The title character of the 1960 Roger Corman film, Last Woman On Earth, is Evelyn Gern (Besty Jones-Moreland). When a vaguely defined apocalypse occurred and apparently wiped out almost every living person on the planet, Evelyn was on vacation in Puerto Rico and scuba diving. Because she had her own oxygen tank, she was able to survive while everyone on the surface was asphyxiated by a sudden change in the atmosphere. (Or something like that. To be honest, I never quite understood what the apocalypse was about or if it had occurred worldwide or just in Puerto Rico.)
Evelyn may potentially be the last woman on Earth but, unfortunately for her, there’s at least two men left. There’s her husband, Harold (Antony Carbone). Harold is a brutish businessman who, before the world ended, was constantly under the threat of indictment. And then there’s Martin (Robert Towne, who also wrote the script), who is Harold’s attorney. With the world apparently ending, Harold decides that he’s in charge while Martin decides that he’s in love with Evelyn. Evelyn, for her part, ends up spending a lot of time praying in the local church. At the end of 71 minutes, someone is dead and the survivors are left to consider an uncertain future. It’s not a particularly happy film, though, at the same time, it’s not really well-made enough to be that depressing.
It’s perhaps not a coincidence that this film opens with everyone watching a cock fight because, despite its title, Last Woman On Earth is all about the extremes to which men will go to assert their authority. There’s absolutely no reason for Harold and Martin to end up trying to kill each other, beyond the fact that they both want to be in charge and they both want the same woman. Honestly, though, if you’re one of the last three people on Earth, I would think that you might be inspired to rethink certain traditional and patriarchal concepts. That, of course, doesn’t happen in Last Woman On Earth. It’s hard not to be disappointed with the fact that, even with society no longer existing, Evelyn’s reaction to most conflict is to retreat to the background and let the man fight it out among themselves. I mean, we expect no better from Harold and Martin but Evelyn’s passivity in the face of everything gets rather frustrating very quickly.
Of course, it could be argued that I may be expecting too much from a film that was shot over a week and only made because Corman happened to be shooting another movie in Puerto Rico at the time. Corman rarely went on location so, when he went down to Puerto Rico to do Creature of the Haunted Sea, he decided to get the most out of the location as he could by shooting a second film. Screenwriter Robert Towne was cast as Martin because he was already getting paid to write the script while the film was being shot. By casting Towne, Corman saved money that would have otherwise been spent on a professional actor. Towne, who is credited as Edward Wain, ends up giving a rather bizarre performance, alternating between stiff underacting and eye-bulging overacting. You kind of find yourself regretting that apparently it was decided that it would have been too expensive to fly Dick Miller or Peter Graves down to Puerto Rico.
The film doesn’t add up too much, beyond serving as a document of an era’s paranoia about the impending end of the world. (Two years after the release of this film, the Cuban Missile Crisis would bring the world to the brink of a real-life apocalypse.) Corman does manage to get a few haunting shots of the deserted streets of San Juan, though one gets the feeling that this would more due to luck than any specific intention on his part. Last Woman On Earth was released on a double bill with Little Shop of Horrors and, when seen today, it really can’t start to compete with Seymour and his talking plant.