Beginning of the End, 1957. dir. Bert I. Gordon. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.
Apparently this film is about giant radioactive bugs taking over the place, which seems to chime with the current state of UK politics.
You can’t beat a good Sci Fi bug movie – although I’m not signing anything, so viewer beware (whatever the latin for that might be).
I’m not mad about the title. ‘Beginning of the End’. Why isn’t there a ‘The’ at the beginning? Maybe they thought it made the beginning more immediate. You’re straight into the beginning without a the to slow you up (Can you tell I did an English degree? Money well spent).
Nothing I can do about that, though. So let’s take a breath, press play and see how far we get.
00.00 Close-up of a road sign. Ludlow 1 Rantoul 5. Which looks more like a scorecard. Rock n’roll on the radio. A couple in an open top car. (Monsters love open top cars – it’s their equivalent of chicken-in-a-basket).
00.24 Close-up of the couple smooching. God but they used to kiss weirdly in the fifties. They’re so buttoned up they may as well be wearing helmets. It’s amazing the birth rate didn’t fall off a cliff. And that’s BEFORE the radioactive bugs.
00.42 The woman lets him kiss her neck – in the same way you might let a surgeon do a lumpectomy. But suddenly she’s distracted by something horrific approaching the car (worse than what’s IN the car?)
00.44 She puts her hand to her mouth and screams in the classical way – a high C# I think – then we fade to black, the sound of thumping drums, and a big title zooming up all blurrily ‘Beginning of the End’
(God I hate this title. When you start dropping off the definite article it really is the beginning of the end.)
00.59 The cast list flies in pretty quick – one after the other – bam! bam! bam! (that’s not the names by the way) – all written in caps in a chalky font. The orchestra has just been told to play whatever they like at top volume, which is fun for them but a migraine for the rest of us.
01.07 Favourite name so far: Hylton Socher. Sounds like an anagram – for ‘Shoot my Agent’.
01.16 Actually I really like the name Hank Patterson. I don’t know why. It’s just very satisfying to say out loud. Try it. Hank Patterson. Hank Patterson. It won’t be long before the medication takes effect. Hank Patterson. Just breathe – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Hank Patterson. Hank Patterson. That’s it! Lovely. Everyone’s safe (except the two smoochers in the convertible).
01.27 Apparently the film features a song called Natural Natural Baby. Can’t wait to hear it. Or see what action they put to it. Jitterbugging. Quite literally.
02.03 Finally – into the film proper. Two cops driving down a highway. Classic. ‘This is 254 on the Ludlow Swing’ says one. I love cop talk. I know all the code words. ‘Ludlow Swing’ means ‘looking for someone to fit up on a drugs charge’. I think.
02.09 ‘…reporting a 194 dash 2’. Erm…
02.18 I love those old cop cars. Looks like it’s got an upturned bucket of chicken pieces on its roof. Or am I just hungry. (Can’t be – it’s just after nine. AM.)
02.20 ‘Pullover!’ says the cop. ‘I saw something.’ Maybe a 189 dash 5 dash omega 3?
02.24 Uh-oh. They pull up by the road sign from the beginning. The smoochers convertible. Ripped to pieces (but not by passion). The cops inspect the wreckage with their torches (which look like bottles of ketchup or maybe ranchero sauce).
02.45 ‘I’ll report in’ says the other cop, flat as his cap. He gives a lot of code numbers over the radio whilst his colleague picks through the wreckage looking for change. He finds a wallet (so that’s twenty dollars a piece). The controller (who sounds like a mechanical frog – and if he were here I’d say it to his face) tells one to stay on scene and one to go to the address on the driver’s licence.
03.35 The cop who made the call gets in the cop car to drive away. He does a funny little wiggle with his shoulders before he backs up. If that actor had gone on to be famous, that wiggle would’ve swept the world. As it is, we get about two seconds of it and the rest is lost to history.
The first cop stays to act as dessert for whatever monster ate the smoochers.
03.44 Actually – phew – he’s okay. He’s waving his torch to a bunch of detectives who’ve arrived to detect the scene. You can tell they’re detectives by their snappy brim hats, their nonchalant, world-weary demeanour, and the word Detective written in chalk on their macs.
03.53 This whole film is like a school play acted by teachers. Just sayin’
03.57 Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a mish-mash of sad oboes and ominous cellos (and that’s exactly what it says on the score, btw).
04.00 Detective Mackinsey goes to his (nicer) car to talk to the mechanical frog on the radio. I’m distracted by the fact that he’s standing exactly in line with the flashing light on his car, so it looks like his hat has a flashing light on top of it. Although – maybe it does. Maybe it’s for when he’s walking through crowds.
04.20 Cut to: the MF, sitting at what looks like a candyfloss machine , trying to get in touch with Car 254, the one ol’ shivery shoulders was driving off to investigate the licence address.
04.36 Shivery makes it to the car radio. ‘The whole town’s destroyed!’ he says. ‘Everybody’s gone! You gotta do something! You won’t believe this! Send help! Lotsa help! Quick!’ And the screen fades to black again (so we don’t get a shiver of his shoulders to round off the biggest monologue anyone in his family ever had).
05.00 Cut to: a cool blond in a convertible (is there any other sort?) driving up to a road block. The car doesn’t seem to stop so much as run out of sound effect. A military guy with his helmet undone (is there any other sort?) marches round to her side of the car. ‘Alright lady!’ he says. ‘Just follow the arrows.’
‘Any chance of getting through?’ she says.
‘Look, lady! Just detour – will ya, please?’
I can’t believe this dialogue was written by Harold Pinter. David Mamet, maybe…
She backs up a little and parks. Looks at all the soldiers with their rifles. Smiles to herself. Takes out a camera that’s as big as a washing machine, and gets outta da car.
05.59 Two soldiers slouching, chatting, giving & taking orders, basically being all military. I don’t know. Nobody has their straps done up. When they start running their helmets will fall off. Don’t they know this? AND THEY TRUST THEM WITH GUNS??
06.05 The blond goes up to the soldier in charge. Her hairdo looks more formidable than his helmet. (And doesn’t need straps). ‘I shoulda explained’ she says. ‘I’m Audrey Aymes, Wire Service’. Which I’m guessing means journalist, not fencing contractor. She’s got a camera, anyway. A brassy attitude and everything.
06.33 The soldier says ‘Look Lady’ before everything he says, which is an awful lot of Look Lady. The upshot is – he’s not letting her through. No way, Lady. She goes back to her car. You can tell no amount of Look Lady is gonna put Audrey Aymes off of her Games.
06:47 Almost 7 minutes in and all we’ve had is a lot of getting in and out of cars, wrecked or otherwise.
07:00 Audrey drives around the roadblock (which is relatively easy, given they’re in the goddamn desert), parks up, looks around. If only she could hear the soundtrack, she’d KNOW there were giant bugs or something going around eating cadillacs and smoochers (sounds like something you’d order off the menu ‘I’ll have the cadillac and smoochers with a side order of fries.’ But when the waiter comes back he’s forgotten the fries, so you eat him instead… and SCENE.
7:18 Poor Audrey. Her camera is about the same size as her car, with a headlight n’everything. No wonder she’s so pumped. Although that might be her nether garments (which is what people wore in the stone age, around 1950).
7:31 The music builds to a crescendo as Audrey takes a picture. A soldier in a stick-on moustache appears and takes the camera. ‘Oh’ says Audrey. ‘I’d like to speak to your commanding officer.’
‘He’s in Paxton’ says the moustache. Presumably the town. Audrey heads there.
07:53 Cut to: a soldier fiddling with dials in Paxton. Audrey asks a soldier who looks like Elvis if she can speak to the commanding officer. Elvis says he’s not available, so he takes her card over to a Captain, sitting behind a desk. The Captain looks at the card and says ‘Send her in’ – which is weird, because he’s sitting behind a desk and not in another room. (At least he’s not wearing an unfastened helmet, though).
08:40 The Captain tells Audrey he liked her book on Korea. She says thank you. (I like the way Audrey talks. It’s kinda laid back, economic, with a Noirish buzz to it. I’d like a SatNav with that voice. ‘Turn right in fifty yards. And pass me one of those filthy Marlboro, would’ya Captain?’
09:20 Audrey promises the Captain she won’t publish the story straight away. The Captain’s happy with that. He says that sometime during the night the town of Ludlow was unexpectedly and completely demolished. Audrey doesn’t think that sounds good. She in on the questioning of a surviving local – Dave – an old guy in a hat with the brim turned up (I think he walks into things a lot because his nose is pretty squashed, too). Dave’s voice is so deep it’s like he’s drawing his lines from a well, one bucket at a time. Apparently last night Dave was round at his daughter’s, walking into shit, watching TikToks on her iPhone or something, when he realised he had to get up in the morning so he left (she must’ve hurried up to open the door for him).
11:18 The interrogator is Colonel Sturgess or Sturgeon or Stodgy or something, a man who looks like Bela Lugosi (the casting director had a blast with this film). Next he questions Edna, a woman with plug holes for eyes who works at the telephone exchange. They establish that the phone lines must’ve gone down between midnight and four in the morning. Edna has to get more sleep. I’m worried for her. Is she in a union? Audrey looks like she’d rather be back in Korea.
12:00 Colonel Stodgy puts on his helmet (sans straps) and leaves, marching all the way round the table rather than asking the Captain or Audrey to move out of the way. He’s either very diffident or likes marching a lot.
12:25 Audrey gets back in her car. Oh my god – it’s got a telephone! She places a call (is that Edna…?) to the National Wire Service.
12:50 The Editor of the NWS is a guy called Norm, who has a normal moustache and normal hair and a normal suit so I guess that’s why they call him Norm. Norm does some fake writing while Audrey talks. She wants him to check out the story of a plane flying over Ludlow last night, nuclear installations, that kinda spooky, trust no-one thing.
13:50 Audrey drives back to the roadblock to get her camera. They call her Miss and not Lady this time, so something’s afoot. Norm calls back and tells her that the only people in the area playing around with radioactivity is the US Department of Agriculture.
14:38 Audrey drives to an experimental station in Illinois. Audrey does a lot of driving. Maybe they should’ve called the film Audrey Drives A Lotta Places. (I’d watch it). She parks right outside. You know it’s an agricultural place because there are plants in pots by the front door. Experimental because they’re not watering them. The front door’s open. Inside are a lot of cheese plants, which look spooky in real life, but in a tin shed in black and white they’re terrifying. There’s a guy in a lab coat prodding some soil, so I’m guessing he’s a scientist. Hanging off the cheese plants are tomatoes the size of space hoppers. I NEVER get my tomatoes that big. What are they using – magic mulch?
16:04 Audrey keeps on saying hello to the guy in the lab coat but he ignores her. Suddenly another scientist appears behind her. He laughs. ‘He’s a deaf mute,’ he says. ‘Working with radiation can be dangerous.’ This scientist is called Dr Ed Wainwright, which sounds suitably sciency. He’s played by Peter Graves, who I recognise from Mission Impossible. (Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make this film better than it is).
16:50 Ed helps Frank, the deaf mute scientist, pick some dead snails off the floor. He laughs and lists all the pests they’ve had to deal with over the last few months, including grasshoppers. Audrey laughs too, bonding over garden pests. Audrey asks Ed if radiation could’ve caused the problem in Ludlow. He laughs again and shows her a fridge full of jars marked ‘Hazardous – radioactive isotopes’. The odd pickle. He doesn’t think it’s connected, though. I mean – sure it might make your co-workers deaf and mute, and your tomatoes glow in the dark, but it’s not explosive, so we’re alright.
18:05 Ed talks Audrey through the growing process while Frank prods some more soil. Apparently the plants need constant feeding to balance out the radiation – which is probably why I’m constantly thinking about lunch.
18:33 Audrey is driving to Ludlow now. Or is it Paxton? Somewhere black and white. The Colonel says it’s okay to go to Ludlow. So she goes with the Captain to Ludlow. ‘I hope you have a strong stomach,’ says the Colonel. Well – we know she doesn’t get car sick, at least.
19:42 Montage in Ludlow. Audrey taking lots of pictures of smashed houses and such. They’re not in Ludlow long. It’s pretty dead. Driving back, she tells the Captain all the war ravaged places she’s photographed in the past. ‘How about a drink to wipe away some of those memories?’ says the Captain, never missing an opportunity to make a move on someone with PTSD.
21:00 Back at the Experimental Station. Ed and Frank are prodding the soil together, which is affectionate and intimate. Audrey comes back (we didn’t see her drive! I feel cheated). Ed is pleased to see her. The last time I saw a smile that wide it was made of plasticine.
22:38 Audrey asks Ed if he’ll take her out to a warehouse that got destroyed or eaten a while back. Frank does some sign language that makes Ed laugh – he translates – something like ‘Frank thinks your lips make you easy to read and he’d like to go along, too. They all laugh, but especially Ed, because that wasn’t what Frank signed.
22:43 Now they’re all in Audrey’s car, driving. Lovely. Nice bit of road, this. Ed gets all flirty with Audrey. Not for the first time does Frank feel blessed.
24:15 Creepy oboes while Frank skips over to a gate marked ‘Government Property! Keep Out!’ and undoes the lock. They explore what looks like a local scrap heap, even though the score tries to make it seem interesting. Audrey goes back to the car for her camera to take some moody shots for the Wire. Ed goes with her, leaving Frank on his own just as some strange whiffling noise starts up in the trees.
27:40 Next thing you now, Frank is being eaten by a giant locust. He doesn’t scream, but signs Aarrgh! instead.
28:01 Ed explains to the Colonel, the Captain and anyone else with a desk and a moustache that the problem they have here is giant locusts. ‘Eight feet tall. Vicious, merciless killers,’ says Ed.
‘Now – Ed!’ says the Colonel, playfully.
Ed takes responsibility, though. He says some of the insects must’ve broken into the lab – despite the stringent, top-of-the-line, leave the front door open will ya kind of security – and gotten a dose of radioactive magic mulch. The Colonel asks for ten men to go out with him to the place where Frank got snacked by a giant locust. The easy way he does it, I’m guessing he asks for ten men quite a lot. His helmet strap is teasingly loose.
31:19 The soldiers jump out of the truck at the site of the ruined warehouse, making sneery comments about insects. It reminds me of that scene in Alien 2 when the marines talk about going on a bug hunt and Ripley gets furious because they don’t know what they’re up against.
‘I ate one of ‘em once, down in Mexico’ says a soldier.
‘Yeah? Well you’d better watch yer step – they’ll wanna get even.’
32:59 That whiffling noise again. The Colonel holds up his hand for the men to stop. The noise gets louder – and suddenly the locusts attack. There’s a few closeups of the locusts as they bear down on the soldiers, who do that thing of falling back and putting their hands up in front of their faces. There’s a lot of shooting. They retreat back to the truck, and drive off. Round one to the locusts (if you don’t count demolishing Ludlow).
35:39 Back at the Paxton office, the Colonel calls in some extra troops and the odd plane, but not ‘the regular army’ (I thought they WERE the regular army?) Ed says he’s underestimating how many locusts there are. Or how far the special effects budget can stretch.
36:22 Ed decides to go to Washington with Audrey to convince the president to act, otherwise it could be ‘the beginning of the end’. You see! You can’t avoid using ‘the’ at the beginning of ‘the beginning of the end’. I don’t care mankind is facing annihilation; there’s no excuse for sloppy grammar.
36:50 Ed is giving a TED talk to a bunch of generals and presidents and whatnot.
‘The locust is intelligent,’ he says, thrusting his hands into his pockets for emphasis. ‘Like the bee and the ant, they’re able to communicate with each other’. I didn’t know bees could talk to ants! Fascinating, Ed.
38:01 All the generals look alike – little moustaches, plastic hair, constipated expression. I find them infinitely more terrifying than the locusts, which have an idiosyncratic, boss eyed cuteness.
39:08 Unfortunately, despite his TED talk, Ed can’t get the generals to approve a bigger military operation against the locusts. Suddenly the main general gets a call – ‘Uh huh… yes… I see’. Then apologises to Ed. The Locusts have overrun the Illinois national guard and they’ll need to send in more troops.
40:25 Their plane diverts to Chicago (too many locusts in Paxton). In an operations room in Chicago, a general (I don’t know which one – they’re worse than the locusts) marches around giving orders – ‘I want the first airborne, the 2nd division, the tank brigade, a coffee machine with arabica beans and a hint of hazelnut, I want to learn how to make a shadow puppet swan, I want chocolate hats… etc. Everyone looks busy (so as not to attract attention). Meanwhile, Ed is busy in a lab with bubbling test tubes. He’s pretty fly with highly toxic materials. I can’t believe they ever made him CEO at Chernobyl. He picks up a newspaper with the headline ‘Chicago Next?’, skips to the horoscope, then waggles his hand in a tank of crickets and says ‘the time will come when the beasts will inherit the earth’. (Maybe he should wash his hands…?)
43:21 Cut to: tanks heading out to battle the locusts. This time the soldiers have their helmets strapped on, so it must be serious. No sign of the locusts, though, even though they look with binoculars.
43:40 Cut to: a radio announcer in glasses bigger than the binoculars. He talks about the military manoeuvres, then explains that one advantage they have is that the locusts make a whiffling noise before they attack – which is a tactical error, you have to admit.
44:37 Back to the operations room – and the whiffling noise begins outside.
45:00 A montage of battle scenes, giant locusts vs the US military. Everything you can think of – helicopters, tanks, tanks with flamethrowers, soldiers with gatling guns, whisks, carpet beaters, tug along hoovers, Rentokil in pedalos, a division of trampoline salespeople, a woman with a euphonium, Harry Potter and so on.
‘They keep coming, General! Inch by inch they’re coming closer!’ – which, given that they’re eight feet tall, is actually pretty slow.
47:10 The announcer interrupts the programme to say that the ‘giant locusts have reached the Chicago South side…’ which sounds gritty & urban. Maybe they’ll give up whiffling and start rapping.
‘Do not panic! Do not panic!’ says the tannoys, as picnicking Chicagoans get eaten by giant locusts in the park. Easy for you to say, bud… you’re not the one being snatched up like a breadstick.
48:06 One of the locusts crawls up a building and pervs over a woman brushing her hair. Urgh!
48:26 Audrey casually wanders into the operations room with a cardigan draped over her shoulders. She’s a cool customer. Sorry, Lady. Bugs don’t bother her. So long as she’s got car and gas, she’s fine. Although obviously I don’t mean to say Audrey is gassy.
The Colonel says the plan is to nuke Chicago at dawn. He’s been given permission and everything. Ed thinks if they could reproduce the whiffle they could maybe get the locusts to follow them into the lake. Which is more of an organic solution than the nuke. All he needs are some oscillators, some sub woofer speakers, some sub whiffle speakers, and one of the live locusts to practice on.
51:20 Nighttime. A tow truck pulls up, along with soldiers in a truck. The soldiers jump down and go left and right. Ed goes into an alley with the Captain (same thing every Saturday night). They find a locust and stun it with a bug bomb (same thing every Saturday night).
54:15 Back at the lab, the locust is in a cage and the scientists are doing sciency things. Ed stands in front of the cage and gives a TED talk about galvanisation and such; the locust goes crazy behind him (maybe because he thinks Ed’s description of polarity is VERY wide of the mark).
56:13 They begin testing different sounds on the locust. It seems to respond best to Ed Sheeran, although it might be rage, it’s hard to tell with locusts. The General marches in. He says Ed’s had his chance and now it’s the airforce’s turn. He puts in a call to the A bomb people through Edna, who’s somehow still at work. Side note: I think the locust is a better actor than the guy playing the General.
58:39 The General gives some very complicated instructions about where his men are going to be stationed, a getaway car, blah blah. The A bomb is being dropped in 90 minutes. So that’s 5 minutes we’ll never get back.
59:55 Montage: Deserted Chicago streets; Ed playing with knobs. That’s some fancy montage.
1:00:38 Ed decides to loop the drums and overdub the vocals. It’s a hit! The locust really starts to vibe with the tune. Slay!
‘I think you got it!’ says the soldier (who I didn’t mention, who’s there to help with extra bits of dialogue, like how he’s 37 but doesn’t know everything, which is cute).
1:01:37 … except the locust is so hyper now it breaks the cage and eats the 37 year old soldier we’d only recently got to know and care about. Shame it wasn’t the General.
1:02:34 The General cancels the A bomb and tells Ed ‘The show is yours!’ Ed immediately puts in a request for a sound stage on the lake, lazer show, glitter bombs. ‘I’ll be your pied piper,’ he says. Very Glasto.
1:03:40 Ed gives Audrey another mini TED talk about the best places to position your speakers in the event of a giant locust plague. She doesn’t look that bothered. She prefers cars. She’d like to have interviewed that 37 year old soldier who got eaten, though, but life got in the way.
1:04:34 Ed radios one of the observation posts. The soldiers have set up in a lingerie shop. I hear you, boys.
1:06:17 Ed asks a soldier to plug his amp in. Ed’s Locust Theme is immediately pumped out of speakers around the building. It basically sounds like a car alarm on a Sunday morning. The locusts rush towards it in their pyjamas.
1:07:52 Montage of locusts strolling through a model cityscape. Cute. A soldier gets eaten. Not so cute. Another soldier spots them with his binoculars.
‘Here they come… walkin’ down the street… they get the funniest looks from…. everyone they meet….’ Hey Hey We’re the Locusts…
1:10:26 The building is getting overrun, but the General wants ALL the locusts to be there before he activates the speaker on the boat. He’s nothing if not inclusive. After a lot of shooting of bugs on the building (which seems to be more successful than the shooting they did earlier…), the observation posts say the insects have cleared downtown Chicago, so the General says okay, throw the switch.
1:12:10 It works! The locusts pile into the lake and drown. ‘Head for shore’ says the General, wearily. (Or maybe ‘Head for sure!’ looking forward to a little treat later). Audrey breaks down. Ed comforts her. They look into each other’s eyes. Audrey sees a 1953 Hudson Hornet Sedan; Ed remembers how he used to prod soil with Frank.
Fade to black.
And that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?
- Do not, under any circumstances, join the army. You’ll be forced to jump in and out of trucks for no apparent reason, only to end up as a bug snack.
- Giant tomatoes aren’t worth it. They’re tasteless and can lead to apocalypse.
- Learn to Drive. Audrey’ll teach ya.
- If you must use Radioactive Isotopes, label them clearly and keep them in the fridge.
- If you want to creep up on someone, try not to whiffle.