When the future is depicted in made-for-TV movies, that production is typically presented with a distinct, futuristic aesthetic. This creative choice makes that movie’s world look and feel different from the one the audience is living in. But when I came across the 1971 film, The Last Child, I took note of how the story adopted a “contemporary” appearance. That is the reason why I’m writing about this movie for the Futurethon event! Instead of putting on a futuristic appearance, The Last Child introduces their version of the future in more subtle ways. The dialogue among the characters is how the film’s creative team brings this idea to the screen. Sometimes, futuristic stories will feature a conflict that strikes fear into the story’s characters as well as the audience. The world in The Last Child discusses the subject of population control, which presents a dire circumstance for the protagonists.
Things I liked about the film:
Stand-out performances: When I watch a movie, sometimes an actor or actress will give a performance that stands out among the movie’s cast, leaving a memorable impression on me. In The Last Child, there were three actors who gave stand-out performances! I’ve seen some of Ed Asner’s films prior to watching The Last Child. In these films, Ed’s character has typically been presented as a friendly, kind-hearted individual. But in the 1971 made-for-tv movie, Ed’s role was different from those I saw in the past. Portraying a police officer named Barstow, Ed carried his character with a no-nonsense attitude. At the same time, he incorporated a sense of confidence into his portrayal, which allowed Ed to go toe-to-toe with other actors. One of these actors was Van Heflin, who portrayed Senator George. Van also incorporated confidence in his performance. However, this form of confidence was more dignified, reflective of George’s political background. Yet, there was a kindness within George, a kindness that felt genuine. The scene where the film’s protagonists, Allen and Karen, meet George for the first time perfectly showcases this kindness, as it can be heard in George’s voice and seen in his eyes.
The last stand-out performance came from Harry Guardino! Portraying Karen’s brother, Howard, Harry presents a man who is both concerned about his influential position and scared for his family. In a scene where Howard is trying to get Karen out of the Population Control Center, Howard’s voice sounds very professional over the phone. He even sounds professional when speaking to his brother-in-law. But throughout that scene, there is fear in Howard’s eyes. Because he is in the presence of family, Howard feels he can safely express this fear. The ability to present both the professional and emotional sides of Howard was made possible by Harry’s versatile acting talents!
The cinematography: Cinematography in made-for-tv movies can be hit or miss. It can either be surprisingly good or obviously bad. But in The Last Child, I was surprised by the cinematography, as some scenes were captured in ways I wasn’t expecting. In scenes where characters were moving in public crowds, the camera would use close-up shots. The camera would also be placed in front of or behind the characters. These techniques gave the audience the illusion they were moving alongside the characters, making those scenes feel immersive.
Senator George’s house: A location in a movie is meant to visually represent the environment the characters exist in. This holds true for a character’s house. As I mentioned in this review, George is a Senator. The interior and exterior spaces of George’s house are a reflection of his power and influence. Brick and stone make up the face of his house. Large, paned glass windows hint at rooms with high ceilings and expansive square feet. Inside George’s house, luxurious details can be seen in each room. One room features a floor to ceiling, cream colored fireplace, complete with carved detailing. Another room includes a dainty white, oval table that not only boasts drawers, it also appears to be utilized as a small dining table. These details show how the creative team cared about how George’s personal living space was presented in their movie!
What I didn’t like about the film:
An unexplained future: In my review of Night of the Comet, I said a film’s science needed to be explained, in order for the audience to understand what’s happening in the story. The same can be said if creating a story set in the future. There has to be a reason for a film’s world being so different from the audience’s. These reasons can give the audience an understanding for these differences, allowing them to contemplate how they’d respond to that film’s world. In The Last Child, though, it was never explained why the movie’s world had strict population control laws. None of the characters mentioned how these laws come to be, what led to their existence. The audience was forced to accept the world of The Last Child at face value.
Little sense of urgency: The Last Child is about a couple expecting their second child, as their first child died shortly after birth. Because of their world’s strict population control laws, only allowing one child per family, the couple has a very difficult conflict on their hands. Despite this conflict, the sense of urgency in The Last Child was far and few between. There were times when a sense of urgency was present, such as during the film’s climax. But this element of the story was not consistent. This prevented me from truly fearing for the couple’s safety and well-being. It also caused the story to feel like it had too many low-stakes.
Inconsistent technology: The use of technology is established in the world of The Last Child. In fact, the incorporation of technology was introduced toward the beginning of the film. When Allen and his friend are questioned by the police, a police officer puts their identification cards into a computer. This computer not only reveals a person’s identification number, it also records a person’s personal information. But when the Allen’s wife, Karen, is taken to the Population Control Center and can’t remember her identification number, the Center’s nurse doesn’t entertain the idea of looking Karen’s number up on the computer. Perhaps this nurse didn’t have the authority to use one of these computers. However, her reason for not using it wasn’t explained in the dialogue.
My overall impression:
The Last Child is the seventh made-for-tv movie from the 1970s I’ve reviewed. These seven films have ranged from decent to ok to underwhelming. The Last Child is, in my opinion, in the latter category. The idea of a futuristic story with a “comtemporary” aesthetic is one I haven’t often seen through the made-for-tv movie realm. But in The Last Child, this idea seemed better on paper than on screen. The small amount of urgency kept the story’s stakes low, preventing me from feeling scared for the protagonists’ safety and well-being. The reason for the population control laws in The Last Child was never explained, forcing the audience to accept the movie’s world at face value. Even when there were things about the film I did like, such as stand-out performances and Senator George’s house, it wasn’t enough to leave a lasting, memorable impression on me. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find a made-for-tv movie from the 1970s I like?
Overall score: 5.1 out of 10
Have you seen The Last Child? Are there any futuristic movies with “comtemporary” aesthetics you like watching? Let me know in the comment section!
Have fun in the future!