Romero's paranoid thriller -

Romero's paranoid thriller -

Of Philip Mazzarella

In times of (post?) pandemic, this forgotten film is still surprisingly current

Evans City, PA. After a man inexplicably kills his wife and sets her house on fire, Vietnam War veteran firefighters Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) and David (Will McMillan) attend the scene while David's pregnant girlfriend, Nurse Judy (Will McMillan) Lane Carroll), lends aid in Dr. Brookmyre's (Will Disney) study to the two burned sons of the uxoricide. Soon, a military commando led by Major Ryder (Harry Spillman) takes possession of the Brookmyre studio to deal with what turns out to be an extraordinary emergency: a few days earlier, in fact, an army plane carrying the biological weapon from codenamed "Trixie" had crashed near the town; and due to the spilling of the highly contagious virus into the water mains, many local inhabitants were struck by immediate death or hysterical and homicidal madness.

To contain the effects of the epidemic, the government also sends Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar) and Dr. Watts (Richard France), creator of the pathogen, to the scene; but also nuclear bombers with orders, if necessary, to raze the entire community to the ground. With Evans City under quarantine and martial law, David, Judy, Clank, teenager Kathy Fulton (Lynn Lowry) and her father Artie (Richard Liberty) try to escape the city. But the contagion also extends to some of them. David will discover that he is immune to the virus without informing the military, while Watts, in a context of growing hysteria, will develop a potential cure for those who have been infected. But, perhaps, everything will be out of time.

On March 16, 1973 it was released in American theaters (with us only in June of the following year) the fourth feature film by George A. Romero, which after the shocking and revolutionary theoretical horror "Night of the Living Dead" (1968), cult progenitor of the wave longest of zombie-movies, it seemed with the two films following the debut (“There's Always Vanilla”, 1971, and “Season of the Witch”, also released in 1973 just a month earlier) to have embraced a direction genre totally in antithesis to that of his first work.

With "The city will be destroyed at dawn", accomplished with an almost non-existent budget (less than three hundred thousand dollars), Romero instead returned to "his" ranks by creating a raw and distressing paranoid thriller reshaping his own modus operandi in terms of aesthetic and photographic figurations. And opening up to that suspended, desolate and apocalyptic vision of the world which then characterized his entire career and which with the following five films dedicated to the living dead (and in particular the second, "Zombi/Dawn of the Dead", 1979, and the third "Il giorno degli zombi / Day of the Dead", 1985) sanctioned that authorship and that inimitable radicalism above all in terms of pure narration through images. If the dirty photography in pure 70's "thermal" style by S. William Hinzman (ie the actor who in "Night of the Living Dead" played the first, unforgettable zombie in the famous opening sequence at the cemetery) anticipates to some extent the then more particular and spectral lighting experiments by Michael Gornick (the operator with whom Romero will create his masterpieces) to tune "The city will be destroyed at dawn" with the other films of the director above all his subversive and ferociously exhibited awareness.

Cynicism and latent despair with which the entire story narrated fully reflects the period of social insecurity that characterized the USA at the time of the film's release: and although we are certainly not dealing with a masterpiece, the reverberations of the consequences of the senseless extension of the war in Vietnam and the beginning of the decadence of the urban realities of the deep American province (here symbolically reduced in no uncertain terms to cemeteries) are fully evoked and represented, while the ideological reflection (particularly on the distrust both in individual initiative and in the a government sick of decision-making) emerges with an overwhelming force, like the merciless (and subtly satirical) description of a repressed America always ready to unleash its worst instincts.

“The city will be destroyed at dawn” (disregard of the anodyne and bite-free “strategic” and theoretical remake of 2013 by the carneade Breck Eisner) a probably forgotten film; but in times of (post?) pandemic still surprisingly current, corollary (but not accessory) in the definition of Romerian ethics and above all indicative of a political urgency that American cinema of the current genre has definitively forgotten.

March 16, 2023 (change March 16, 2023 | 07:32)

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