Written by / 1/15/2018 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DIRECTOR RAY MILLAND AVOIDS A BOMB IN 'PANIC IN YEAR ZERO'

Panic in Year Zero YEAR: 1962
I don't need your helping hand...
I can't be no savage...
I can't be no highwayman
Lyrics from King of the World by Steely Dan, a band with a handful of great musicians and only two songwriters, the latter reportedly influenced by a particular b-movie for their song about, basically, the end of the road, and yet the lyrics seem influenced against the dire, desperate situation on screen: An American International mid-sixties' B&W super low budget thriller with a consistently jazzy soundtrack befitting Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's own musical tastes. And anyone knows, bad movies can be the greatest time-filler, except when they are, surprisingly, quite good, solid and entertaining despite having been made for what feels like a straight-to-drive-in crowd: who usually watches everything but the movie itself... Enter PANIC IN YEAR ZERO starring a great actor who could pull off bad movies with ease, Ray Milland...

An armed Frankie Avalon and Ray Milland
No marigolds in the promised land... There's a hole in the ground... Where they used to grow... 
His turn as the stuffy patriarch in FROGS during the 1970's, and especially as one half of a two-headed black and white monster (shared with Rosie Greer) in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS, would make him a cult movie fixture right along with his dramatically legit youthful days in classic features like DIAL M FOR MURDER going all the way back to a James Cagney foil in the 1930's BLONDE TROUBLE....

Year Zero Score: ****
Here, during the early 60's, Milland directs PANIC, and the very low budget makes it a more eerie and realistic journey about a Nuclear Family (pun intended) on a trip to the mountains above Los Angeles when the bombs hit L.A., only we... and they... can only see an effect of light-flashes followed by, a few minutes later, a distant yet ominously large mushroom cloud over the doomed city. (Despite being noticeably contrived and tacked into the background, the pulsating lights make it look pretty cool and sinister.) This is a completely different kind of post-apocalyptic thriller, especially since it occurs minutes before and seconds after, and not within the zombie-filled "months later" aftermath.

Actress Shary Marshall Panic in Year Zero
In the leading, alpha male husband and father role, Milland remains the kind of tough, assertive, resilient great outdoors type who was taking his family roughing it in the first place, and does each year...

Frankie and Ray
As the story progresses, punching-out a gas station attendants and holding up a store owner seems second-nature, adding to the overall suspense that also includes three young thugs (beatnik boys gone bad, featuring future Disney thug Dick Bakalyan and weasel-faced Rex Holman, in which the bongo-jazz theme befits more than our heroes) and an element of formidable peril:

Joan Freeman in Panic in Year Zero
All this, though, has the backbone of a simply told survival tale that, once settling in, could have nothing to do with the nuclear war. If this were made only ten or twenty years later, the theme, politicized to the hilt, would override everything and everyone else... Thankfully, Milland knew to put the characters first...

Despite the one flaw in nervy, downright annoying, non-trusting and banally passive wife Jean Hagan, countered by a surprisingly subdued yet fully loaded and cool performance by Frankie Avalon as the perfect sidekick son...

Then there's a teenage daughter who hardly seems there at all, and has only one situation of desperation, basically her girl-next-door aloofness replaced in the much needed young and gorgeous 11th hour ingenue Joan Freeman who, if there were a sequel, would wind up Eve to Frankie's Adam. "Any man left on the Rio Grande... Is the King of the World... As Far as I know!" RIP Walter Becker, Steely Dan
Bashing through Russ Bender's human blockade
Saved from punks at the 11th hour, sexy Joan Freeman plays Marilyn Hayes in Panic in Year Zero
Joan Freeman in Panic in Year Zero watching Frankie Avalon chopping wood
Shary as Bobbie's husband Richard Garland with Milland and Avalon in Panic in Year Zero
Frankie Avalon, Jean Hagen, Ray Milland and Mary Mitchel in Panic in Year Zero
Neil Burtyn and Rex Holman busts up Ray Milland in Panic in Year Zero
Richard Bakalyan steals a gun in Panic in Year Zero
Shary Marshall as Bobbie Johnson in Panic in Year Zero
Shary Marshall with James Arness as Matt Dillon on GUNSMOKE
Smokin' hot Shary Marshall under Steve Cochran's direction in Tell Me in the Sunlight
Which takes us back to Shary Marshall as Bobbie Johnson in Panic in Year Zero
Shary Marshall in Ray Milland's American International Panic in Year Zero
Ray Milland and Frankie Avalon move in for the kill
Neil Burtyn and Rex Holman in Panic in Year Zero
Rex Holman in Panic in Year Zero
Joan Freeman, Frankie Avalon in Panic in Year Zero
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO w/ Frankie Avalon
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO w/ Frankie Avalon
Joan Freeman as Marilyn Hayes in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO
Joan Freeman as Richard Bakalyan in PANIC IN YEAR ZERO
Frankie Avalon provides modern cave paintings for the future to trip on
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