Air Date: Oct. 8, 1974
Production Companies: The Jozak Company, Alpine Productions Inc., Metromedia Producers Corporation (MPC)
Running Time: 74 min.
Available on: YouTube, DVD (Metromedia Productions)
Written by: Lewis John Carlino and Sandor Stern
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Cast: Peter Graves, George O'Hanlon Jr., Kathleen Quinlan, Verna Bloom, Michael-James Wixted, Noble Willingham
On a Sunday in August, the Anders family is in the hills outside Rainbow, California when there’s a flash of bright light followed by an earthquake. Mrs. Anders (Jay W. MacIntosh) has just departed for the airport due to a pressing work commitment. Father Steven (Peter Graves), son David (George O’Hanlon Jr.), and daughter Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan) are in a cave digging for fossils during the event and aren’t affected. However, their friend, Jim Clancy (Noble Willingham) soon becomes ill and eventually dies.
Well, “dies” may not be exactly correct. His body disappears, leaving only white powder and his clothing. As the Anders clan, minus Mom, venture on foot back down to Rainbow, and eventually toward Los Angeles and Malibu, we’re left to speculate with them about exactly what’s happened. Our first guess is a bomb. But why would that affect only people, leaving trees and buildings untouched? Cars no longer start, but only if they were running at the time of the flash and the earthquake.
So far, so good. It’s familiar, yet compelling. Here’s where we’re at a crossroads to decide how much we really like Where Have All the People Gone (1974.) Do we like the fact that the only “scientific” source for information is David, who hardly looks old enough to be a college student, yet is supposedly a whiz at physics? Or, do we think that’s a little coincidental and silly? Do we like that while “everyone” has disappeared, the Anders find only a few examples of the white powder and clothing? Wouldn’t it be everywhere? Or, does that make the movie more eerie?
Most of all, do we like the episodic nature of the movie, with the Anderses meeting a catatonic woman, Jenny (Verna Bloom) along the way, then a rifle-toting youngster, Michael (Michael-Jame Wixted)? Do their encounters create some drama and variety, or is the format too similar to regular TV shows that feature “wanderers.” Coincidentally, Where Have All the People Gone was a pilot for a series, so the movie is like three, 20-30 minute episodes strung together.
Whether you like its components or not, their motivation is to get home to Malibu to see if their wife/mother survived. This quest gives the movie heart and helps us cheer for them. For me, their adventures along the way fall a little flat. Yeah, there are dog attacks and a few people out for only themselves, but no real peaks and valleys in the suspense. It could use a little theatrical flair and, dare I say, some special effects. Then again, it is quiet and eerie, which might be representative if most of the world’s population vanished and we were left behind.
For more of my thoughts, listen to me and Richard Chamberlain discuss it on episode 47 of The Classic Horrors Club Podcast.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Where Have All the People Gone as well as all the great movies from this series...