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The World, The Flesh and The Devil

Rod Lott January 17th, 2011

In terms of mainstream star power and multimedia success, Harry Belafonte was kind of the Will Smith of his time.

That's drilled into your head in the opening scenes of 1959's "The World, the Flesh and the Devil," when his character, Ralph, awakes from a cave-in to find an empty New York City. Why, it's just like "I Am Legend"!

Well, minus the zombies. See, while Ralph was underground, atomic dust wiped everybody else out. For the first of the movie, it's just him, some trash in the wind, and some mannequins, to which he sings. Then he meets Sarah (Inger Stevens). Because they're the world's last man and woman — give or take, or so they believe — who would think twice about them having different skin color? They get along swimmingly.

Enter third wheel, white man Benson (Mel Ferrer), and suddenly, racism isn't so eradicated as they thought.

This premise is interesting — and especially ballsy for the late '50s —  but writer/director Ranald MacDougall is melodramatic in approach, then frustratingly abstract at the end when trying to hammer home his moral. It's not shoddy moviemaking, though, even if giving Belafonte more than one song to perform does smack of studio meddling.

If you're curious, Warner Archive offers it exclusively as a burned-on-demand release. —Rod Lott

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