“To most of us, it came as a surprise. Not many understood. Too few cared enough to stop it. Then it no longer mattered how many understood or cared–it was too late!”
One of Canada’s first eco-thrillers, Deadly Harvest deals with the greatest environmental catastrophe facing the 21st Century–global cooling. A long voiceover segment blames overpopulation, urban sprawl, the energy crisis, pollution, the high cost of transporting grain, the CN Tower…even “a lack of government support for research programs.”
Special effects? Non existent, adapting the “day-for-night” technique to a “December-for-August” approach. A typically bleak Pickering, Ont. winterscape passes here for late summer.
The film takes an almost quaintly Canadian approach to the crisis. The action opens in a seedy looking government office, where “Mr. Minister” meets a tiny cadre of advisors who mull over their limited last-minute options to forestall imminent starvation: building vast hydroponic labs, executing prisoners, euthanizing the old and sick, or switching to an all seaweed diet–every idea futile. The courageous made-in- Canada-solution? Claim a temporary supply distribution problem, cut rations in half, institute martial law and suspend Bell long distance service so citizens will starve before they realize their food has run out.
We’re now in farm country, where cattle-thieving black marketeer Mort Logan (Nehemiah Persoff) raids at will, slaughtering scarce livestock. Some of the zaftig country folk–we’re told they’re also starving–want to protect their diminishing resources with armed resistance, but stoic farmer Grant Franklin (Clint Walker), a mustachioed ox of a man, refuses to fight fire with fire, muttering incomprehensible platitudes about avoiding trouble, running a hydroponic farm with steam engines, and waiting until the weather improves. You know you’re in prime Canuxploitation country when Dawn “Naked Flame” Greenhalgh shows up as farm wife Leah. The Franklin kids: adoring daughter Susan (“I don’t know how you do it Mom, making meals out of nothing”)a pre-Porky’s Kim Cattrall hot-headed son Michael (Geraint Wyn Davies–here billed as Gary), and cute li’l sis Bobbie (Tami Tucker).
But, tensions rise in the city as food riots, Canadian-style, ensue. About two dozen disappointed citizens scuffle weakly with each other in front of the local government food distribution centre after a white-aproned store clerk announces–with bullhorn, no less “there’s no food left today–come back tomorrow.” As typical Canadians, presumably they do.
What follows is driving action–long, drawn-out travel sequences as characters ply the roads between the big city and Pickering in monster Cadillacs and big ass pick-ups, despite repeated references to a critical fuel shortage. This was stage director Tim Bond’s first screen effort scriptwriter Martin Lager was a playwright–and it shows. The pair treat long commutes like scene changes in a theatrical production.
First up, computer consultant Charles Ennis (David Brown) and his frail dad drive in from the city, begging for produce. The good-hearted Franklins assemble a produce basket topped off with fresh cackleberries for the starving pair, then boast cheerfully about the bountiful wedding spread they’ll be tucking into at daughter Susan’s wedding feast the following day. Bad move. The city folk are waylaid by militia men who confiscate the food and scare the elder milquetoast to death. After a long drive back to the city, Charles seeks out, by sheer coincidence, none other than profiteer Logan, offering a map to the Franklin wedding in exchange for half a square meal.
Logan and his crew again haul ass to the Franklin farm to execute a simple food heist, but wind up exchanging gunfire with the armed townsfolk. Casualties include farm wife Leah and, in a comically underplayed death scene, Susan’s hapless groom. The death of his wife galvanizes Grant into action. Finding an address on the back of the discarded map, he drives to the big city to nail Charles’ citified butt to the wall.
The filmmakers take considerable liberty with Toronto geography, making Grant appear lost and confused, rather than purposeful. During an interminable travel sequence, he crisscrosses the city like a dying bluebottle, before running smack through an understaffed blockade at the “Citycore Curfew.” (That’s well-padded CFRB radio veteran Wally Crouter manning the gate arm–where is everybody getting this food?) At the office, Grant kicks Charles around the room before hearing how his elderly dad perished at the hands of the Pickering militia. Heck, they’ve ALL suffered, so Grant calls a truce. Charles lets Grant in on a little secret–his computer demonstrates that Canada has but 27 days of food left–then warns him that Logan’s headed back to the farm for a third time to seek revenge for the inhospitable treatment he received at the wedding.
Realizing now that violence IS the answer, Grant smashes through the same blockade, heads home and begs the militia for help. His homestead’s under attack with only the three Franklin kids to defend it–and Sue’s catatonic since losing her husband-to-be in a hail of bullets.
The film’s climax latches onto obvious cinematic symbolism as the aggie townsfolk round up Logan and his gang with an army of farm equipment, though there is a certain satisfaction in seeing Grant cruelly mauling the bad guys with the times of an excavator–sort of a reverse take on Walker’s 1974 ABC movie-of-the week Killdozer.
The scariest part of the film? The soundtrack by John Mills Cockell is downright creepy, switching between eerie synth, lumbering keyboards and maudlin piano themes with alarming impropriety.
A Deadly cinematic Harvest indeed–of Grade A farmer’s cheese.