, Audrey persuades Sturgeon to let Barton take her through Ludlow, where the two gaze in horror at the devastation. Barton mentions a warehouse that was destroyed under similar circumstances some months earlier. Audrey goes back to the research station, and asks Ed to take her to see the warehouse, as his scientific perspective might uncover a clue missed by the sheriff. Both Ed and Frank go with her. At the site, Ed explains that it was a storage facility for surplus wheat, and observes that it looks like it was pushed over from the inside. Frank points out that the ground is completely barren, the grass eaten down to the roots. While Audrey and Ed go back to the car for Audrey’s camera, a strange noise fills the air. Suddenly, a giant locust looms up, and bears down upon the unfortunate Frank….

Comments: This Roundtable gives me the opportunity of rectifying a shocking site omission: the non-appearance to date of Bert I. Gordon, B-movies’ Mr BIG. Many a creature was embiggened and/or de-bigulated over the course of Bert’s glorious career – people, spiders, ants, rats; even, perhaps most memorably of all, a duck; and in Beginning Of The End it’s locusts (aka grasshoppers), which are realised, if that’s not too strong a word, via the magic of back projection, combined with some less-than-totally-convincing model work. (The best that we can say for these "effects" is that they’re better than those on display in The Amazing Colossal Man: never at any stage do the locusts go transparent.) Not one to let either shame or the concept of truth in advertising stand in his way, Bert then went ahead and advertised the film as "The screen's first full-length science-fiction thriller with real live creatures!" – blithely ignoring the existence of Tarantula, the contemporaneous Incredible Shrinking Man - and even his own King Dinosaur; and ignoring, too, the fact that the use of the word "thriller" in this capacity was rather, shall we say, generous. (Not content with that, Bert also advertised Beginning Of The End as being shot in "new HORRORSCOPE!" – which must be movie-speak for "really crappy superimposition".) Still, perhaps we should be prepared to cut Mr BIG some slack here, seeing what he went through to get his epic onto the screen. Not only did Bert suffer the embarrassment of having to give each of his little arthropod stars a sex test before he was allowed to import them from Texas to California, by the end of the shoot, they’d turned cannibal and started devouring one another (which is why there are fewer and fewer of them onscreen as the film progresses). Frankly, Beginning Of The End is one of those films where the behind-the-camera antics are more entertaining than the end product itself. Although it’s only 76 minutes long, the film contains way too much stock footage (most of which is used over and over and over again - there’s a certain stretch of road in this film that you will never forget….), and not nearly enough giant locust action or goofy fifties science. Still, as I hope you’ll gather courtesy of the following review, it’s not without a certain charm….

We open with--- Anyone? Anyone? Well, since you can’t guess, I’ll tell you: a couple of teenagers necking in a car. Yes, really! (Here’s challenge for you: what was the earliest film to open with this classic B-movie gambit? [Of course, we all know the last one to do it….heh, heh, heh….]) As the boy nuzzles the girl’s neck, she opens her eyes, then screams…. Cue opening credits. We are immediately reassured about the ultimate fate of mankind, as two of the three top-billed people are Peter Graves and Morris Ankrum. (My bold prediction? Pete will play a scientist – sorry, I mean A Scientist – and Morrie will play a worried general.) We then cut to A Certain Stretch Of Road, and as we sit there, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for something to happen, we are given ample opportunity to admire the view of the mountain range that lies just to the south of Chicago [*cough*]. Eventually, a police car hoves into view, and as we move in for a close-up, we notice two cars, a dark one and a light one, travelling in the opposite direction. Although the drivers of those cars have seen nothing (or at least, not cared enough to stop), the Champaign County police are more sharp-eyed, and pull up near a wrecked car. At the scene they find a wallet, the driver’s license inside indicating that the owner lived in nearby Ludlow. One of the officers is dispatched to the town, from where he soon sends in a panicked call: "Ludlow’s destroyed! Everyone’s gone! Send help! Lotsa help!"

We cut to the next day, and meet crusading reporter Audrey Aimes, cruising along A Certain Stretch Of Road in her convertible, yet not getting a single hair out of place. (Ah, the fifties, when they really knew how to make hairspray!) As she drives along, Albert Glasser’s emphatic score pounds on the soundtrack, trying in vain to distract us from the passing of a strangely familiar dark car, and its loyal companion, a strangely familiar light car. In keeping with the film’s gallant, if futile, attempt to convince us that, despite that pesky mountain range, the action really is taking place in Illinois (Ludlow and Paxton are real towns; I wonder how Fred Freiberger and Lester Gorn came to pick on them?), Audrey is on her way to the Chanute Air Force Base. But (dum dum duuum….) she never gets there. A roadblock stops her just short of Ludlow. Curious and suspicious, Audrey tries to find out what’s going on, first turning her womanly charms on the stoic National Guardsman barring her way, then producing her press pass (uh, yes – in that order); but all to no avail. Not so easily thwarted, Audrey finds a side road that offers a view of Ludlow, and is shocked at what she sees. (We, the viewers, are asked to take it on trust that what she sees is "shocking": I guess Mr BIG couldn’t find any distance stock footage.) She quickly snaps a photo, only to have her camera confiscated by a passing soldier. Demanding to know who’s in charge, Audrey learns that the National Guard headquarters is in Paxton. There, she meets Captain James Barton, who reacts instantly to her name. "The Audrey Aimes?" (Ah, the fifties, when all reporters, like all scientists, were "world famous"!) We further learn that Audrey "covered Korea" (which I don’t think was a fat joke), and that she wrote a book about her experiences which Barton "liked very much". Her pro-military credentials thus established, Audrey is invited into the Ludlow investigation, on the condition that she suppresses the story until given permission by the army to publish it, a deal Audrey accepts without hesitation. (Ah, the fifties….) Barton then introduces her to Colonel Sturgeon (Thomas Browne Henry – yes!!), who also reacts to her name ("Audrey Aimes?") before interrogating two possible witnesses. The first is an old geezer more concerned about what time he got to bed the previous night than about the gruesome demise of his daughter and son-in-law. The second is your traditional small-town spinster, who turns out to be the local telephone operator, and who is able to provide a timeframe for the disaster. (The IMDb insists that Edna is played by Eilene Janssen, who the previous year played "Bridey at 15" in The Search For Bridey Murphy. Either the experience of collaborating with Bert I. Gordon aged Ms Johnson rather considerably, or the IMDb has made one of its, uh, rare errors….) Sturgeon then goes off to see Ludlow for himself, refusing Audrey access to the town.

Audrey, however, has pricked up her ears at hearing that a plane flew over Ludlow just before disaster struck; and she phones her editor to ask him to check up on it. Two interesting things here: Audrey has a car-phone! – and while that’s pretty darn cool, it highlights the fact that she must have driven all the way from New York to Illinois to cover her story. Boy, you’d think for such a world-famous reporter, her bosses would spring for a plane ticket…!? Anyway, after breaking the glad tidings that they can’t print her story anyway, Audrey asks about the plane, and whether there are any atomic instillations in the vicinity of Ludlow. (Ah, the fifties….) She then goes to retrieve her camera. (In light of later events, we wonder why she bothered.) Her editor rings her back to nix both of her ideas: the plane was a commercial flight, and there are no atomic instillations nearby. ("Secret or otherwise," he assures her, leaving us to ponder this somewhat comical use of the word "secret".) In fact, the only people around dealing with radioactivity are with the Department of Agriculture. And so Audrey sets off to do a bit more snooping.

At the Illinois Experimental Station, Audrey enters a shed, its door conveniently ajar. (Of course. Why would you want to keep your experimental plants in an enclosed environment, when you could have them out in the open, exposed to the sunlight, the fresh air, the local insect population…?) Inside, she finds herself confronted by a plot of enormous tomato plants, and some equally massive strawberries. This remarkable vegetation is being tended by a man who takes no notice at all of Audrey’s presence, despite her repeated "Excuse me!"-s and throat clearings. (Frank must have worse peripheral vision than I do!) Confused, Audrey turns away – only to bump into a second man, and give a little shriek - as anyone would, suddenly finding themselves eye to eye with Peter Graves.

The newcomer introduces himself as Ed Wainwright, head of the project. Audrey identifies herself, adding that she spoke to his colleague, but that he didn’t seem to hear her. "Frank’s a deaf-mute," Ed explains, adding ominously that working with radiation can be – "dangerous…." And while this may be so, tampering in God’s domain clearly does bring with it certain advantages. Whereas in earlier days, a Mad Scientist in need of an assistant would have to go out and find a deaf-mute, from the fifties onwards, thanks to "radiation", you could just make one of your own! What a time saver! (By the way, we notice that for all the insistence on the dangers of "radiation", the experimental facility is left wide open at all times, and Ed and Frank haven't an inch of protective gear between them, beyond Frank’s rubber gloves. [This barely even ranks as shutting the stable door. More like giving it a gentle push….]) Ed then excuses himself to go and help Frank, who is picking snails off the strawberry plants. Ed chuckles over this, describing it facetiously as "just a slight catastrophe", and prompting Audrey to inquire (with a touch more asperity than she might have employed had she realised, as the audience already has, that she’s Met Her Soulmate) whether they have these catastrophes often? "All the time!" replies Ed, invincibly cheerful, and goes on to recite all the various creepy-crawlies that have invaded his project since its inception: snails, caterpillars, beetles. "And grasshoppers – by the drove!" Ed then observes thoughtfully that "it’s hard to keep these little things from getting in". Hey, Ed? Just a suggestion, bro’ – why don’t you put up some freaking netting!? Or at least shut the door!!

Audrey then tries to get things back on topic, telling Ed her theory about Ludlow, that "radiation" was somehow involved. "I don’t think so," objects Ed, swinging open the door of his – unlocked – safe, and displaying his supply of radioisotopes. "Radioisotopes aren’t explosive!" That taken care of, Audrey asks about Ed’s work, and learns that he and Frank are trying to make the plants’ photosynthesis (which Ed stops to describe inaccurately as their "growing process") continue night and day, with the isotopes functioning as "an artificial sun". In fact, the plants would grow much larger if "we didn’t limit the stimulation!" And the word "stimulation" having entered the conversation, Ed starts putting the moves on Audrey. But alas, she has only Ludlow on her mind, and excuses herself. Ed watches her go with a big dopey grin on his face. And Frank goes back to picking snails off the strawberries.

You know, Mr BIG really dropped the ball with this one. Whatever happened to the obvious sequel to Beginning Of The End? – The Mollusc That Slimed Chicago….

(Hey, now there’s a great name for a website! "Slime Chicago"!)

We then get a brief shot of Audrey on A Certain Stretch Of Road; too brief, indeed, for our Familiar Cars to make an appearance. Back in Paxton, she bails up Colonel Sturgeon and talks him into allowing her into Ludlow. "I hope you’ve got a strong stomach!" he growls at her. Nothing daunted, she heads off with Barton, and soon we see shots of her snapping away with her camera superimposed over stock footage of – tornado damage? "I’ve had enough," she tells Barton sombrely, and they drive away, Barton with his arm resting cosily behind her shoulders along the back of the front seat. Audrey takes no notice, as the devastation she has witnessed has caused her to become philosophical.

"Some people use calendars to tell age. I could use ruins to count mine," she pronounces, as we watch the Familiar Dark Car trundle by. We learn that she was twenty-five when she went into Seoul after it was bombed (yup, there goes Familiar Light Car!), and twenty when she went into Berlin and Cologne. Not quite getting the thrust of her discourse, Barton says cheerfully, "You must be getting used to it, huh?" Amazingly, Audrey goes to the trouble of replying, "Captain, some things you never get used to!"

Back in Paxton, Barton also starts making moves, inviting Audrey for a drink. She doesn’t even hear this overture, being too fixated upon Ludlow. Barton shrugs, accepting his dismissal, and tells her about a warehouse that, a couple of months back, was similarly destroyed.

(At this point in the film, it looks as if we’re headed for a romantic triangle, with Audrey caught between Science and The Military; but it never pans out. Pity, because frankly, I like Barton a lot better than Ed. Although upon reflection, it never would have worked out between him and Audrey: she never lets him drive her car! But she lets Ed drive her car! [Ah, the fifties….])

Audrey heads back to the Experimental Station. Ed sees her, and that big dopey grin springs back into existence. (Aw, jeez, Pete! Knock it off, will ya? You’re creeping me out!). Audrey announces that she wants Ed to do her a favour: to come out to the destroyed warehouse and give her his opinion. Ed protests, saying he has too much work to do; and besides, "the authorities" investigated the incident. Audrey then plays her trump card: Ed is a scientist, so he might see something that the sheriff missed. This line works like a charm, as always: Ed’s big dopey grin gets even bigger and dopier (yecchh!). At this point, Frank the expert lip-reader butts in with a burst of sign language, eliciting hearty laughs from his sensitive companions. Ed translates, and to our surprise, given events soon to transpire, Frank wasn’t offering to show them a photo of his girl, nor announcing that he’s only got one day left until retirement. Rather, Frank thinks Audrey’s got a good idea, and he wants to come along too. (Oh, Frank, Frank….) The three set out, and as they cruise along A Certain Stretch Of Road, we get one of those charming B-movie "potted history" scenes. Audrey was "born inquisitive", but inherited her "knack with a camera" from her father. Ed as a child was always "tinkering with anything electrical" and was a "radar officer" in WWII (two occupations that would, naturally, lead to entomology). We then learn that, like the entire Illinois National Guard, Ed is familiar with Audrey’s career, observing that her reports made him realise "what sheltered lives we scientists lead". "Sheltered?" queries Audrey – who really does have a large dose of the killjoy in her. "Look what happened to Frank!" Which, not surprisingly, ends that conversation.

The "warehouse" turns out to be a line of grain silos (more stock footage), used for storing surplus wheat. Sure enough, Ed’s "scientific perspective" allows him to see that the walls of the silos were pushed out from the inside; yet there was no explosion. Frank points out some barren ground, and Ed explains to Audrey that the grass has been cropped right to the roots. Audrey decides to take some shots, and she and Ed go back to her car. "Here, let me help you!" says Ed – because, you know, such a fragile little woman couldn’t possibly lift a great big camera by herself; even if that is her job. At that moment, a weird screeching sound fills the air. As Ed and Audrey give each other puzzled looks, we cut back to Frank, who truly has no peripheral vision whatsoever, and doesn’t notice as a giant locust looms up beside him – or at least, not until (dum, dum, duuum….) – it’s too late.

Now, there was, of course, some slight difficulty involved in getting the characters in this film to interact with the locusts directly; and so Frank’s death is depicted via a close-up of his terrified face, his frantically waving hands, and his silent scream…. (With apologies to Oscar Wilde, anyone who can watch Frank’s death scene without laughing must have a heart of stone.) If this film had been made a few years later, there would undoubtedly have been a cry at this point of "Let’s get the hell out of here!" Which Ed and Audrey do, without the accompanying vocals; while we, the audience, take note of two things: (1) Ed is now driving Audrey’s car (it must be serious); and (2) Miss Crack Reporter, Miss War Zone, Miss I-Went-Through-Seoul-And-Berlin-And-Cologne, is running away without bothering to take a photograph!!

(And by the way – we get an annoying change of direction here. Audrey has been set up as a strong, resourceful, independent woman, but from here on in – from the moment Ed seizes the wheel of her car, in fact [perhaps it’s supposed to be symbolic] – she degenerates into a helpless clinging female, good for nothing but sinking into Ed’s manly arms. The inference seems to be not just that being helpless and clingy is the way to catch a man, but that the natural consequence of falling for a man is to become helpless and clingy. Yecchh!)

Back at National Guard HQ, Sturgeon is finding out that "radiation" was not responsible for what happened in Ludlow. In the middle of this process, Ed bursts in, announcing that he knows what was: "Locusts! Giant locusts!" Naturally, Sturgeon laughs off the suggestion. Ed then draws an analogy with his giant plants, and Sturgeon demands to know if he’s saying he bred the locusts? "In a sense, I did, yes," admits Ed, having finally joined the mental dots between the giant locusts, the grain silos, his plants, and the radioactive plant food he and Frank just left lying around…. Sturgeon is still sceptical, provoking a burst of pseudo-science from Ed, in which he babbles about the plant food accelerating the locusts’ cell division – "That is, they started to grow abnormally fast!" (You know, Ed would seem far more competent if he’d stop taking time out to mis-explain everything he says!) Sturgeon chuckles (nice that he can keep his sense of humour in the face of mass fatalities), and objects that even if he believed Ed’s story, he’d find it hard to believe the creatures would attack people. Well, yeah! Who ever heard of giant locusts attacking people? It’s patently absurd! Eventually, however, worn down by Ed and Audrey’s harangues, Sturgeon (who continues to chuckle, even after hearing of Frank’s death) agrees to take a detail out to search for – whatever.

So a small troop of guardsmen is sent out into the woods, and much jocular soldier talk ensues. ("I ate ‘em once, down Mexico!" "Better watch your step, they’re liable to return the favour!") This drags on for a while, and then – that high-pitched screech again! Despite this aural warning, one guardsman proves that he’s got worse peripheral vision than either Frank or me, by failing to see the truck-sized locust standing right beside him! And then the locusts attack! And we see a great deal of hilariously unconvincing superimposition! The soldiers fall back, firing all the time – or as well as they can, considering their weapons keep jamming. One poor SOB has his gun jam three times running – and just as he’s crossing the same stretch of ground each time, too! What are the odds? There are some casualties (more flailing and screaming into the camera), and then the survivors jump back into the truck, fleeing the scene. We get one of my favourite shots here, as a locust charges up the road after the truck. Kind of.

Back at HQ, the chastened Sturgeon rallies his forces. Ed intervenes, insisting that Sturgeon doesn’t have enough men or firepower. The locusts’ screech has convinced him that there are "countless numbers" of them. The regular army must be called in. Sturgeon scoffs at the notion of needing the army to deal with some "oversized grasshoppers", and goes about his business. In despair, Ed turns to Audrey (who’s just hanging around, doing nothing), and she assures him that it’s not his fault, that he’s done everything he could. Ed then delivers his most deathless line of dialogue: "In a way," he confesses, "I feel responsible." Oh, in a way, Ed? What way would that be? The way you and Frank left your lab open, and your radioactive plant food lying around? Yeesh!

Grimly, Ed voices his opinion that what they are seeing might be the beginning of the total annihilation of mankind – "The Beginning Of The End", no less. He decides to go over Sturgeon’s head, and appeal to Washington. Audrey tags along (naturally), and we see Ed delivering a lecture to a group of army guys, including General Hanson, played by Morris Ankrum. (About freaking time!! Actually, glad as I am to see him, I have to say that this isn’t one of Morrie’s better performances. While ordinarily we can rely on him for enthusiastic table-thumping and cries of, "By---!", his main contribution here is an attitude of overwhelming boredom. [And I still say he owned his own uniform.]) Ed shows some footage of a plague of locusts ("More commonly known as the grasshopper!"), which we hear was filmed in Australia. Of course. Has there ever been footage of a natural disaster in a film that wasn’t? (Welcome to sunny Oz, Natural Disaster Capital of the world!) Ed impresses his audience, but not enough. General Short, oozing smugness, tells Ed he has all the faith in the world in the "full strength of the Illinois National Guard". And we all know what that means. Sure enough, the phone rings, and we learn that the locusts have "broken through the line", with thousands of casualties. Short’s reaction is swift and to the point: he puts Morrie in charge. Yes!!

On the plane back to Illinois, Morrie gets a call informing him that they can’t land in Paxton, because Paxton’s no longer there; so he sets up HQ in Chicago. Soon we learn that more towns have been destroyed, among them Peoria (thus relieving non-mainstream film-makers of the need to worry about whether their films will play there or not). Meanwhile, Ed is at his "emergency lab", where he is bringing to bear upon the problem the full force of his Conical Flasks Filled With Mysterious Coloured Fluids. Ed has already ordered a massive insecticide strike (ah, the fifties, when no-one worried about such things!), but learns that it has had no effect whatsoever on the locusts. Surprise! Ed picks up a local newspaper that bears the huge headline "CHICAGO NEXT?", the story carrying Audrey’s byline. (Nice to see that, even in times of crisis, the residents of Chicago can take a few moments to worry about "proposed taxation legislation" and the "latest sports results".) Then Audrey herself wanders in. Ed is aghast, knowing that she was ordered back to New York because of the danger. "I wanted to stay!" she says breathily, giving him A Significant Look. Then begins a ridiculously extended section of stock footage, with soldiers marching, soldiers running, tanks rolling, guns blasting, and endless, endless mortar-fire. Hilariously, we then cut to a soldier on the phone, who reports, "No, no sign of the locusts yet!" Another cut shows us the face (or at least, the back of the head) of Middle America, as a typical Ma and Pa watch an emergency broadcast, where they learn that the locusts’ high-pitched screech is the sign that they’re about to attack. Cut to Ed and his Conical Flasks. An ominous sound is heard…. Cut back to the soldiers, and yup, here come the locusts! Gee, I hope the army guys haven’t used up all their shells! More stock footage, more guns jamming – and a few too many genuinely injured locusts. ("No locusts were harmed---", hey? Yeah, right.) And I guess they did use up all their shells, because they certainly don’t fire any here. As the soldiers are cut down (in one genuinely good moment, an abrupt jump cut makes it look like a locust is pouncing on a victim), we get the traditional "despairing phonecall to HQ", and the still more traditional close-up of Morris Ankrum’s face as one of his men screams in terror down the line…. (At least this time, Morrie doesn’t cut the poor sucker off!)

Next thing we know, the locusts are invading the south side of Chicago. (Hey! They can say "hi" to Leroy Brown for me!) While the PA system urges people to "Stay calm! Take shelter in basements!" we watch scenes of panicking people, and a mass evacuation by car (although oddly, there seem to be as many cars going into the city as there are leaving it). Just to add insult to injury, we also see the "picnic in the park" footage from The Day The Earth Stood Still, with giant locusts superimposed over it! One of the film’s comic highlights follows, as the camera discovers the one person in Chicago who followed The Authorities’ advice and didn’t panic. On the contrary, this Sweet Young Thing has just climbed out of a relaxing hot bath, and – while wrapped in a towel – brushes out her hair without a care in the world. This idyll is rudely interrupted when a giant locust appears outside her window and, uh, "King Kong"-s her.

Later, back at HQ, Morrie calls Ed and Audrey (still just hanging around) into his office. The locusts, we learn, are huddled in alleys, reacting to the cold of the night; but Ed dashes Morrie’s faint hopes, telling him they’re still dangerous. Morrie then breaks the news that now that Chicago has been evacuated (except for those few obedient souls huddling in their basements, we assume), Washington has given him permission to drop an atom bomb on the city. The other two are horrified, with Audrey protesting that this will cause "a billion dollars’ worth of damage!" (Ah, the fifties….) Morrie is insistent, telling them that if they don’t come up with an alternative…. Audrey then makes her sole contribution to the proceedings; and naturally, it’s one of those off-the-cuff remarks that induces a Lightbulb Moment in her man, rather than anything solid on her own behalf. Ed begins to plot a way of using sound to lure the locusts into the lake, demanding an oscilloscope (of course), amplifiers, radio equipment, and a boat – "A fast boat!" (Gee, lucky Ed prepared for his career as an entomologist by "tinkering" with electronics, hey?) Morrie promises him "anything he needs", but warns him again of the deadline.

Among the things that Ed needs, it turns out, is "a live giant grasshopper!". As an assigned detail searches for one (searches? I thought they were overrun by them!), Ed and one Major Everett wander down a dark alley. They hear a noise….and sure enough (boding ill for those who followed official instructions), a locust emerges from a nearby basement. The two men drag on their gas masks, throw a gas bomb at the creature, then move in to "capture" it. There is a discreet fade to black at this point, and the next thing we know, the locust is behind the bars of a makeshift "cage" in Ed’s lab. Major Everett is standing rather too close to it, and Ed warns him of his danger – to which Everett responds by turning his back on the creature. As if this weren’t enough to cue us in on the Major’s ultimate fate, he then takes his life in his hands by choosing this of all moments to wax philosophical. "You know, I’m thirty-seven years old, and for the first time I realise how much I’ve taken life for granted," he observes cheerfully. Ed, meanwhile, is busy setting up a polygraph machine that will detect any reaction from the locust to the signals he bombards it with. Audrey, still hanging around, is given the onerous task of watching the needles (don’t strain anything, dear). Some time later (there is a nice touch here, as "passing time" is indicated by piled-up chart paper, rather than the usual clockface fades), Morrie looks in to see how things are going, and to make the final arrangements for the dropping of the bomb. He urges Ed to move to another location. Ed refuses, saying it would waste too much time, but does ask for one man to replace Audrey (because things couldn’t possibly go on without someone shouldering the burden of her workload). However, Audrey also refuses to budge. Ed then pleads for a bit more time – just until the temperature lifts, and the locusts begin moving – and Morrie gives him until 0616 hours. Morrie also tells him that he’s arranged for three observation posts throughout the city, and a helicopter, and a getaway car downstairs, then advises them to leave town no later than thirty minutes before the drop (yeah, you’d think!). "If you’re successful, contact me at once," he instructs them (yeah, you’d think!), and departs.

The next section is rather well done, with rapid cutting between the polygraph, the clock, the locust, and the deserted streets of Chicago actually building a little tension. The clock ticks relentlessly towards 6.16 am (okay if Ed and Aud want to be noble, but what about the poor soldiers?). And what do you know? - just at the very last moment, success! Unfortunately for Everett, the locust reacts to the stimulating signal by breaking out of its cage. Ed guns the creature down, but Everett has fulfilled his manifest destiny. "Cover him up," Ed orders a soldier sombrely, "and get that thing out of here!" (Tragically, the camera moves away at this point, so we don’t get to see how exactly the weedy little soldier gets that thing out of there.) And then everyone stands around looking mournful, until it eventually occurs to Ed that he might want to, you know, call off the atom bomb drop. Hearing the glad tidings, Morrie responds nonchalantly, "Good", and calls the pilots, who are on the way with their deadly cargo. They, clearly, are Morrie’s proteges: they hear their mission called off without a single reaction one way or the other. And back at the lab, Audrey sinks into Ed’s manly arms.

But there’s work to be done! Ed gives Audrey another difficult job, getting her to check the thermometer. Sure enough, it’s beginning to warm up. Ed hooks up his equipment to the broadcasting system on the roof of his building. Meanwhile, Morrie is out on the lake, waiting his turn to spring---well, slouch into action. Morrie wants to start, but Ed warns him that they have to be sure to round up all the locusts. He starts his signal, and the locusts begin moving. The men at the observation posts report the success of Ed’s plan, and Ed conveys the news to Morrie. "It’s working, General! It’s working!" he cries excitedly. "I heard the reports," yawns Morrie. The locusts come pouring into the city, even climbing the building in which Our Heroes are trapped. (And yes, this section of the film does contain the infamous moment when one of the locusts wanders off the side of the "building" and onto the "sky". I’m also fond of the shot when a locust walks around the corner of the building without actually changing angle, if you know what I mean.) Over at Observation Post Three, the lookout is so intent upon watching the locusts in the streets below that he somehow fails to notice the one that’s on the roof with him – leading to yet another "dying screams over the radio" scene. And Audrey sinks into Ed’s manly arms. As more locusts try to reach the broadcast point, Ed and his soldier companion are forced to open fire, and we see the same shot of a locust falling off the "building" about four times running. Finally, the helicopter lookout reports that all the locusts are in town. Ed gives Audrey yet another demanding duty: flicking the switch to shut off their signal. Morrie & Co. then take over, and the sex-crazed locusts charge for Lake Michigan – the outcome being conveyed by shots of real drowning locusts. Gee, thanks, Bert. And then the film just kind of, well, stops. We get one shot of Morrie & Co. puttering across the lake, and one of Audrey sinking into Ed’s manly arms, and that’s it, really. No dramatic outro music, not even a dramatic closing speech about tampering in God’s domain! What a lost opportunity! Can’t you just imagine it? – "When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshopper, it will be time for you to defeat Peter Graves…!"

Beginning of the End
Locusts really go for chicks in skimpy clothing.

Beginning of the End
THRILL to the drama of the amazing "needle watching" scene!

Beginning of the End
No-one could beat Ed Wainwright at "Statues". No-one.

Beginning of the End
Rah! I'm a monsta!

Beginning of the End
Audrey sinks into Ed's manly arms. Yecchh!

Footnote:  These images we're taken from MONSTRULA! (http://www.monstrula.de), a German site well worth visiting even if you don't speak the language.

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