The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959) Classic Movie Review 43

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959)

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959)

They shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959) is a post-apocalyptic tale of a few survivors.

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

Today is the third of our October 2015 horror movies. Episode 43 – The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959) is a post-apocalyptic tale of a few survivors. I originally selected this movie that I haven’t watched for a couple of scores because I thought it might be based on Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend” (1954). However, it was not based on “I Am Legend” but I will talk more about this in Episodes 44 and 45 as we bring our October 2015 horror series to a close. This movie is based on the novel The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel and the story “End of the World” by Ferdinand Reyher.

One thing I like about this movie is it only had three actors so there won’t be a lot of in-depth biographies. Before I started reading about this movie I assumed that the three people represented the three elements in the title. Again I was not correct but I will talk more about that at the end.

The first actor is the great singer Harry Belafonte who played the role of mine inspector Ralph Burton. Belafonte grew up in Jamaica and the British West Indies. I would call him a singer that acts but there is nothing wrong with his acting. Belafonte’s film debut was in Bright Road (1953) with Dorothy Dandridge. They reunited for Carmen Jones (1954). He was in Island in the Sun (1957) again with Dandridge.

Like his good friend Sidney Poitier, Belafonte was very interested in civil right and made several films that touched on theses themes. Some of these films are The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), The Angel Levine (1970), and White Man’ Burden (1985) with John Travolta. Oddly he acted in a couple of blacksploitation films as well – Buck and the Preacher (1972) with Sidney Poitier and Uptown Saturday Night (1974). Belafonte is still alive and remains active in civil rights.
Inger Stevens played the role of Sarah Crandall, the only women left alive. Stevens was born in Sweden in 1934. When she was 6 years old her mother abandons the family for another man. Her father moved to America and remarried. In 1944, he brought his children to the US. However, home life was not good here either and she ran away to a burlesque chorus as a teenage. Brought back home she graduated from high school and left for New York where she worked as a model. During this same time, she studied at the Actors Studio. The beautiful blonde with the sparking smile worked her way up doing commercials and summer stock.

Stevens got her first film role at the age of 22 but a problem soon developed. Opposite Bing Crosby in Man on Fire (1957), she began an affair with the actor. She repeated this with James Mason in Cry Terror! (1958), Anthony Quinn, her director in The Buccaneer (1958), and Harry Belafonte, her co-star in The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959). This feeds her depression and she tried to take her life on New Years 1959.

She went on Broadway for a time and then started doing the mainstream television circuit such as Bonanza (1959), The Twilight Zone (1959) and Route 66 (1960). This lead the way to her three-year role as the Swedish governess, The Farmer’s Daughter 1963-1966.

After her television show Stevens was able to rebuild her movie career. Her roles during this time included A Guide for the Married Man (1967) with Walter Matthau, Hang ‘Em High (1968) with Clint Eastwood, Madigan (1968) with Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark, Firecreek (1968) with Henry Fonda and James Stewart, 5 Card Stud (1968) with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum, House of Cards (1968) with Orson Welles, and A Dream of Kings (1969) with Anthony Quinn. She began having affairs with co-stars again.

In April of 1970, Stevens signed on as a series lead in The Most Deadly Game (1970). Less than a week later Stevens was found unconscious. She died on the way to the hospital from barbiturates and alcohol. She was 35 years old. Following her death, it was reported that she had been secretly married to African-American Ike Jones since 1961.

Mel Ferrer played the role of Benson Thacker, the late arrival. Ferrer was born in New Jersey in 1917. Born to wealthy parents Ferrer attended prep school and then Princeton University. At the age of 15, he started doing summer stock. I. 1938, he became a dance on Broadway and two years later he became a stage actor.

After contracting polio Ferrer worked in radio for a time. This was followed by being a director for NBC in New York. He worked as John Ford’s assistant on The Fugitive (1947). Ferrer first movie role was Lost Boundaries (1949). Other memorable roles include the lame puppeteer in Lili (1953), Prince Andrei in War and Peace (1956), and The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959). He directed The Secret Fury (1950) with Claudette Colbert and Green Mansions (1959) with his then wife (Audrey Hepburn). In 1960, the couple divorced and Ferrer moved to Europe where he continued to produce and act. He did the usually run on American television before he died in 2008 at the age of 90.


Mine inspector Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is in a shaft in Pennsylvania when the roof collapses trapping Burton underground. He has air and food and it seems he is in contact with surface. He has a one-way conversation with the top side. He hears digging from above but after a few days it seems to taper off. On the fifth day the pump shuts down. Given no choice Burton begins to dig out. After a while he makes it through the fall and to the surface. There is no one there and no bodies. In the office he finds out that the radio stations are not broadcasting. He sees some old papers that say “UN Retaliates For Use Of Atomic Poison, world doomed says dying president and “, another that “Millions Flee From Cities! End Of The World.” It never says what country released the poison but given the Cold War tension it is assumed to be the Soviet Union.

Burton goes into town and it is deserted as well. No bodies. He picks up a geiger counter, bullets, and a gun at the Civil Defense HQ. With a little hotwiring he picks up a sweet convertible with rather large fins. This scene is copied nearly verbatim in The Omega Man (19**). He slowly makes his way to New York where he has to leave his car because the bridge and tunnels are blocked with abandon cars. Still no bodies, in fact no bodies are shown in the movie. Way to save on extras. He finds a small rowboat and motors across to the city. The city is completely deserted. Burton breaks down in a church dealing with the fact that he is alone. He then goes a little crazy firing his gun in the air, screaming come out, while he drags a squeaky wagon of food and water along.

After his supper he starts picking up showing that he is a builder. That night he finds a radio station that still has power. He finds out from a tape that the dust was lethal for five days and the world has basically ended. He flips a coin to decide which way to go and as he leaves the shot a set of women’s feet step to the coin. As Burton wanders the city it is revealed that he is being stalked by Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a 20-something white girl. When he selects his now apartment there is a Robby the Robot and Raggedy Ann doll on the shelf. Is this a metaphor for Burton and Sarah. Believing that he is all alone he begins to rebuild the world. As an engineer he knows how to solve problems and this is how he keeps himself sane. He is a bit of an early Macgyver.
At one point Burton collects a male and female mannequin. He calls the male Snodgrass and comments on how he is always smiling. Again this was ripped off by The Omega Man (1971) as he talked to a bust. Burton rewires the whole block and lights the streets and stores. Sarah is still hiding in the shadows.

In a fit of desperate loneliness, Burton throws Snodgrass out the window for smiling. Again this is a metaphor for what could happen later in the movie when the second male arrived. When the dummy his the ground Sarah screams and runs out. They meet on the street but the first meeting doesn’t start out well but they settle down in a bit. Sarah survived by staying in a decompression chamber. Sarah seems damaged like the Raggedy Ann doll.

After a bit, he wires her apartment with electricity as well. he gets the telephones working as well. He begins broadcast on the radio every day at noon. Totally ripped off by I am Legend (2007).

Sarah’s feelings for Burton are growing and she wants to move into his building but he cannot get past the old racial prejudices of American society. She is pissed.

Sarah talks about getting married and Burton plays it off like he will do the ceremony. Sarah asks for a haircut and Burton has trouble being that close to her and touching her hair.

After the fight, Burton goes away for three days. When he comes back he asks to be friends and brings her back a huge diamond for her birthday. That day he gets a call back on the radio and realizes there are survivors in Europe. Burton’s joy is quickly dashed as he believes having others around will keep him and Sarah apart.

She goes totally cold from that statement. But as she throws herself at him he retreats behind the racial problems. She is crushed by the constant rejection.

The next morning Sarah calls Burton to tell him a boat is coming up the river. They go to meet it and it is driven by a very ill, white, Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer). The pair nurses Thacker back to health although Burton feels it might be bad for him.

As soon as Thacker is well he starts to bum rush, Sarah. She likes it and they start seeing each other. Burton pulls back to give Thacker room to move in on Sarah. Burton does everything but leave town. When Thacker and Burton are discussing Sarah Burton calls him Snodgrass implying that he will kill him. Sarah bust the two men in mid-conversation about her and she runs out. Thacker catches up and as they kiss you can see rifles behind him in the window. After a little kissing, she freaks and leaves. Thacker arms himself.

Sarah shows up at the radio station and tries to throw herself at Burton. He won’t have anything to do with her but he does tell her he loves her. Later Thacker and Sarah are on a date and he says he can force her or he can take care of the problem. Thacker goes to Burton’s house with the gun and challenges Burton to a death match.

Sarah calls Burton over and when he arrives Thacker starts shooting at him. Burton arms himself and the two men start hunting each other in the empty streets of New York. The hunt goes on for a time and Burton ends up at the United Nations building. He reads the inscription “They shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more”, from Isaiah 2:4.

Burton throws down his gun and goes to find Thacker. Thacker cannot murder an unarmed man at this close range and drops his gun as well. Sarah runs down the street to Burton but he turns to leave. She takes his hand and tells him he can’t go. Sarah calls Thacker to wait and she takes his hand as well. The trio walk down the empty street and “The Beginning” is flashed across the screen.


So to bring it back to the title, I just assumed that Burton was the world because he worked in a cave, Sarah was the flesh because she was the female, and Thacker was the Devil because he messed up the Garden of Eden. WRONG. Totally wrong. It comes from Christian theology, in Latin: mundus, caro, et diabolus are the enemy of the soul and sometimes the opposition of the trinity. The sources for this go back to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and Jesus’ parable of the seeds in Mark 4:15-17. The phrase is also part of the Book of Common Prayers – [… F]rom all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us.
So it seems that the trio has defeated the world, the flesh, and the devil and are going forth to build a new world without the problems of the past one.

World-Famous Short Summary – Man afraid to ask for first date almost loses girl to another guy before settling on a mutual solution.

If you enjoyed this week’s show please tell your friends and it you really want to help drop over to iTunes to give me a review. If you want to comment, recommend a movie, or just say hi, follow the links in the show notes to my site.

Beware the moors

(Visited 253 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.