PANIC IN YEAR ZERO! American International Pictures, 1962. Re-released as End of the World. Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchell, Joan Freeman, Richard Bakalayan, Rex Holman, Willis Bouchy (as Buchet). Screenwriters: Jay Simms (story), John Morton, based on the short stories “Lot” and “Lot’s Daughter” by Ward Moore (uncredited). Director: Ray Milland.

   It’s not that often a really low budget film over-performs as much as this one does. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the time it was written in, maybe it was sheer luck, but this little post-apocalyptic thriller is relatively smart, thoughtful, and even insightful.

   Milland and family, wife Hagen, son and daughter Avalon and Mitchell, are off on a weekend fishing trip when Los Angeles is obliterated by a sneak nuclear attack. Mom is in shock, the kids are in panic mode, and Milland, the ultimate fifties early-sixties father figure, goes into full survival mode, willing to do whatever it takes for his family to survive.

   There are no mutants, no invaders, the threat is other people trying to survive and lowlife types willing to kill, rape, and revert to animals in the subsequent chaos. As the father, Milland holds up a store for supplies as they race just ahead of the flood of refugees fleeing devastated L.A., and heads for a cave to wait out the fallout. Along the way he becomes more than a little ruthless and severe and gets little help from Mom, who is in shock, or the children who don’t understand what he does about human nature.

   The tension in the film is as much from character development as incident.

   Hagen and Milland raise the level of this, a solid little post holocaust film in the tradition of Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon, Philip Wylie’s Tomorrow, or, minus the polemical arguments and nasty bits Heinlien’s Farnham’s Freehold. In fact it poses a lot of the same questions as the Heinlien novel while coming to altogether different conclusions.

   There is a novelization of this by Dean Owen (Brides of Dracula) under the title End of the World, the one which was used when the film was re-released (Ace, 1962).

   This is probably the best of the films Milland directed. It has flaws, low budget, likely too quick shooting schedule, but it stays with you, and you may be impressed how logically the film develops considering other movies of the genre. I first saw it in a theater at age twelve and was surprisingly not disappointed when I saw it again as an adult. Not many low budget films of this sort survive that test.

   I’m not sure, but this may be the last film where Milland played the leading man and the hero.