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Film / No Blade of Grass

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No Blade of Grass is a 1970 British apocalyptic Disaster Movie directed by Cornel Wilde, starring Nigel Davenport, Jean Wallace, and Lynne Frederick. It is based on the novel The Death of Grass by John Christopher.

In the near future, a virulent new disease begins destroying crops worldwide, targeting all members of the grass family.note  In response, society begins to break down, and the leaders of the world take to extreme measures to eradicate the plague. After London is overwhelmed by food riots caused by the famine, a man named John Custance (Davenport) tries to lead his family to safety in Westmorland. This isn't an easy task, as the countryside is crawling with all sorts of deviants who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's unknown when exactly the story is supposed to take place, but the general aesthetic seems to place it some time in the 1970s. A foreign title gives the date as 2000.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness / Age Lift: Pirrie in the novel is elderly, whereas in the film, he is a hip young mod.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The novel does not specify the root cause of the Chung-Li virus, but the film blames it on pollution.
  • Adapted Out: Several characters, including Mary’s friend Olivia.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: Among the many challenges John and his family must endure is a marauding gang of bikers who could easily be considered a British version of Toecutter's Gang.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Despite his violent behavior, Mary is so stuck on Burnham that she follows him every step of the way.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1, possibly in the process of advancing to a Class 2 or even a Class 3b. It is mentioned that the virus and the increasingly futile efforts to contain it have killed hundreds of millions of people worldwide, including 300 million in China alone.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bordering on Downer Ending. John manages to set up a new settlement in the valley, but he has lost many of his friends including Pirrie, the latter of whom had also been forced to kill John's brother David, and it's implied that the human race is headed for extinction.
  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad: As they're facing the collapse of civilisation, Mary asks her boyfriend to "make her a woman". He refuses saying she's only sixteen and her father will shoot him. Mary says that he won't... but her mother probably will. The joke becomes less funny when she and her mother are raped later on and her father does kill those responsible.
  • Downer Beginning: It is a dystopian film, after all, with famine hitting Britain in the first scenes.
  • The Elites Jump Ship: As most of the world descends into starvation and anarchy after the death of most plants, a radio report mentions that various European monarchs and government officials have fled to North America and received asylum.
  • Eyepatch of Power: John boasts a pretty impressive one.
  • Gaia's Lament: The opening montage seemingly blames the plague on humanity's continual abuse of the natural environment.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: Cornel Wilde’s opening narration and the film’s theatrical trailer implies that it was Mother Nature herself who created the Chung-Li virus out of revenge for the human race polluting her world.
  • Green Aesop: Made particularly apparent in the opening montage depicting the environmental destruction of Earth and the implication that the virus was nature's way of exacting revenge on humanity for said environmental destruction.
  • Grief Song: The title song, performed by Roger Whittaker, is one of these for the entire natural environment. Given its pessimistic, downbeat lyrics, the song itself is something you would not want to listen to on a day full of blue sky and sunshine.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with a montage of pollution, which the narrator blames for the spread of the plague.
  • I Have a Family: A rapist tries to pull this defense when his victim gets him at gun-point. Unsurprisingly, she shoots him.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: In a desperate attempt to contain the virus, the Chinese government uses nerve gas on its people, killing upwards of 300 million.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: The third member of the biker gang gets away with raping Ann and Mary, but he shows up later with the Huns and it is in the ensuing gun battle that he finally gets his just desserts.
  • Last Fertile Region: The valley where David farms potatoes may not be the only place in England not being hit by the plant-killing virus, but it is the only one the protagonists know about.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: How the various governments seem to be treating the issue of the virus, considering that they're willing to kill hundreds of millions just to stop its spread.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: By the end of the film, the protagonists have committed murder and robbery repeatedly to survive. One of John's last lines is praying that God will forgive them for it.
  • Must Not Die a Virgin: A rather dark example. Mary asks her boyfriend to "make her a woman" as they're facing the collapse of civilisation through mass famine. He refuses because she's only sixteen, and she gets raped later on in the film.
  • Papa Wolf: After witnessing the bikers sexually assault his wife and daughter and shooting two of them, John then goes out to find and punish the escaped third assailant.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The fat lady, played by Ruth Kettlewell in a brief role, blames the Chung-Li virus on the Chinese soiling the Earth with their “human shit”.
  • Properly Paranoid: As the crop-killing virus finishes ravishing Asia and people worry that it will reach Europe, David Custance kills all of the grass-eating animals on his farm and converts his land to potato farming (as potatoes are immune to the virus). In the book, he also builds a guardhouse at the entrance to his valley around that time and says that he'd rather have his neighbors call it "Custance's Folly" if he's wrong than be defenseless if he's right. David's precautions are warranted when the virus reaches England.
  • Rape and Revenge: John's wife Ann and daughter Mary are viciously gang-raped by three members of the biker gang. John and the others eventually find them and shoot two of the men, but one gets away. He's later killed in a shootout with them after he attacks with his gang.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: Cornel Wilde originally had this in mind for the film's ending according to the book Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies:
    "I had wanted to film an additional scene, taking place one year later. A girl discovers a new blade of grass growing in a barren field, signifying there was hope for recovery. Unfortunately, I hadn't the budget to do it."
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Zigzagged. Throughout the famine and accompanying Apocalypse Anarchy, the main characters determinedly trek toward a valley that has a crop of potatoes for food and can be defended against intruders. Once they get there, there are already a lot of refugees there and John's brother and his men turn the group away at gunpoint. They are prepared to let John, his family, and Roger in if they'll abandon the others, but John elects to launch an attack on the barricade and force the people already settled in the valley to let his entire group in. His brother dies in the fight, to John's distress.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The bikers' scenes are accompanied by a jazzy Leit Motif which unfortunately tends to play at rather inopportune moments, including during the rape scene.
  • Stock Footage: Used in the opening montage to portray the environmental destruction of the planet Earth and the devastation wrought on humanity by the plague. Most, but not all, of the footage used in the montage originates from a documentary called The Shadow of Progress.
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: After enduring so much misfortune and seeing the world crumble around him, John is forced to take matters into his own hands and fight back.