This episode is relatively well known and I’m sure it’s been parodied on a Simpson’s Tree House of Terror episode at some point.
Burgess Meredith stars as Henry Bemis, a mouse of a man with coke bottle glasses who loves to read. In this passion he is frustrated by a shrewish wife and an unsympathetic bank manger who happens to be his boss. You see Henry is a bank teller who as we meet him is being threatened with dismissal if he’s found reading on the job again. His wife rips up his poetry books and mocks him openly. Next day he sneaks down to the sub-basement vault on his lunch hour to do a little reading. He glances at the newspaper headline about a possible doomsday scenario from the latest H-Bomb test approaching just as he is knocked to the ground by an enormous shock wave. When Henry wakes up and exits the vault, he is surrounded by ruble from a titanic explosion that has levelled the entire city.
Over the course of the next day or two he discovers that he is the only survivor of a nuclear Armageddon, he is the last man on Earth. He has enough canned food available to him to last for many years but his loneliness is extreme. Finally, one day wandering the bombed-out city he sees a pistol on the ground an is about to commit suicide when he realizes that he is in front of the public library. And miraculously all the books are intact. His mood turns to elation and he says now at last he has the time to read all the books he never could before.
He plans the months and years ahead with piles of Shakespeare, Shelley and Shaw when looking down he sees a stray volume and leans over to pick it up. But in leaning over his glasses fall off his face and break on the stone steps. As hopelessly near-sighted as Henry is, he can never now read any of the books he has surrounding him in great piles. He finishes off the story wailing to no one but us that it isn’t fair.
Well, what can I say? It’s a fun plot. The tortured soul has his revenge on the soulless world but then is cheated at the end by fate. It isn’t deep or brilliant but somehow it strikes me as close to the kind of irony that fills the world, we live in. I give it a B+.