Fri 10 Aug 2012
THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. American-International Pictures, 1964. Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Umberto Rau, Christi Courtland. Screenplay: William F. Leicester & Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson), based on the latter’s novel, I Am Legend. Directors: Ubaldo B. Ragona & Sidney Salkow.
Speaking of Sublime Cheapies, The Last Man on Earth was on the other night, the first time it’s been aired around here — cable or otherwise — for almost twenty years.
It was worth waiting for. This film has real seat-of-the-pants tawdriness: a ragged, amateurish improvisational feel that is totally appropriate to the subject. As I watched the over/under-lighted camera-work, listened to the grainy soundtrack, and had my wits challenged by the jagged editing, I had the same eerie feeling I had two decades ago, that this film could have been made by, not about, the last surviving human.
Needless to say, TLMOE is light years beyond its big-budget remake, The Omega Man, of seven years later.
In the latter film, we got heroic Charlton Heston living in sybaritic isolation amid mad horde of counterculture late-60s stereotypes, treating the theme with a banality all its own. The picture in The Last Man on Earth is of the ultimate Civilized Man, cooped up in the suburbs, getting by with a jerry-rigged generator and clunky old cars as he copes as best he can with the ultimate in Unreason: Crowds of his former neighbors now turned into zombies.
The Last Man on Earth also has the distinction of being the most poignant Monster Movie I’ve ever seen.
In a movie this ragged, the few moments spared for Feeling take on a surprising importance: the torment of parents trying to ignore the cries of a sick child because they’re afraid to call a doctor; Vincent Price crying as he watches old Home Movies; and best of all, his pathetic joy at attracting a mangy, dying dog — all carry an emotional impact one rarely gets from even decently-made films, much less hand-to-mouth cheapies like this one.
I should add that my esteem for this film is to General Critical Consensus as Perversion is to Love. For the last quarter-century, responsible reviewers have dismissed The Last Man on Earth as a cheap, miscast travesty of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Perhaps, years from now, Fashion will catch up with it. But I doubt it.
Editorial Comment: It’s now 20 years after Dan first wrote this review. No longer do you have to wait for the movie to be shown on TV. You can watch it in its entirety on your computer screen whenever you wish. (See above.)
What’s the critical opinion today? The Last Man on Earth currently has a 6.9 rating out of 10 on IMDB, and there are links to 100 external reviews. Has that last doubt of Dan’s been proven wrong?