The Final Programme (1973)

UK, 1973
81m, 89m
35mm film, Technicolor
mono, English

A British science fiction film directed by Robert Fuest and based on the first of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius novels.

Plot Summary

Physicist Jerry Cornelius is drawn into the search for a reel of microfilm left behind by his recently deceased, Nobel Prize-winning father. The microfilm contains the details of “The Final Programme”, which will allow for the creation of a perfect, self-replicating creature. Cornelius falls in with the formidable Miss Brunner (who literally consumes her lovers during sex) and her cronies as they head for an abandoned underground Nazi fortress in the Arctic where he and Miss Brunner will become the first subjects of The Final Programme.

Credits

* = uncredited

Crew
Directed by: Robert Fuest
© MCMLXXIII [1973] National Film Trustee Co Ltd
A Goodtimes Enterprises-Gladiole Films production
Executive Producers: Roy Baird, David Puttnam
Produced by: John Goldstone and Sandy Lieberson
Written by: Robert Fuest
Based on the novel ‘The Final Programme‘ by: Michael Moorcock
Lighting Cameraman: Norman Warwick
Editor: Barrie Vince
Music by: Paul Beaver and Bernard Krause
Sound Recording: Brian Simmons
Wardrobe Supervisor: Ray Beck
Make Up: Ann Brodie, Alan Boyle
Hairdressing: Pat Grant
Designed by: Robert Fuest
Made at EMI-MGM Studios, Herts, England

Cast
Jon Finch as Jerry Cornelius
Jenny Runacre (Miss Brunner)
Sterling Hayden (Major Wrongway Lindbergh)
Harry Andrews (John)
Hugh Griffith (Professor Hira)
Julie Ege (Miss Dazzle)
Patrick Magee (Dr Baxter)
Graham Crowden (Dr Smiles)
George Coulouris (Dr Powys)
Basil Henson (Dr Lucas)
Derrick O’Connor (Frank)
Gilles Millinaire (Dimitri)
Ronald Lacey (Shades)
Sandy Ratcliffe (Jenny)
Mary MacLeod (nurse)
Sarah Douglas (Catherine)
Delores Del Mar (fortune teller)
Sandra Dickinson (waitress)
Hawkwind [band in amusement arcade] *

Alternative Titles

Alpha omega Il principio della fine – Italy
Les Decimales du futur – France
Het Eindprogramma – Belgium (Flemish)
The Last Days of Man on Earth – USA
Le Programme final – Belgium (Flemish)
Supersankari
– Finland
Verrückt und gefährlich
– Germany

Cast Gallery

Press

1973
CinemaTV Today no.10051 (29 September 1973) p.14
A victory of technique over communication. Visually exciting and imaginative, the film falls over itself in its efforts to be different. Overloaded with plot and clever chat and two-dimensional characters. It is a very tiring film to watch unless you are already acquainted with Jerry Cornelius and can follow his adventures without a crib.

The Daily Express 4 October 1973
Don’t expect to find some new concept of the meaning of life in this science fantasy, for it is played strictly for laughs. Very much tongue in cheek, though in the case of Jenny Runacre the tongue and the cheek usually belong to different people. […] The film, directed by Robert Fuest, is the cinematic equivalent of a strip cartoon, fast moving and as far as characterisation goes, paper-thin. [T]his is a film very short on explanations. It has its moments of humour and is visually quite splendid. What is lacking is a sense of logic, without which even the most outrageous, far-out film is doomed. – from a review (Seriously, it’s too fantastic) by Ian Christie

Evening News 4 October 1973
This is a film with a brilliant surface, flawed for me by interludes of moronic strip-cartoon humour. – from a review by Felix Barker

Evening Standard 4 October 1973
The Final Programme compels us to surrender to it the way we do to strip cartoons – completely. You either accept the dose of fantasy or you reject it. Myself, I lapped it up. Based on just such a strip, plus Michael Moorcock’s novels, it’s carried off with graphic panache by Robert Fuest who made those Dr Phibes entertainments. Design is his line. And the world of Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch) gives that line free rein. […] It is wonderful fun, done with style and excellent effects. The bizarre conjunctions of the futuristic and the antiquated are well served by Fuest’s approach, neither playful nor pretentious, but just staying on this side of surrealism. Why shouldn’t a butler (Harry Andrews) wear yellow sou’westers to ferry the young master to the house across the lake? Why shouldn’t he come at the call of a Verey light pistol, not a bell-pull? Why shouldn’t an assassin play pinball in a garish funfair between assignments and boast “One President, two Queens… that’s ca-lass!”? There’s a hint of fascism, lesbianism, incest, but really nothing to justify the X-Certificate. It is strongest where most spoofs are weakest – in the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, by telling you what’s produced in the Incubation Machine powered by a Think Tank comprising the best brains in Europe – there they are, pink cerebellums, bubbling away cerebrally underwater – but do you remember W.B. Yeats’s lines about the rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards Babylon to be born? Well, the film beats that hollow. – from a review (Zap! such style!) by Alexander Walker

The Guardian 4 October 1973
[A]n implausible piece of apocalyptic sci-fi designed and directed by Robert Fuest of Dr Phibes fame. […] Decors, costumes and casually four-lettered dialogue all indicate aspirations to high camp and there are indeed a few good sick jokes. But Jon Finch achieves a big credibility gap as the Nobel-prizewinning hero; and the occasional explanation of time-span and motive might have made the waits between scene-changes less tedious. – from a review by Jan Dawson

The Daily Mail 5 October 1973
Clever Julie Ege. To get such nice billing with virtually only one good line to deliver in this film the cutting room floor is the most enviable place to wind up. How the lovely Jenny Runacre must envy her luck. Her lot is to vamp her way through surely the silliest non-start sci-fi adventure ever to be made in earnest. Is it spoof or social comment? Director Robert Fuest never makes up his mind. Amazing since he was so sure-handed with those splendid Art Deco follies of Doctor Phibes. [I]t peddles cheap nastiness in the guise of adult decadence, and second hand quips in place of original wit. […] To underline the general confusion of concept [Cornelius] is finally transformed into an ape and given two punchlines – one a joke, the other a homily. The last obliterates the first first, and would that it could do the same for the entire enterprise. – from a review by Jack Tinker

Financial Times 5 October 1973
[A] wild and woolly science fiction extravaganza with a plot so obscure that it would be rash to attempt a summary. […] [T]here are – as in the Phibes films – a fair number of colourful sets, a handful of witty lines, and a supporting cast that offers real value for money. – from a review by Nigel Andrews

The Morning Star 5 October 1973
There are audio and visual jokes, salty language and wayout situations. In spite of all the zany romps and frolics, however, found the whole exercise chaotic, confused and ultimately depressing. Jenny Runacre, Harry Andrews, Hugh Griffiths, and Patrick Magee are some of the stalwarts who keep this highly charged spoof on the sizzle. – from a review by Virginia Dignam

The New Statesman 5 October 1973
The Final Programme is, perhaps, the wildest movie to be found in present parts. It is hard to know – what with its director Robert Fuest’s part in those Dr Phibes things and the current ease with which four-letter words are recorded: this has them all, yet one feels that fact to be less than enticing. […] It turns out to be a proper old entertainment, a shade flashy, maybe, but entertaining nonetheless. The gift, here, is for decor – art director, Phillip Harrison, officially – and the matter is as up-to-date as a gloomy tomorrow. […] To begin to describe this particular moving-picture construct would be like flaunting with death, a process the construct – with its general concentration on death-dealing or life-saving toys, games, machines – is not entirely averse to. It is thoroughly cold, hard, hip, and probably unpleasant. It struck me in a good mood, when I was alert to the inventive and rather fond of Jenny Runacre, who’s about and was so good in Cassavetes’ Husbands. – from a review by John Coleman

The Telegraph 5 October 1973
[A] very stylish parody indeed, and very inventive, too, of the science-fiction genre. – from a review by Patrick Gibbs

The Observer 7 October 1973
Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme […] uses the conventions of science fiction as a satirical device for castigating contemporary folly and, while SF purists may resent the liberties he has taken with Michael Moorcock’s apocalyptic novel, I found the exercise an unqualified success. Fuest, as the extremely enjoyable “Dr Phibes” films showed, is a master of heartless camp. Here, however, he has gone further and, like Swift or Voltaire, presents an horrific world with an air of assumed moral neutrality the better to shock us into recognition. […] The end, which I won’t spoil, shows the hero walking traditionally away into the sunset, but here I can promise you the effect is the reverse of sentimental. Where Fuest’s vision is so convincing is in his recognition that we are in danger of becoming evolutionary monstrosities, developing certain areas of our minds at the expense of the total atrophy of others. The world of Jerry Cornelius is like ours, only more so: gleaming technology in the middle of squalor, casual obscenity without meaning, a narcissistic obsession with style at the expense of feeling. The film uses the conventions of the James Bond series – the sick jokes, the explosion into balletic violence. It’s often extremely funny, but it’s by no means frivolous. – from a review by George Melly

Sunday People 7 October 1973
The Final Programme […] has Jon Finch playing superbly camp, with Jenny Runacre as an evil girl whose sexy appetite actually eats men up. – from a review by Kenneth Baily

Sunday Telegraph 7 October 1973
An interesting, inventive director, Robert Fuest lost me early on in The Final Programme […] based on Michael Moorcock’s futuristic fantasy […] However, there are those who admire it tremendously. Let’s just say it’s not my cup of sci-fi. – from a review by Margaret Hinxman

The Sunday Times 7 October 1973
The Final Programme is a really wild movie. […] The film is designed, written and directed by Robert Fuest (based on a novel by Michael Moorcock) and he invests the bizarre proceedings with great manic zest. […] Fuest is admirably served by a splendidly mad cast – in particular by Jenny Runacre as the lethal mother-to-be of the Messiah who, while awaiting the quintessential copulation “absorbs” other sexual prey of either sex, causing them to disappear without trace at the moment of orgasm; and Jon Finch, a Nobel prize-winning nut with a passion for chocolate biscuits, who plays the preying mantis’s reluctant partner with fine panache. – from a review by Derek Prouse

The Times 19 October 1973
Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme misses most of the point and half the attraction of Michael Moorcock’s pulp-style sci-fi hero Jerry Cornelius. What remains is an art director’s nightmare, one of those camp and geary films they were making, to the cost of the British cinema, in the sixties; with wild sets and costumes, sloppy dialogue pointlessly flaunting its four-letter license; and still sloppier direction. Alternately tedious and irritating, this is really the sort of film to sink the British cinema. – from a review by David Robinson

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.40 no.477 (October 1973) p.206
Jon Finch struggles manfully, [but] he does not have enough charisma to overcome the inconsistencies of the character he is playing. The film is undeniably elegant, but while certain sequences are effective, such as the visit to the strange Cornelius house, others are extended far beyond their dramatic purpose. Too often, the director is so concerned with the decorative qualities of his images that the plot is allowed to founder and any attempts at prophetic fantasy are forgotten. The ending is reasonably successful as the monstrous Messiah limps off into the ‘New Age’, but earlier satirical scenes are derivative of Stanley Kubrick: Sterling Hayden’s Major Wrongway Lindbergh seems to have strayed out of Dr. Strangelove, and the nightclub, with its professional assassin, could well be part of A Clockwork Orange. – from a review by Alistair Whyte

1974
Films and Filming vol.20 no.4 (January 1974) p.48
Somewhere along the line, something went wrong with this film. The novel, by Michael Moorcock, exercised considerable power and imagination. This adaptation […] fails to capture those qualities. […] [T]he stylish opening proves to be a trap and eventually we wallow in style, to the point of losing audience interest in the story. […] Perhaps the film never quite makes up its mind what it is to be. Strangely, for a designer turned director, the future word is unimpressive, and there is a noticeable lack of hardware. Cornelius, for example, flies a Phantom jet, an impressive mode of personal transport (with the helicopter as town runaround). But we never actually see it: someone tells us that he has just landed or just taken off. […] The surprise ending came as no surprise and was somewhat reminiscent of a Road To film. But there is a lot of good thought in the picture though it could have been more thought-provoking. And there are some engaging moments, both visual and verbal. In fact it is a much better film than will probably be reflected in the business it does at the box-office. Let us hope Bob Fuest does not as a result retreat to the comfort and safety of Doctor Phibes. – from a review by Tudor Gates

1975
Time 27 January 1975 (USA)
The Last Days of Man on Earth is decked out with an abundance of style by Robert Fuest, who designed, directed and wrote it, somewhat overreaching himself in that last department. The movie, even though adapted from a novel by Science-Fiction Specialist Michael Moorcock, is chaotic for most of its first half. It is also a great deal of fun. The film is a mad send-up of future shock and the trappings of conventional sci-fi, but it works as a kind of crackbrained adventure. […] The Last Days of Man on Earth, fractured and funny, is an authentic curiosity. Pace Woody Allen, it is a true sleeper, a movie both of substantial flaw and surprise. When one of the scientists announces with pride that the group has “the best brains in Europe working for us.” and when it is shown just what he means, Allen would recognize a kindred anarchic spirit. – from a review by Jay Cocks

Variety 29 October 1975 p.16 (USA)
The Last Days of Man on Earth” is a silly, pretentious pot-boiler, done in a jazzed-up style which suggests Ken Russell on an off day. Jon Finch is topcast as a rebellious intellectual in a devastated world seeking a new messiah. […] [It] alternates high-falutin’ allegory with low-brow facetiousness, and the film is a mishmash. […] Whatever ideas Fuest is trying to deal with, mostly in the pop cliche fashion of run-of-the-mill scifi, are submerged by the relentlessly chic filming style. The Finch character runs up against some of England’s most interesting supporting actors, none of whom has much of a part, and when the forlorn cast is coupled with the junk-strewn landscape, pic could be taken as a sad allegory of the British film industry. Among the talents stranded here are Jenny Runacre, Hugh Griffith, Patrick Magee, Harry Andrews, Graham Crowden, and George Coulouris. Sterling Hayden is in for a flash. Norman Warwick did the hyped-up lensing. Other tech credits are equally frenetic, without purpose. – from a review by Mack

Posters

Production Notes

Continuity Errors
When Cornelius is waiting for his butler John to arrive by boat a figure can briefly be seen walking past in the distance. The figure is circled in red in the frame grab below.

References

Periodicals

  • Castle of Frankenstein no.23 pp.54, 55
  • Cinefantastique vol.4 no.2 (Summer 1975) pp.4-7, 38 – illustrated article
  • CinemaTV Today no.10016 (27 January 1973) pp.20-21 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10017 (3 February 1973) p.12 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10018 (10 February 1973) p.8 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10019 (17 February 1973) p.6 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10020 (24 February 1973) p.10 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10021 (3 March 1973) p.32 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10022 (10 March 1973) p.10 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10023 (17 March 1973) p.10; 10 – illustrated note (Fuest, Phibes and Finch); credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10024 (24 March 1973) p.22 – credits (In production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10026 (7 April 1973) p.14 – credits (Post production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10030 (5 May 1973) p.10 – credits (Post production)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10032 (19 May 1973) p.13 – credits (May music recording)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10051 (29 September 1973) p.14 – review (by Marjorie Bilbow)
  • Films and Filming vol.20 no.4 (January 1974) p.48 – credits, review (by Tudor Gates)
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.40 no.477 (October 1973) p.206 – credits, synopsis, review (by Alistair Whyte)
  • Screen International no.21 (31 January 1976) p.4 – note
  • Sight & Sound vol.20 no.7 (July 2010) pp.26-27 – illustrated article (Selling England by the pound by Mark Sinker)
  • Time 27 January 1975 – review (by Jay Cocks)
  • Variety 29 October 1975 p.16 – credits, review (by Mack)

Newspapers

  • The Daily Express 4 October 1973 – review (Seriously, it’s too fantastic by Ian Christie)
  • The Daily Mail 5 October 1973 – review (by Jack Tinker)
  • Evening News 4 October 1973 – review (by Felix Barker)
  • Evening Standard 4 October 1973 – review (Zap! such style! by Alexander Walker)
  • Financial Times 5 October 1973 – review (by Nigel Andrews)
  • The Guardian 4 October 1973 – review (by Jan Dawson)
  • The Morning Star 5 October 1973 – review (by Virginia Dignam)
  • The New Statesman 5 October 1973 – review (by John Coleman)
  • The Observer 7 October 1973 – review (by George Melly)
  • Sunday People 7 October 1973 – review (by Kenneth Baily)
  • Sunday Telegraph 7 October 1973 – review (by Margaret Hinxman)
  • The Sunday Times 7 October 1973 – review (by Derek Prouse)
  • The Telegraph 5 October 1973 – review (by Patrick Gibbs)
  • The Times 19 October 1973 – review (by David Robinson)

Books

  • Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction by Phil Hardy (ed) p.310; 311 – illustrated credits, review
  • Fervid Filmmaking: 66 Cult Pictures of Vision, Verve and No Self-restraint by Mike Watt pp.68-70 – illustrated review
  • Film Review 1974-75 by F. Maurice Speed (ed) p.192
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.219-220
  • Nuclear Movies: A Filmography by Mick Broderick p.81
  • Psychedelic Celluloid: British Pop Music in Film and TV 1965-1974 by Simon Matthews p.177-178 – illustrated review
  • Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956-1976 by Gary A. Smith pp.100