Sometimes You Wish You Really Were The Last – The Omega Man (1971)

omp01The first time I watched the 1971 Charlton Heston-starring The Omega Man I actually didn’t.

Okay, in order for me to explain that statement, I’m going to have to take you back in time a bit, to when I was much younger, when we only had a few television channels, no VCRs or DVRs or even DVDs, and yes, dinosaurs did roam the Earth.

We’re talking the early 70s here kids. Ancient history.

At that point, when a movie came on TV, you basically had two options: either watch it as it was being broadcast, or miss it completely and hope that it would be shown again at some unknown future date. There was no “Well, if I don’t watch it now I can always get it on Amazon or download it or stream it on Netflix.”

That’s also why in my house, as well as in most American homes, the TV Guide was the most-read magazine. As a matter of fact, at that point it was the best-selling magazine in America. And in my house, especially for a sci-fi/horror movie loving kid like myself, it was a true treasure to be pored over each week when it came in, to see what genre movies were coming on and which ones I was going to try to see.

Oh, and let me just add: woe forbid if two or more of those movies overlapped, or if they overlapped with a favorite regular TV show, because than a real choice had to be made.

om05And it was even worse if something you wanted to watch conflicted with something your parents wanted to see, because it was obvious who was going to win that little fight. Actually, there wasn’t really going to be a fight. (Oh, yeah, one other thing I forgot to mention earlier about this time: there was also no such thing as watching something you wanted to on a computer or iPad or phone or whatever. Remember, we’re talking about a time before home computers or the internet. Yeah, I know, it’s a wonder we were able to survive.)

Anyway, it was under such circumstances that I first came into contact with The Omega Man.

The Omega Man is actually the second of three major adaptations of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. The first was 1964’s The Last Man on Earth which starred Vincent Price. The third was 2007’s I Am Legend which had Will Smith in the lead role.

Though each of them varies to a larger or smaller degree from Matheson’s novel, they all share the same basic set-up. In The Omega Man the concept is simple. Robert Neville, who was both a Colonel in the U.S. Army and a doctor who studied rare diseases is seemingly the lone human survivor after a biological war between Russia and China sets off a plague which kills off most of the world’s population and turns most of the “survivors” into plague ridden zombies.

That’s right kids, we’re talking Zombie Apocalypse 1971 style.

Anyway, back to the story I was telling:

ds1At the same time as I was a young sci-fi/horror movie fan, I was also a fan of the early pulp characters such as The Shadow and Doc Savage. I had become a fan of these characters through a series of paperbacks that were being released at the time which reprinted those early pulp stories, and which the local library would sporadically get in.

Again, finding a new one of these paperbacks on the library shelves was like a gold miner finding an unexpectedly large nugget.

You can, therefore, imagine my pleasure when, on a certain Saturday afternoon I just happened to run across a new oc Savage reprint at the library. I couldn’t wait to get home and dive right into it.

Of course, as luck would have it, that was the same Saturday that NBC was going to be premiering The Omega Man. What a terrible choice to have to make. A known good in the Doc Savage book, or the possibility of something new and interesting in The Omega Man?

Yeah, my hero won.

So, while I was holed up in my room reading the latest (well, to me at least – hey, if you’ve never read it it might as well be a new book, right?) adventures of doc and his companions, my dad was in the living room checking out the Chuck Heston flick.

Still every once in awhile, the sounds coming from the other room were just intriguing enough to draw me in to take a peek at what was going on. Of course I really had no idea what was happening, but I did see was enough to make me curious. Especially when I happened to pop in on the rather iconic final shot. But hey, if you aren’t familiar with that shot, I’ll just have to tell you what my dad told me when I asked him what was going on: if you want to know, you’ll just have to watch the movie sometime.

Fortunately, I eventually did.

I have to admit that I’ve always found Heston to be, if nothing else, an interesting actor, especially during this period of his career when he was making some very interesting choices as far as the movies he was in. The Agony and the Ecstasy, Planet of the Apes, Anthony and Cleopatra, Soylent Green, and the list goes on. For those who think of him today mostly as an NRA-loving reactionist, at the time, Heston was not just a highly respected and sought-after actor, but a man who made some interesting choices in the roles he sought out.

And this remains true when it comes to his choice to portray, and his interpretation of, Neville in this movie.

As the movie opens, Neville is a man alone. As far as he knows, he is the last human survivor of the plague, and he is also a man determined to stay that way – a survivor, that is. He spends his days hunting down zombies, collecting supplies, or watching the movie Woodstock in the local theater. (Apparently, that’s what was showing when the apocalypse hit and – since this is before the advent of the multiplex – it’s the only movie showing close to his home).

And of course, that’s also key – Neville must stay close to home, because he must be there by nightfall, barricaded into his abode when the zombies emerge. Led by Johnathan Matthias – once Neville’s friend – “The Family” –  as the local cult is known – are eager to get to Neville an make him just like them.

By the way, one interesting choice the producers made as far as the “Family” goes is that they are distinguishable from humans because they are all now albino, and extremely sun-sensitive. This explains their nocturnal vampire-like tendencies, while still allowing them to be killed by regular bullets, rather than having to be staked, giving Heston a chance to be a bit more of an action-hero than Price could be when her portrayed the role. Of course, the distinction also suits their different personalities and acting styles.

The Omega Man is definitely a triumph of atmosphere, as it does a good job of portraying the day-to-day activities of Neville as he lives his solitary life, though it also has its completely over the top moments, such as Neville playing a solitary game of chess against a bust of General MacArthur.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s giving away too much to state that eventually Neville finds out that he may not actually be the only human left alive, Of course this only brings in more complications partly because he has lost any real ability to relate to other actual people and because it raises the question of whether there might be some way to actually save the human race.

I’m giving The Omega Man a very high recommendation here, especially for those of you who are fans of 70s sci-fi adventure movies. No, it’s not perfect, and it’s not really that representative of Matheson’s novella, but nonetheless, it’s well worth a watch.

Now if we could just get a decent Doc Savage movie.

 

Throwback Thursday – Last Man On Earth (1964)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A personal favorite guilty pleasure type movie from the 70s is the Charlton Heston flick The Omega Man. which I’ll be writing about soon, and which was the second film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. So for today’s Throwback Thursday I thought I’d revisit this article from Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest first posted Feb 9, 2010.

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Tuesday Terrors – The Last Man On Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price

lmoe1Hello?! Is there anyone out there? Oh, thank goodness. For a moment I was afraid that there was no one left but me and Richard Morgan. (Morgan! Morgan! Come out Morgan!) Who’s Richard Morgan, you ask? Why he’s the character played by Vincent Price in today’s feature. He’s The Last Man on Earth.

In 1964, Italian director Ubaldo Ragona and American Sidney Salkow set out to adapt Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend to the big screen. Hiring Matheson himself to write the screenplay (though he eventually decided he was disappointed with the outcome and had the credit changed to “Logan Swanson”) and Vincent Price to star, the duo felt they had a sure-fire hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the film was hampered by an obviously low budget and some of the Italian actors were very badly dubbed, and it wasn’t until later years that the film came to be seen as anything more than a minor Price effort. Now, however, it has a 73% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and is considered by many to be the best of the three major adaptations of the novel. The other two being the 1971 Charleton Heston starring The Omega Man, and 2007’s Will Smith actioner I Am Legend .

Set in the then-near-future time of 1968, Price stars as Dr. Richard Morgan, the last survivor of a plague that has turned most of humanity into near-zombie like vampires. Since the plague hit, Morgan now finds himself spending each day making wooden stakes, hunting the vampires, and burning them in a communal pit. Each night is a torment to be endured as he tries to keep the continually persistent vampires from breaking into his home, which has become his last refuge.

Morgan, as played by Price, becomes a very sympathetic figure as we learn that he has not only lost his daughter to the plague, but he has had to put a stake through the heart of his wife who returned as one of the vampires after he could not bear to throw into the fire pits when she, too, succumbed to the disease.

lmoe2When he finally encounters another living human, a woman, who seems to also be immune to the disease, Morgan is at first elated, but his joy soon turns to suspicion and then fear as he learns that she is hiding a dark secret. Will she be the key to helping him resurrect humanity, or will she be the final nail in the coffin of the last true man?

As you can perhaps tell from the above, this is a movie that i like a great deal. Yes, the budget was minimal, but it simply forced all involved to come up with more creative solutions to the presentation. Plus, Price injects a great amount of humanity into a role that would in lesser hands be very flat. We not only hear the increasing desperation of the character in the voice-over narration that guides us through the film, but we see it on his face to an extent that becomes almost palpable.

So, again we have to ask, how did a movie from 1964 starring one of terror-dom’s greats come into the public domain. Again, the answer is simple. Before the law was changed so that everything that is produced is automatically copyrighted, a notice of copyright had to be filed, and that was never done. Therefore, automatic Public Domain.

And here’s the trailer:

Ok, the skinny:
Title: The Last Man on Earth
Release Date: 1964
Running Time: 86 min.
Stars: Vincent Price
Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Producers: Robert L. Lippert, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Harold E. Knox
Distributed by: American International Pictures

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

What Could Have Been: Amazing Makeup Test Video For Ridley Scott’s Proposed Version of I Am Legend

i am legendIn 1997, director Ridley Scott was working on what eventually became the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. At that time he hired Alec Gillis And Tom Woodruff Jr. to do practical makeup tests for the movie. Unfortunately, the studio eventually decided to go a different way, Scott was out, the practical effects became CGI, and, well, we all know how that turned out. (Pretty poorly, in my opinion, as the effects really brought down what could have otherwise been a fairly decent take on the story.)

Fortunately, we do have this video to give us a glimpse of what we might have seen had Scott continued his work on the project.

Yep, it’s yet another reminder of why sometimes just because computers can be used to do this kind of thing, that doesn’t mean they always should be.