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The World, The Flesh and the Devil is a 1959 science fiction doomsday film written and directed by Ranald MacDougall. The star is Harry Belafonte, who was then at the peak of his film career. Using a science fiction premise about the end of the world, the movie is based in part on two sources: the novel The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel and the story "End of the World" by Ferdinand Reyher.


African-American Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) becomes trapped underground in a cave-in while inspecting a mine in Pennsylvaniamarker. He can hear rescuers digging towards him, but after a few days they slow down and then stop completely. Alarmed, he digs his own way out. Reaching the surface, he finds a deserted world. Some discarded newspapers provide an explanation: one proclaims "UN Retaliates For Use Of Atomic Poison", another bears the headline "Millions Flee From Cities! End Of The World". Apparently everybody on Earth has been killed in a war; Ralph later plays tapes at a radio station that indicate that a dust of radioactive isotopes that becomes harmless after five days was used as a weapon.

Travelling to New York Citymarker in search of other survivors, he finds the city vacant. (Although the bridge into New York is jammed with abandoned cars, no bodies are ever seen.) Ralph busies himself restoring power to a building where he takes up residence. Just as the loneliness starts to become intolerable, he encounters a second survivor: Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a white woman in her twenties.

The two become fast friends, but Ralph grows distant when it becomes clear that Sarah is developing stronger feelings for him. Despite living in a post-apocalyptic world, he can't overcome the issue of race that pervaded society before the disaster. Ralph regularly broadcasts on the radio, listening for other people. One day, he receives a signal from Europe, further strengthening his inhibitions.

Things become vastly more complicated when an ill Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer) arrives by boat. Ralph and Sarah nurse him back to health, but once he recovers, the white man sets his sights on Sarah and sees Ralph as a rival. Ralph is torn by conflicting emotions. He avoids Sarah as much as possible, to give Ben every opportunity to win her affections, but he can't quite bring himself to leave the city. And as long as Ralph remains nearby, Ben realizes he has little chance with Sarah.

Ben finally grows tired of the whole situation. He warns Ralph that the next time he sees him, he will try to kill him. The two armed men hunt each other through the empty streets. Finally, Ralph passes by a monument, on which is engraved the biblical quotation: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more." He throws down his rifle and goes unarmed to confront Ben, who in turn finds himself unable to shoot his foe. Defeated, he starts walking away. Sarah appears. When Ralph starts to turn away from her, she makes him take her hand; then she calls to Ben and gives him her other hand. Together, the three walk down the street, to build a new future together. The film ends, not with "The End", but with "The Beginning".


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