7/4/12

No Blade of Grass (1974): It’s Tommy Chong’s Worst Nightmare


If you took Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, gave it to Roger Corman, who produced it through a partnership with Hammer with a young Al Gore co-writing the script with Jack Hill, then you might approximate something close to today’s film, No Blade of Grass. As summer continues, the days are going to get hotter, and the thought of Global Warming will probably pass though more than a few heat addled mind. It seems that the same old worries have been around since the 70’s, and Cornel Wilde, actor and director of the acclaimed action classic The Naked Prey (1966), found a way to bring The Greenhouse Effect, world hunger, and pollution together with exploitation mainstays murder, rape, bikers, and gang warfare. It all boils down to a road trip, and it’s the last vacation anyone would ever want to take. So come along with me as I take you on a trip to a world where there is No Blade of Grass.


In the near future after man’s care of the Earth has gone so bad that a mutating virus has caused all of the world’s supply of grain, the titular grass, to die or become toxically inedible. John Custance (Nigel Davenport) is tipped off by his friend Roger (John Hamill) that the British government is about to restrict travel outside of London. The food supplies have started to dwindle so much that there’s a real fear that the army plans to wipe out whole cities with nerve gas. Taking his family into the countryside, John intends to lead them to his brother’s farm in Scotland. They are joined by a gun toting tough named Pirrie (Anthony May), and together they face marauding biker gangs, towns of thieves, and the military as they make their way to what they hope will be a safe place from the madness. 

The first seven minutes of No Blade of Grass are so epically heavy handed with documentary style footage of children dying from starvation, nuclear tests, and animals suffering from the effects of pollution that I almost lost any hope that the film might be enjoyable. However, just as this ended, the adventure begins in earnest. Much like The Warriors, No Blade of Grass feels like it could have taken some inspiration from Greek writer Xenophon's epic tale “Anabasis”. As in the Greek tale, a ragged band must travel a great distance, at great peril, to hopefully reach a place where they will all be safe. The twist here is that the road is fraught with peril not from rival gangs or armies, but rather from average people who have descended all too quickly to base instincts. This theme was somewhat explored in Wilde’s The Naked Prey, but in No Blade of Grass, Wilde’s antagonists and protagonists dive into chaos killing, pillaging, and looting at an incredibly rapid rate. Assuming that society had already been disintegrating due to the world’s other problems, it may not seem as sudden, but the willingness with which cultured folk become stone cold killers seems all the more shocking as the events occur in  the normally staid confines of Great Britain. 

Nigel Davenport, as John Custance, is the heart of the story and with his eye patch (which allows for the funniest moment in the film) and stern demeanor, his character came across as a natural leader of men. On the other hand, Anthony May’s Pirrie seems the sly opportunist. Perhaps the most fascinating thing in the film is to watch these two men’s characters slowly grow closer and closer together. They also share the funny scene I mentioned earlier. When Davenport’s character comments that he hates war, May’s Pirrie make a gesture that assumes it is because of Custance’s missing eye. Custance, however, shrugs off his injury and states it is because he “hates killing” despite the fact by this part in the film he’s done plenty of it without any remorse. The eye patch, while badass, goes unexplained. Jean Wallace gives a solid performance as Custance’s wife as does John Hamill as their friend Roger. The only other really notable turn comes from Lynne Frederick as John’s daughter Mary. Going from a rather curious virgin to the beau of Pirrie, Frederick’s character makes the most transformative move of anyone in the film. Frederick would go on to appear in several more genre films including Vampire Circus and Phase IV, but I recognized her from her role as the central object of conflict, Bunny, in Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse

The only real problem, aside from the heavy intro, is that No Blade of Grass was considerably hindered by its own era and budget. The central conceit of the movie is that grains and grass have stopped growing, but the countryside the escaping group travels though is lust and verdant as one would expect the English and Scottish countryside to be. It also seems unlikely to me that there wouldn’t be anything else to eat if there was still this much plant life. While surely cattle would go hungry and it would be hard to get your hands on a loaf of bread, but there’s surely a ton of plant life that isn’t related to grain that we can eat. If the film intended for the virus to affect all plants, then the setting kind of shoots that to hell. Either way, No Blade of Grass is an entertaining film with high minded ideals mired in genre film conventions. Paired with another eco-terror film such as 1978’s Long Weekend, it could make for a great double feature of films where Mother Nature has had enough of our foolishness. 

Bugg Rating

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this one, but then I enjoy anything that's post-apocalyptic. Kind of reminded me of a more entertaining Time of the Wolf. One thing that really bugged me though was the sort of 'previews' for upcoming scenes that just sort of spoiled plot points. Odd choice I thought.

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  2. I've never heard of it, but I'd watch it. Is it on Netflix instant?

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