Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alone in the City

This entry is the third of three entries for the Movie Scientists Blogathon.  This absolutely captivating idea for a blogathon comes to us from the warped minds of Christina Wehner and her laboratory assistant, Silver Screenings.  The blogathon spans over three days.  Today, the third day is devoted to Lonely Scientists.

Charlton Heston had a brief period of his career in the late 60's and early 70's in which he was a sci-fi icon.  Previously reviewed on this blog were three of those movies (Soylent Green  as well as his two adventures on the Planet of the Apes;  Planet of he Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes)  Of course late in his career he was cast as an ape in Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes.  In between the Apes movies and Soylent Green, Heston made The Omega Man.

Not by coincidence were all three dystopian views of the future (Planet of the Apes: A world taken over by apes,  Soylent Green: A world with population growth beyond control, and The Omega Man: A world devastated by a man-made plague.  One could say that almost the entire output of sci-fi movies of the 70's was a negative dystopian view of the future.  Silent Running, THX-1138, Logan's Run, and even Mad Max  predicted societies gone amuck.  Phantom Empires wrote a piece for this very blogathon on Colossus: The Forbin Project, which, while not entirely a dystopian future does exemplify the somewhat pessimistic view that 70's sci-fi filmmakers had of science and the future.

 The Omega Man was directed by Boris Sagal, a TV director and also the father of Katey Sagal (Peg Bundy on Married With Children) and twins Liz and  Jean Sagal (former Doublemint Twins, among other credits).  The script was written by the husband/wife team of Joyce and John Corrington, who also wrote the screenplay for Battle for the Planet of the Apes, a movie reviewed earlier this month on this blog.

The Omega Man was actually the second attempt to put to film the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend.  The first was a 1964 Italian production called The Last Man on Earth, and starred Vincent Price.  More well-known is the recent I Am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith.  Richard Matheson lived long enough to see all three adaptions.  He was originally involved in the italian production, but was dissatisfied with the results and opted to have himself credited as "Logan Swanson" in the credits.  As far as The Omega Man, they changed the plot so much he wondered why they even bothered giving him credit.

An interesting note:  A kiss between Charlton Heston and Rosalind Cash is rumored to be the first interracial kiss in a movie.  Of course, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura's kiss on the TV show Star Trek predates that by a couple of years, and a British claim for an even earlier one predates both.

An interesting note on the music.  In several scenes, Heston's character pops in an 8-track (remember those?  If you do, news're getting old. But so am I...)  In both scenes that you can see the 8 track he pops in, the title is a Frank Sinatra release.  But the sound that emanates from the speakers (or at least what you hear following this action) is NOT a Frank Sinatra song.  The first scene this happens is at the very beginning of the movie.  I zoomed in on the tape and it says (I think) "Frank Sinatra: Strangers in the Night").  But what you hear is Max Steiner's "A Summer Place".  At another point in the movie, he puts another 8-track in the player in his fortress,  (another Frank Sinatra tape, but my DVD player is too unclear for me to read the title.)  But what comes out of the speakers this time is Thelonius Monk's "'Round Midnight".  OK, so maybe no one else in the world is anal enough to check that out, but I thought it was interesting.

The Omega Man (1971)

The movie opens with a solitary car cruising the deserted streets of Los Angeles.  Col. Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) is on the look out for signs of life.  But he is not looking for normal human life.  Neville believes he is the only survivor of a plague that wiped out most of humanity, while leaving a large contingent (although not as large as the population that was there before the plague) who survived the plague, but are deformed.  Neville thinks himself to be the only still human survivor, and he is immune to the plague due to having injected himself with an experimental immunization drug. See the Colonel was also a doctor and a scientist, and had been working on the immunization before the plague hit.

A Sunday drive (with guns)

The plague caused most of humanity, or at least most of the humanity in Neville's part of the world, to fall off in a quick death. It happened in part due to a Chine-Russian war that triggered another World War.  The time of said plague was around March of 1975.  (The movie makers were making a political point, since it was only 1971 when the movie was made).  The events of the present, in the movie, occur about two years later, in August of 1977.

But not all humans succumbed to immediate death from the plague; there are remnants.  These remnants are living, but are pale, ashen and covered in sores, and have to stay under cover of darkness due to a defect that causes their eyes to sort of dilate.  They are blinded by the light and only come out at night.  (This is in direct contrast to the original novel which depicted the survivors as vampires, still unable to come out at night, but significantly different from the movie's plague survivors.)

Anthony Zerbe could use a little rouge...
Matthias (Anthony Zerbe) is the leader of "The Family" as he calls his cohorts.  They are driven by one goal.  To kill off Neville, who is the last remaining vestige of the old world.  The Family eschews the weapons of the old order and instead packs spears and clubs and primitive siege weapons like a catapult to try to assault Neville's fortress.  This back and forth scuffle between the two armies (well one an army, the other just a former army man) takes up the first 30 minutes of the movie.

In the mean time during breaks in the back and forth battle Neville plays chess with and converses with a bust of Julius Caesar.  The bust, of course, does not actually talk back, and Neville is actually playing himself, but I gather it's a way to combat the extreme loneliness he must feel, when the only other possible companions he might have in the world want to kill him.

And the sad part is the statue keeps winning...

On one occasion while Neville is scouting he encounters a Negro woman (Rosalind Cash) who is not apparently a victim of the plague.  She sees him and runs away.  He tries to catch her but fails.

That ain't no mannequin...

A short time later Neville is finally captured by The Family and put on a sort of trial.  He is sentenced to death for the crime of being of the old order and using the forbidden electronic and modern weaponry.  As he is about to be burned at the stake, however, he is rescued by another heretofore unknown plague survivor (Paul Koslo).

Dutch (right) and the kids

After escaping, Neville learns that "Lisa" and "Dutch", are not the only ones still unaffected by the plague.  These people, however, are not immune as Neville is, but just have not contracted the plague yet.  this is evidenced by the fact that Lisa's brother, Ritchie (Eric Laneuville), is sick with the plague.  They have rescued Neville for the sole purpose of seeing if he can do anything  to help.  They transport Ritchie back to Neville's fortress in the city where he works on a serum made with his own immune blood.

The healers at work

The humans do have some success with the serum, but it is not going to be easy to convince Matthias and The Family that they can be cured.  The Family has succumbed to Matthias' rantings about the evils of the old order's modernism.  He is determined to wipe out the old order completely and in his mind Neville is the only thing left of that old order.

Just watch this movie, especially toward's the end and try to count how many allusions there are to the theme of Christ's redemption of humanity in the Biblical story.  Neville being the Christ figure in this allusion, of course.  The Omega Man  is an apt title in more ways than one in this respect.

Well kiddies, hope you enjoyed the weekend's romp through the various scientists.  I'm about worn out myself.  Guess I'll go see if they left any interesting energy boosting formulas in the lab.  Drive home safely folks!



  1. Great review! I saw this for the first time a few months ago, and was surprised at how many allusions to Christ were shown at the end of the film.

    That's a good point about Charlton Heston in the late 1960s-early 1970s. He made some really influential and meaningful sci-fi movies during that time.

    Thanks again for treating us to a triple-feature at the Movie Scientist blogathon! :)

    1. I have more fun when I'm really dedicated to the topic of the blogathon like this one. Thanks for creating the idea of it.

  2. Sounds fascinating! I've always associated Charlton Heston with Biblical dramas, but between this post and Silver Screenings on The Planet of the Apes, I've realized I really need to catch up on Heston the sci-fi icon.

    Teenage dystopian films (like Hunger Games) seem to be in right now - but they sound like they've got nothing on the 1970s dystopian films.

    Thanks so much for a wonderful weekend of sci-fi and scientists!

    1. Don't leave out "Soylent Green". (Even though everybody and their mother knows how it ends by now). I wrote a double feature review on it and Logan's Run last year. (see "The Future is Bleak" from November 2015) Thanks for the good words.

  3. While there were interracial kisses in Hollywood films before The Omega Man (Island in the Sun, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), the romance between Neville and Lisa was certainly a groundbreaking one. It's easy to forget now, in light of his later right-wing days, that Charlton Heston was a vocal supporter of the civil rights movement and marched with Martin Luther King.

    This is easily my favorite of the three I Am Legend screen adaptations, in spite of the liberties taken with Matheson's novel. Thanks for an interesting look at one of the more memorable sci-fi/horror mash-ups of the '70s.

    1. In my zeal to add intriguing stuff to my blog, I misread a wikipedia entry on the interracial kiss. Actually it reads that Whoopi Goldberg only called it "one of the first" in an interview with Heston. Thanks for the correction, Gary.

  4. This one is a sci-fi classic...great post as always, Quiggy. I definitely prefer this one to the Will Smith version, which is far too zombie-ish like everything else these days.

    I have seen this movie many times, but never caught the music anomolies. Perhaps Sinatra denied the rights to his songs after they had completed filming and they had to be replaced in a hurry? Or a sly in-joke that Frank Sinatra was already old hat by the early 70s? Very curious...

    1. If you can find it, check out the Italian-Vincent Price collaboration. Not bad even with the cheap production values you get with Italian cinema. Thanks, Chris.

  5. I really enjoyed reading your review! I love end of the world movies where humans figure out how to survive. I liked "I Am Legend" and didn't know there was a novel it was based on or other movies based on the novel. I am so glad to find this out. I would really like to see this one. I will look for the references to Christ and am so glad you mentioned it. Thanks for a great review and all of the information you provided in it!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your review! I love end of the world movies where humans figure out how to survive. I liked "I Am Legend" and didn't know there was a novel it was based on or other movies based on the novel. I am so glad to find this out. I would really like to see this one. I will look for the references to Christ and am so glad you mentioned it. Thanks for a great review and all of the information you provided in it!

    1. There is only one other actually official movie of the I Am Legend story. But this one man against the rest of the world theme crops up in various forms in Sci-Fi. Thanks for the comments.


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