No Blade of Grass (1970)

Genre: British ‘Collapse of Society’ Science Fiction

The Earth is dieing. A disease is killing off all cereal crops including wheat and rice, there is mass famine, the rivers are poisoned from industrial waste and the ice caps are melting due to global warming. Does this sound familiar?

This is the ominous predicament which has fallen upon the citizens of the world in the British 1970 movie No Blade of Grass.

The Chinese have already dropped nerve gas on their cities to kill off 30 million people to save the remainder of their population from famine and rumors are abound that the British government is planning to do the same to its own citizens. In the meantime, the army has been given orders to seal off all exits from the cities and riots are breaking out.

Architect John Custance (Nigel Davenport) and his wife Ann (Jean Wallace), with their sixteen year old daughter Mary (Lynn Frederick) and her boyfriend Roger (John Hamill), decide to leave London and make their way up to the north of England where John’s brother owns a farm. John believes they will be safe there because it’s situated in a valley surrounded by high mountains and there is only one entrance in.

Setting off in two cars, they must first battle their way through street riots in London. John, who was an ex-military officer, decides that they should arm themselves with guns and so he calls on the elderly owner of a gun shop. When the owner refuses to sell John some guns, John threatens him, but this is thwarted by the young shop assistant, Pirrie (Anthony May), who enters with a gun and threatens to shoot John.
John explains to them that if they join him, they will be safe on his brother’s farm, but the elderly shop owner isn’t interested. Without hesitation or remorse, Pirrie shoots dead the owner and volunteers to join John and his family.

With Pirrie and his wife Clara (Wendy Richard from British TV’s Are You Being Served and Eastenders) accompanying him, there is only one more place that John must visit and that is his son’s public school.

John collects his son who also brings along his school friend, Spooks, whose mother is dead and whose father lives in Brasil but hasn’t been heard of in fourteen months. As Spooks matter-of-factly points out, Brazil has deteriorated into cannibalism.
Now with the group complete, they continue their journey north.

Along the way they are attacked by a biker gang who wear horns on their helmets, armed and violent starving locals and Pirrie becomes more unbalanced and aggressive. Soon he is setting his sights on John’s daughter, Mary. Meanwhile Clara is setting her sights on John. All this is leading to friction and standoffs within the group, but John must keep Pirrie because he is key to their survival because he is the best at handling a gun.

It is not long before the group come across a large group of refugees wandering across the Yorkshire countryside. They all team up, becoming a small rag tag army, and make their way to John’s brother’s farm. Their journey is dangerous and many are killed or left along the way.

Finally they reach John’s brother’s farm which is well protected behind an impenetrable high gate and by manned machine gun posts. John’s brother tells John only his immediate family can enter and the others would have to go elsewhere because they can not support them all on the farm. John is left with the dilemma of what to do.
I love science fiction movies set in the present day where society has collapsed, and being British, especially those set in the UK. 28 Days Later... (2002) is obviously a recent example.

I grew up on a staple of these kinds of things on TV during the 1970’s. The BBC had Survivors (1975-77), where a genetically engineered virus kills ninety-five percent of the world's population leaving the ‘survivors’ to fend for themselves, and the three part Quatermass (1979) series on ITV was equally memorable.

Survivors actually sounds like it might have been influenced by the original book that No Blade of Grass was based upon. This is because in the original book, the reason for the disaster was a Communist Chinese bacterial warfare experiment that had gone terribly wrong.

No Blade of Grass is a strange film. The direction by movie maverick Cornel Wilde isn’t brilliant and the film is a bit crude around the edges, but it is still, nevertheless, exciting and gripping.

It’s also very violent and especially one notable scene where John’s wife and daughter are gang raped by a group of bikers. This scene is quite shocking and unsettling and surely must have had problems with British censorship laws.

In contrast to that, John’s young son and friend, Spooks, seems to think the whole thing is a big fun adventure, especially later on when the travelers are attacked again by the bikers. They comment on how much this is like cowboys and Indians.
The acting by all the main cast is solid, although some of the refugees who join them seem like they were some Yorkshire locals who had been recruited to act in this film on their weekends off.

It should be noted that Jean Wallace, who played John’s wife, Ann, was Cornel Wilde’s real-life wife and she performed exclusively for Wilde from 1953 onwards.

Because this film was made in 1970, we are treated to some dated 70’s fashions, plus some dialogue which wouldn’t have been out of place in a Robin Askwith Confessions movie. For example, when Pirrie discusses his wife:

"Don't worry about her. She has a survival kit between her legs."

Also it’s been a long time since I’ve heard women’s breasts referred to as “knockers”.

This is a bleak movie which is accentuated by radio news reports between the scenes telling of widespread starvation, cannibalism, martial law and genocide.

Is this what our future will hold for us? ...You may ask.

Even though this movie has its flaws it’s definitely one to look out for.

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