Originally produced with the title "1000 Years From Now," this film was acquired by Howard Hughes' RKO Studios. Hughes liked his studios' titles to have more grab. So, it was renamed Captive Women (CW). I know, it sounds like a cheap exploitation film or soft porn, but it's actually a moderately serious post-apocalypse tale. It's purporting to be a look at humanity several hundred years after a nuclear holocaust devastates America. This make it the great granddaddy of post-apocalypic movies like the Mad Max trilogy, the Planet of the Apes series, etc.
Quick Plot Synopsis
In the year 3000, hundreds of years after the nuclear war wiped out civilization, mankind living around the ruins of New York City has split into three groups. The Norms are the descendants of the war's survivors who took shelter underground in New York City. They're "normal" (no disfigurement) and maintain a sort of leftover civilization in the tunnels. The Mutates live above ground in the city's ruins but are variously disfigured due to chromosomal damage. The Upriver Men are rustic and ruthless mountain men who live out in the country of upstate New York.
Gordon, chief of the Upriver Men plots to raid the Norms' settlement in order to capture some women. The Norms are betrayed by one of them, who expects Gordon to make him chief. Two Norms, Robert and Bram, escape but are captured by Mutates and brought before their council. They are sentenced to be killed for past Norm atrocities against Mutates. Robert once saved Riddon (Mutate chief) from the Upriver Men, so they're spared. Riddon is betrayed by a rival and is captured by Gordon's men. Robert leads a band of Mutates in a raid against Gordon and his men, who occupy the Norm "village." The raid succeeds. The Mutates booby trap their own tunnel (The Holland Tunnel) which they've used for years to get to Manhattan in order to raid for Norm women. (Everyone wants Norm women, you see.) The booby trap succeeds in caving in the tunnel on Gordon and his men. The Mutates and Norms are saved.
Why is this movie fun?
This may be the first movie to set itself in a distant post-apocalypic future. (if you don't count Things to Come ) The whole premise of nuclear war wiping out civilization as we know it, and mankind having to start civilization over, would become almost cliche by the 1990s, but in 1952, it was unique. Rocketship XM gave us a glimpse of nuclear ruin (and the survivors turned to cavemen) -- but that was the martians' civilization, not ours. CW depicts nuclear ruin on earth.
In many ways, CW is just another tribal, sword-and-sandal film, but there are occasional reminders in the dialogue of the nuclear foundations of the story.
Cold War Angle
The movie starts with an intro about peace-loving people, the United Nations and that the power of the bomb belongs "In the hands of peace-loving people." (i.e. not the communists) We're told that the movie will be an Imaginary look into the year 3000 when lawlessness reigns..."If we permit the enemies of civilization to control the weapons of peace." That was a pretty heavy-handed preamble leaves no doubt that the film is a nuclear warning tale.
Everyone wants to steal our "good" women
This primal theme runs through CW. The brutish Upriver Men raid for Norm women -- who all seem to be twenty-somethings, trim and pretty, dressed in white. The Mutates raid for Norm women because they want to repair their gene pool. Flawed man craves the perfect women. There's a very strong tribal sexuality undercurrent in CW. They Want Our Women, is an oft recurring primal sub-theme in many 50s sci-fi films.
There is a surprising religious sub-story within CW. This isn't too surprising, given the year (1952) and the heat of McCarthyism in full force. It's the Mutates who have retained a faith in God, calling themselves "The Lord's children." The Norms have taken to worshipping the devil. (Note the bacchanal wedding festivities at the feet of a big idol.)
There is a theological exchange between Mutate Riddon and Norm Robert. Riddon talks about how mankind may have deserved the nuclear devastation.
Riddon: "The Lord is merciful, but even His patience can end...and the punishment be bitter." He alludes to Sodom and Ghomorah as an ancient example of judgement, then as for more recent history... "He visited His wrath upon man in the twentieth century. Perhaps now He has deserted man for good."
Robert: "That is why we worship the devil. His works endure. He has proven himself stronger than God. What of God's handiwork remains?"
Riddon admits that God has not given the Mutates an easy life. "Perhaps we may, as He, be on our own road to Calvary." (i.e. slated to die for mankind's nuclear sins.)
Now, this is a pretty deep theological question for a B sci-fi flick. Does the existence of evil (death, destruction, etc.) prove that Satan is stronger than God? Does one owe allegiance to whomever seems to be on top at the time? The Mutates held onto their belief that God is the stronger, even if they were not blessed with a comfy life.
Despite the bleak forecast for 20th century civilization, there is a note of reconciliation at the end of CW. The Norm woman Ruth begins to love Mutate chief Riddon (whose disfigurement is pretty minor, really). This natural love (not that of a kidnapped "bride") is implied to mean the eventual repair of mankind's gene pool. True love yields hope. This plot element amounts to a subtle recast of the Christian message: The salvation of flawed man (symbolized by the Mutate men) can only occur when the perfect (the Norm women) gives itself voluntarily. Given the overt Christian messages, the existence of this subtle message is hardly farfetched.
The movie ends with slow zoom out -- a wedding ceremony for Riddon and Ruth. The zoom out continues until two thin branches lashed together (as if part of a hut) enter the screen, forming a very obvious Christian cross. There is NO doubt that the producers and director have shown God has having won after all. THAT is pretty strong stuff for a B-movie.