The Last Child (1971)

Much like other long since faded fads like pet rocks, mood rings, pogs and Sniglets, doom and gloom scams come and go with the amazing regularity that only obsessive anti-freedom big government advocates can muster.

Acid rain, nuclear winter, crop failure, Y2K, 2012, asteroids, dirty bombs, pandemics, mega quakes, super volcanoes, smog, global warming, global cooling and every temperature in between are all trotted out from time to time as an excuse to trample on the rights of regular people and increase the power of a highly centralized authority. With such an ever evolving Chicken Little laundry list, it’s tough to keep up with what we are supposed to be scared of in any given month.

Thankfully the only bigger hucksters on the planet than the fascists peddling all this disaster porn is the entertainment industry who is so helpful in dramatizing each and every possible way our entire civilization can collapse over night. Whether they are trying to propagandize a particular disaster scenario or just cashing in on the FUBAR flavor of the month, you can count on them to unleash something to catch the public’s fleeting interest in the disaster de jour.

In the early 1970s, overpopulation was the apocalyptic boogeyman keeping people up at night, no doubt kicked off by the 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. High profile films like Soylent Green and Logan’s Run both addressed these concerns in over-the-top fashion while lesser known films like Z.P.G. and The Last Child handled the issue with straight forward “no kids allowed” stories.

Though it attempts to come off as more realistic than Soylent Green and Logan’s Run (The Last Child  begins by telling us that it takes place “sometime in the not too distant future” against a backdrop of a normal busy city street), these “one child” movies are just as preposterous, especially as presented in The Last Child.

America is dealing with its overpopulation problem (despite the climax taking place in a decidedly unpopulated part of the country near the Canadian border) by limiting couples to only a single child. If your child dies, as long as it survived at least ten days, that counts as your only child. If you become pregnant after already having a child, the government arrests you and forces an abortion on you. (Strangely the film doesn’t actually use the word “abortion”, as if the word itself was too controversial for a 1971 TV movie, but a story about a government policy mandating the murder of babies born illegally was ok airing against such generic 70s shows as Hawaii Five-O and the cop-turned-priest drama Sarge!)

Alan and Karen Miller are a couple whose baby died 15 days after birth the year before. She is now pregnant and they have fled Syracuse for New York City, hopeful that the large number of people there will work in their favor in helping to avoid the government thugs hunting illegally pregnant women. Things go sideways when Alan gets mixed up with a newspaper reporter and they both get into a confrontation with police who are arresting another pregnant woman. It isn’t long before the police realize that Alan hasn’t registered his move from Syracuse to New York and begin investigating.

Karen is arrested in short order and Alan is forced to turn to his brother-in-law for assistance in having Karen released from detention. Howard, Karen’s brother, is some type of government official and he pulls some strings to have her released, but he is not supportive of them having a baby when it is against the law, thus setting the stage for lots of dull arguments between him and Alan over what’s worth fighting for and the value of just going along to get along.

The mindlessly oppressive government is ably represented by Ed Asner as the dogged Barstow, the cop who pursues the Millers no matter what, even if it means harassing screen legend Van Heflin (in his final role) as the sympathetic senator who harbors the Millers for a time.

The 73 minute running time doesn’t allow for the development of much beyond a stripped down fugitives-on-the-run story. The Millers escape the city on a train, befriend the senator, hang out with him, then head to the border once Barstow flushes them out. The entire subplot regarding the newspaper reporter and his reluctant editor is dropped unceremoniously once the Millers go the lam. The editor finally bowing to conscience and running an editorial in favor of the couple feels redundant anyway since that character arc is the same as Howard’s.

Nothing regarding this ridiculous faux future is explained. Why does an increase in population necessarily equal overpopulation? The United States has about 125 million more people now than it did back in 1970 and the only shortages are whenever a new iPhone or  video game console is released. And the idea that the government will be able to keep track of who can get pregnant and who can’t is ludicrous when you consider that it can’t even keep track of who is crossing its borders on a regular basis.

Even more absurd is that in the film, once a person turns 65, they no longer get any medicine to treat whatever ails them! While, it’s mind-boggling that in a country that is irrevocably divided on the issue of whether a woman should be able to have a voluntary abortion, the nation would stand for a law that not only forces abortion on a woman, but also kills infants at birth if the pregnancy is too far along to be safely aborted, it is just flat out fantasy that senior citizens would ever stand for their elected officials to ever cut off any of their benefits!

Things get so futuristically farcical that the film simply ignores its own setup during the climax. In a world where the government has banned the making of not only babies, but also automobiles, how does the movie end? Car chase! And staying true to pretty much every TV project of the 1970s with a car chase, it ends with a car going over a cliff and exploding, thus providing the singular moment of action in a movie whose only other action is provided by Lou Grant bellowing and sneering at everyone. The only legitimate concern about overpopulation this movie miscarriage raises is when you see Aaron Spelling’s producing credit and immediately think of Tori Spelling.

© 2019 MonsterHunter

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