A real curio, The Noah is about as obscure as apocalyptic science fiction films get. Shot in 1968, this low-budget wonder was briefly exhibited at film festivals in 1974 or '75, and then vanished again until the mid-1990s when it was shown on a local New York educational channel and subsequently bootlegged for that niche market of hard-core film buffs attracted to the most obscure of obscurities. Pathfinder's DVD is a like-new 16:9 transfer that undoubtedly will reach a far wider audience than ever before.
The movie is interesting if not entirely successful; it probably would have been more effective as a short film half its length. Robert Strauss, the craggy-faced, bug-eyed and gravelly-voiced character actor best remembered for his broad if Oscar-nominated performance in Billy Wilder's Stalag 17 (1953) stars as the sole survivor of a nuclear holocaust - World War III. A career private in the U.S. Army just 26 days short of retiring, Strauss' soldier adopts the name Noah, more precisely The Noah, and as the film opens lands a rubber raft stocked with supplies on an apparently deserted Red Chinese base located on a lonely Pacific island.
With nothing to do and no one to talk to, Noah busies himself with routine, taking inventory of his supplies, reading books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, flying a kite and practicing his golf swing using steamed rice for golf balls. Bored, he eventually creates in his own mind a companion in Friday (voiced by Geoffrey Holder), from Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, giving the imaginary native (whom the audience never sees) his own bed and latrine, and the pair become inseparable. For a while.
Friday eventually wants a companion of his own, so Noah next creates Friday-Anne (voiced by Sally Kirkland) but soon there's trouble when Friday and Friday-Anne become sexually involved and Friday-Anne decides Noah is insane. Like God casting Adam and Eve out from the Garden of Eden, Noah sends Friday and Friday-Anne packing. Now what to do?
The Noah plays like it might have been conceived as a theater piece, and is neatly divided into three short acts. In the first and best third of picture, elegantly shot and not overdone, Noah tries to cope with his loneliness and the madness of what has happened to all of humanity by steadfastly sticking to a goofy regimen of army-like busy work. After Friday and Friday-Anne are cast off, the film becomes increasingly chaotic visually and aurally as Noah descends into desperate madness, trying on various imaginary hats (teacher, army company leader, etc.) while the soundtrack busily but ineffectively recaps via stock audio excerpts World War II and the Cold War through the late-1960s. This riot of sound and hand-held visuals of Noah wandering aimlessly around the island in the middle of nighttime rainstorm goes on for several reels.
At no point does the Noah sit down and reflect upon what has happened to him, or try to make sense of it all, or come up with a long-term plan for survival. He just goes on, his basic needs in terms of food and water met; mostly he's left with just trying to keep himself busy until the arrival of the inevitable radioactive clouds that will in all likelihood kill him.
Strauss never could parlay that Oscar nomination into anything better than second leads in low budget films like the dreadful but fascinating The Atomic Kid (1954). (They'd make an inspired double-bill, but then again who'd want to see a Robert Strauss Sci-Fi Double Feature?) For the rest of his career, Strauss tended to play unsubtle variations of his Stalag 17 character, and sometimes intimidating if cartoony gangster types. He's the last actor you'd expect to carry a delicate role like this, but he pulls it off, and his association with comic relief dog-face soldier types in a weird way actually helps: the sight of Strauss or Harvey Lembeck (Strauss' sidekick in Stalag 17) quietly going insane as the Last Man on Earth is disquieting.
Holder's rich voice and eccentric delivery matches well with the odd, free-association dialogue his character is given, though Sally Kirkland's performance is completely unconvincing, as if she was never quite sold on the concept.
Video & Audio
Pathfinder's release is a 16:9 transfer at 1.77:1 from good source material, including the original negative. The black and white image is very sharp with pretty good contrast (though this is tested during the rainstorm sequence). An early reel has about a minute of jittery frames that probably could've been corrected, and there is some minor damage here and there, but for what was basically an unreleased 40-year old movie, all-told the film is in great shape.
The only supplements are a Still Gallery and brief Biographies of the actors and director Daniel Bourla, who seems to have made no other films.
The Noah runs out of steam long before it's over, but there's enough there that more adventurous viewers will want to see it once. It's a sincerely-made, ambitious effort, and parts of it are evocative and effective.
Stuart Galbraith IV talks about Invasion of Astro-Monster in an audio commentary track that's just one part of Classic Media's upcoming Godzilla Classic Collector's Edition. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.