Director – John Llewellyn Moxey, Teleplay – Lewis John Carlino & Sandor Stern, Story – Lewis John Carlino, Producer – Gerald I. Isenberg, Photography – Michael Margulies, Music – Robert Prince, Special Effects – Roger George. Production Company – Jozak Company/Alpine Productions, Inc.
Peter Graves (Steven Anders), George O’Hanlon, Jr. (David Anders), Kathleen Quinlan (Deborah Anders), Verna Bloom (Jenny), Michael James Wixted (Michael), Noble Willingham (Jim Clancy), Jay W. McIntosh (Barbara Anders), Ken Sansom (Jack McFadden), Dan Barrows (Man #1), Doug Chapin (Tom Chaney)
Steven Anders and his family are camping in the High Sierras, along with their friend Jim Clancy. Steven’s wife Barbara leaves to return home. Steven and the two teenage children David and Deborah are in a cave when there is a flash in the sky followed by an earth tremor. David believes it could have been a nuclear attack. Clancy, who was exposed to the flash, falls ill. With the vehicle dead, they decide to carry Clancy back to the nearby town of Rainbow. However, he dies en route and when they turn moments later his clothes lie empty and his body has turned to white powder. Arriving in Rainbow, they find the town deserted and people’s empty clothes everywhere. As they journey along the deserted roads towards Los Angeles, they encounter sporadic survivors. Two others join them but the situation has left some trigger-happy, while there is also danger presented by feral dogs. All the while, Steven lives in the hope that he can find Barbara still alive.
Where Have All the People Gone is an interesting curiosity from the era of 1970s tv movies. It’s hard to tell if it was intended as a self-contained entity or else as a pilot for a series that never sold – certainly, the end of the film is open-ended in a way that you could have seen it becoming an ongoing work about the attempt to unite society in the aftermath of the catastrophe along the lines of something like the fine subsequent UK tv series Survivors (1975-7).
The film is a venture into the Last People on Earth theme. This was popular in the nuclear war films that came out in the 1950s – see the likes of Five (1951), Day the World Ended (1955), The World, The Flesh and the Devil (1958) and Last Woman on Earth (1960). Where Have All the People Gone drops the nuclear war theme – after toying with it as a possible explanation for a time – and becomes the first of the Mysterious Catastrophe films in which an event of unexplained origin clears the Earth out of people. In particular, the film here feels like it had strong influence over The Quiet Earth (1985), which had a very similar plot about half-dozen people inhabiting an entire country and everyone else having disappeared leaving behind empty clothes. See also the subsequent likes of Vanishing on 7th Street (2010), the South Korean The End of the Animal (2010), the Hong Kong film The Midnight After (2014) and Bokeh (2017).
Even though the eventual explanation is highly dubious from a scientific perspective, the script creates an interesting mystery as the group try to determine what has happened. The script defies the cliches that subsequently set into the post-holocaust genre, such as having people formed into armed encampments and fighting against those who have set up military rule and/or are determined to own the wasteland. What we have often feels like the extremist views of the nuclear survivalist drama Panic in Year Zero (1962) having been turned on their head. Peter Graves radiates a trustworthy solid-headed certainty and disagrees with his hot-headed son (George O’Hanlon, Jr.)’s more trigger-happy ways. There are a couple of strong and effectively written scenes that seem notedly intended to counteract the militarist view – one where the shotgun wielder determined to drive people off their property is revealed to just be a scared kid (Michael James Wixted); another where Peter Graves pulls a gun on somebody trying to steal their car and it ends in peaceful resolution rather than someone dead.
John Llewellyn Moxey was a British director who first appeared with City of the Dead/Horror Hotel (1959), one of the early films of the English horror cycle. After a handful of other films and work on British tv, Moxey moved to the USA and became a prolific tv director. His other genre work includes tv movies such as The House That Would Not Die (1970), The Last Child (1971), A Taste of Evil (1971), the classic The Night Stalker (1972), Gene Roddenberry’s Genesis II (1973), The Power Within (1979), No Place to Hide (1981), I, Desire (1982), The Cradle Will Fall (1983), and numerous episodes of various tv series, even the pilot for Charlie’s Angels (1976-81).
The film comes written by a duo of names with some interesting genre credits. Lewis John Carlino also wrote the scripts for the fine John Frankenheimer rejuvenation film Seconds (1966), the psycho-thriller A Reflection of Fear (1971), the faith healer film Resurrection (1980) and the Mary Shelley-Lord Byron drama Haunted Summer (1988), as well as directed The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976). Sandor Stern wrote the nuclear war tv movie Red Alert (1977) and the original The Amityville Horror (1979), as well as directed Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989), the evil doll film Pin (1988) and the cloning tv movie Duplicates (1992).