This review was first published, in audio form, on StarShipSofa Number 194.
Somehow, the written version of my second review (Silent Running) has disappeared! So, after a suitable pause, here is the print version of Number 3…
The Final Programme – A Review From The Jacaranda City
Welcome to my third movie review, recorded in a freezing cold Pretoria wardrobe.
Last time I commented that I had brought you two reviews about the end of the world as we know it, and that I would look at more cheerful fare this time. I was half telling the truth. The Final Programme (known in the US as The Last Days of Man on Earth) is about the end of an age, but at least it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I thought long and hard before I decided to review this movie, but I feel that I shouldn’t always concentrate on the acknowledged classics. Sometimes one needs to be warned about a possible clunker so that you can head to the DVD store with your eyes wide open.
The Final Programme was released in 1973 and, I first saw it on a Sunday night on BBC2, probably in 1978. My friends and I were excited about the prospect, as, not only was it a film of a Michael Moorcock book (we were all compulsive Moorcock readers) but it was rumoured that there would be boobs. Unfortunately, Sandy Ratcliff’s boobs were not the only ones on display. The story is jerky and confusing and, if there was an I-Spy book for over acting, one could get your feather and order of merit after watching just this one movie.
However, that said, it is fun and gives some insight into the early 1970’s for those who may not have lived through the period.
The credits state that it was “designed, written and directed by Robert Fuest” who was art director and later director of The Avengers, in my opinion he would have been better off sticking to the design and direction and not taking on the role of re-writing Moorcock’s work.
The movie features a Who’s Who of British character actors and stars Jon Finch as Jerry Cornelius. Finch’s previous film roles were supporting ones in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein (both from 1970), followed by the title role in Roman Polanski’s gory and controversial Macbeth (1971) and then the part of the prime suspect in Alfred Hitchcock’s serial-killer movie Frenzy (1972).
The central co-star is Jenny Runacre as Miss Brunner, a method actress more known for her performances in such films as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Canterbury Tales and Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger.
Given the two stars, it’s not surprising that The Final Programme comes across as the bastard son of kitsch horror and confusing art movies.
The film opens with a group of fur clad Sami men walking across a frozen plain. They then prepare to burn a coffin. Up walks Jerry Cornelius in a much more fashionable fur. We don’t find out until later who was being cremated or why we are in the frozen north. There’s a flashback showing Jerry discussing the present age (that began on February 18th 3102BC, in the afternoon) with Professor Hira and the fact that the dark age is about to end. That is about as sensible as it gets. Most of the rest of the movie is taken up with dystopian scenes of the coming end of the world, and the Cornelius family feud, as a vital microfilm is being sought.
The point of the movie, in my opinion, is not so much to provide a logical narrative, but to flash scenes of the prologue to Gotterdammerung onto our retina. From Major Wrongway Lindbergh, played in a delightfully over the top manner by Sterling Hayden, we learn that Amsterdam is 28 square miles of white ash following a mistake by the US Air Force. There’s a towering pile of cars clogging the Thames. Jerry Cornelius survives the movie through a combination of washing down pills with Bells Whisky and keeping his blood sugar up with chocolate digestives. Ronald Lacey who plays Shades is even creepier than when he played Toht (the Gestapo officer who got his hand branded in Raiders of the Lost Ark). All in all, the individual scenes are fascinating to watch, I just wish that they fitted together better.
Jerry meets up with Miss Brunner and her three tame scientists and we learn that she is a ‘freelance programmer’ and that she is working to create a program of the sum total of all human knowledge, the program for immortality. Along the way, she somehow absorbs her assistant Jenny, acquiring the ability to play the piano, and, later, she absorbs Dr. Baxter.
All of the high jinks lead us, by hot air balloon, back to Lapland where Miss Brunner proves her ability as a programmer by being able to distil everything from Dr Alexander Cornelius’s microfilm onto a single Hollerith card (she would have been perfect for the Twitter age that we are now in).
The final scenes show a psychedelic coupling between Jerry Cornelius and Miss Brunner, after which a hairy apelike thing emerges from the chamber and walks away, turns to the camera and says “a very tasty world”.
All in all, a weird, confusing, colourful ride. I would recommend it on that basis. It is interesting to watch but is, ultimately, a triumph (if that’s the right word) of style over substance. So caveat emptor.
Must go now, I suddenly have the urge to find some whisky and chocolate digestives.