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Last Man on Earth, The

Entry updated 14 March 2022. Tagged: Film.

US silent film (1924). Fox Film Corporation. Directed by John G Blystone. Written by Donald W Lee. Based on "The Last Man on Earth" (November 1923 Munsey's Magazine) by John D Swain. Cast includes Earle Foxe, Martha Mattox and Derelys Perdue. 70 minutes. Black and white.

Though at least two copies of this film survive and it has occasionally been shown at exhibitions, it is not generally available. The main sources for this entry are given under links below. It is possible that the inspiration for the original short story was the US granting of the vote to women in 1920 (see Politics).

A plague (see Pandemic), masculitis, wipes out all adult males: boys are pampered, as they will die by the age of 14. There is thus great excitement amongst the extant adult gender when, in 1950, a Last Man is discovered. He is Elmer Smith (Foxe). Back in the "flip-flapping" year of 1940 a hamfisted attempt to woo his crush, Hattie (Perdue), leads to her declaring she wouldn't marry him if he "were the last man on earth". Traumatized, Elmer becomes a hermit. His discoverer, a gangster, auctions him: the government pays $10m so he can be studied by Scientists, whilst two senatoresses have a boxing match to decide which will marry him. However, Hattie is at the fight: the pair reconcile, run off and marry – with Hattie subsequently giving birth to twin boys, whom they perhaps inadvisedly name Romulus and Remus.

The Humour of this comedy largely derives from the novelty of having women in men's roles, from roadsweepers to a cat-loving President (Mattox) – the latter the first female US president in movies, and seemingly in any media (Betty Boop being the second). The film is certainly not Feminist, though it does not appear to be as bad as might be feared. Contemporary reviews seem to have viewed it as minor but fun: "boisterous and frivolous" (1924 New York Times), with Foxe's acting praised and the actresses deemed "entirely satisfactory" (1924 Moving Picture World). There were dissenting voices: the British Board of Film Censors declared it unsuitable for screening while the Virginia State Board of Censors also banned it on the ground that "the dignity of womanhood is flouted in almost every reel ... women of various ages contending in the most shameless fashion for the possession of a young man. Little, if any, attempt is made to conceal the fact that they are impelled by Sex impulse."

The film was remade by the Fox Film Corporation, in Spanish, as El último varon sobre la Tierra (1932), and then in English as It's Great to Be Alive (1933).

Swain's story (see link below) differs in some regards from the film (there are no boxing senatoresses), and is more reflective, though decidedly of its time: "no structural ironwork was attempted by the world of women, and there was little building of any sort". However, literature "maintained a high level", but fiction dies, as "with love, fighting, sex jealousy, double-living, bootlegging, bohemianism, villains, missing heirs, and faithless lovers and guardians removed, what was the poor novelist to do?" Religion does not fare well; aside from "a few frenzied evangelists ... [who] the great sober majority of their sisters viewed ... as deranged ... it was plain a manless religion was doomed to atrophy." Science continues to advance, with the invention of the "who-Ray" that can decide the sex of "unborn babes"; whilst a vaccine for the plague (which is related to pneumococcus) has just been created, though concerns about the health of the few remaining boys means survival is not certain (it should be added, given the era, that it is made clear the vaccine will be circulated around the world to ensure all races survive). Meanwhile, Games and Sports – particularly boxing and soccer – have become extremely popular. However, such vigorous exercise did not suppress all urges: though censorship dies out (as "it appeared only men needed censorship!"), we are informed that immorality had not "... entirely ceased, of course. There were certain curious books, veiled in symbolism, which voiced the tenets of obscure groups". Which is presumably a very roundabout way of saying "lesbians". [SP]


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