Monstervision's Joe Bob Briggs reviews
The Last Man On Earth (1964)
(From Joe Bob's Ultimate B Movie Guide)
Vincent Price (star of Dr. Phibes Rises Again) thinks he's the
only survivor of a plague that has destroyed the world's
population, only to discover he has to fight off ravenous zombies
that want to drink his blood. (He uses a mallet and a wooden
stake to do his work.) Made in Italy, one of several films based
on Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," including Charlton Heston in The Omega Man.
With Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Tony
Cerevi. Directed by Ubaldo Ragona, with additional footage
produced by Roger Corman in the United States and directed by Sidney Salkow. Matheson himself contributed to the screenplay under the
pseudonym "Logan Swanson." 3 stars
© 2002 Joe Bob Briggs.com All Rights
Reserved. Not an AOL Time-Warner Company in this lifetime.
Last Man On Earth (1964) was has been seen on the SYFY Channel and on The Movie Channel
There was even an old silent movie by the same name in 1924 (set 30 years in the future) about the sole surviving man on an Earth after a virus wipes out all other male humans over the age of 14. With the Earth being run by women, two Senators compete for his affections. Remade in 1933 as It's Great To Be Alive, a musical! Neither version stars anyone you've ever heard of. A semi-remake of both versions of "Last Man On Earth" was done in 1999 with the name cleverly changed to "Last Man On Planet Earth"
In a future essentially devoid of men, a renegade scientist (Julie Bowen) genetically engineers a male (Paul Francis), who later escapes and discovers a secret male paramilitary group bent on taking back society (shades of Logan's Run and the Planet of the Apes movies).
Note: the 1999 remake ran on the Sci Fi Channel in 2002, followed by Logan's Run.More info from TCM.com/underground/movies
The end of the world and the annihilation of the human race has been a frequent subject of science fiction literature and cinema ever since the creation of the atom bomb but Richard Matheson's seminal novel I Am Legend puts a unique spin on its Doomsday scenario, incorporating vampire mythology with political allegory. Written in 1953, the novel could easily be seen as a paranoid fantasy inspired by the HUAC-McCarthy trials of the same period not unlike Don Siegel's 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Matheson's protagonist, Robert Morgan, is the only survivor of a post-apocalyptic plague that has eradicated mankind and transformed the living into vampires. Every night the undead besiege Morgan in his fortress-like home where he attempts to repel their attacks with garlic, mirrors and crucifixes. And each day Morgan arises to do his grim work of hunting down his tormentors, staking them and burning their bodies in the city dump.
It is not surprising that Matheson's highly original premise has served as the basis for two films, The Last Man on Earth (1964, Italian title: L'Ultimo uomo della terra) and The Omega Man (1971), and was a direct influence on the living dead cinema of George Romeo (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) and Lucio Fulci (Zombie, 1979) and their many offspring (Night of the Comet , 28 Days Later ). Yet Matheson has never been pleased with either film adaptation and feels the definitive version has yet to be made. By coincidence, there is another version in the works from director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, 2005) starring Will Smith (2007). Assuming the Earth isn't destroyed first by Sean Connery's Meteor
The Last Man on Earth, the first film version of I Am Legend, remains the most faithful adaptation of Matheson's story and enjoys a much better reputation today than it did upon its initial release when it was dismissed by most reviewers as a cheap and ineffective horror film. It's true the film's flaws are hard to ignore - the ultra-low budget, erratic pacing, the inferior post-dubbing - yet they also lend the film a strange, alienating quality that works to its advantage in suggesting a post-apocalyptic world.
Matheson has often voiced his opinion that Vincent Price was completely wrong for the part of Robert Morgan and many reviewers criticized his performance as lethargic and low-key but a second viewing of the film will convince you otherwise. Morgan is a man who has become desensitized to the death around him. He has watched helplessly while his daughter, wife and closest friends have succumbed to the virus and died. His only reason for living has become a meaningless daily ritual of corpse disposal and fortifying his home against the nightly attacks. Morgan is no heroic survivor but a man who's depressed, exhausted and in danger of losing his own humanity. Price conveys this in a subtle performance that is free of his usual hammy theatrics and just as unexpected as his work in Michael Reeves' The Conqueror Worm (1968).
The Last Man on Earth is also unique for the way it deconstructs vampire folklore in its scientific approach to each widely held belief. We learn why stakes, not bullets, are the most effective means for dispatching vampires or why, for instance, they avoid mirrors. Yet the film is less a vampire thriller than a grim existential drama and it earns extra points for never deviating from its bleak trajectory right up to the appropriately nihilistic ending in a church with Morgan playing the martyr. Undoubtedly, this grim fadeout inspired George Romero's downbeat conclusion to Night of the Living Dead if not the entire concept.
Richard Matheson's opinion of both film versions of his novel, I Am Legend, have been unfavorable. "I thought it was terrible," he said in The Horror People by John Brosnan, referring to the 1964 version, The Last Man on Earth. "That's about the only way you can describe it. I had written a good screenplay but they had someone rewrite it and made it abysmal. At first I wrote the screenplay for Hammer Films but they told me that the English censor wouldn't pass it. Then a company over here bought it. I did the script again and made it even better because I was told that Fritz Lang was going to direct it, but it turned out otherwise." Matheson also added, "Price, who I like as an actor, was completely wrong for the part."
In another interview for Tom Weaver's Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, Matheson stated that The Last Man on Earth "was inept - in fact, I put my pen name, Logan Swanson, on it...they should do it today with, say, George Miller directing it and Harrison Ford playing the lead; it would make a wonderful movie. Of course George Romero has done it so many times now; the first time was Night of the Living Dead. I caught that on television, and I said to myself, "Wait a minute - did they make another version of I Am Legend that they didn't tell me about?" Later on they told me he did it as an homage to I Am Legend, which means, "He gets it for nothin'." [laughs.] Dan Curtis [Dark Shadows, Kolchak: The Night Stalker] is trying to get the rights, he's tried several times, since he'd like to do it." Matheson also disliked the 1971 remake, The Omega Man, directed by Boris Sagal. "The first one was poorly done, but it did follow the book. The Omega Man bore no resemblance at all to my book, so I can't comment on it. I had absolutely nothing to do with the screenplay but they did pay me a very small remake fee."
Besides the science fiction novels I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man, Matheson has also written Ride the Nightmare which became the 1970 suspense thriller Cold Sweat starring Charles Bronson, Hell House which was filmed as The Legend of Hell House (1973) starring Roddy McDowall, numerous teleplays for The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Night Gallery, and the screenplays for Poe's House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Burn Witch Burn (1962, aka Night of the Eagle), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1964), The Devil's Bride (1968), Somewhere in Time (1980) and many more.
Novelist Stephen King was obviously influenced by the writings of Matheson. In Tom Weaver's Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, Matheson noted "Stephen King says that he sort of grew up on [H.P.] Lovecraft and he assumed that that was the kind of stuff you had to write - full of crypts, that sort of stuff. And then when he read I Am Legend, he realized that you can set that type of story in a tract neighborhood, and then send it off in a different direction."
Taglines for The Last Man on Earth:
By night they leave their graves, crawling, shambling, through empty streets, whimpering, pleading, begging for his blood!
Do you dare to imagine what it would be like to be... the last man on earth... or the last woman?
Alive among the lifeless... alone among the crawling creatures of evil that make the night hideous with their inhuman craving!
In addition to The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man, there was an attempt by director Ridley Scott to film I Am Legend in the late 1990s with Arnold Schwarzenegger but the project never materialized. Director Rob Bowman also tried without success to remake it and currently Will Smith is set to star in a 2007 version with Francis Lawrence as director.
Sidney Salkow was an unlikely choice to direct The Last Man on Earth since he rarely worked in the horror or science fiction genre. This and the 1963 Twice-Told Tales also starring Vincent Price, were the few exceptions. He usually helmed low-budget westerns, action adventures and crime programmers such as Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1947), Sitting Bull (1954) and Sword of the Avenger (1948).
The supporting cast of The Last Man on Earth were all Italian actors who, with the exception of Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, were relatively unknown to American audiences and were minor supporting players in the Italian film industry. Franca Bettoia, who plays Ruth Collins, was featured mainly in sword and scandal adventures such as Duel of Champions (1961). Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, of course, is familiar to most fans of fantasy cinema for his appearances in numerous Mario Bava films (Kill, Baby, Kill, Knives of the Avenger, both 1966) and cult items such as Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959).
Franco Delli Colli, the cinematographer of The Last Man on Earth, lensed several other Italian features in the giallo and horror genre including Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975), Macabro (1980) and Zeder (1983).
Alternate versions of The Last Man on Earth include, according to IMDB, "MGM's 2005 DVD release which does not contain the copyright obstruction found in most prints' opening titles. It reads: "COPYRIGHT 1963 BY ASSOCIATED PRODUCERS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED." It also contains the complete ending sequence, including the dialog with the baby, that is missing from most prints. This release is also...presented in the original wide screen format, features an interview with Richard Matheson, the author of the novel on which the film was based, and is paired with the film Panic In Year Zero . It is missing one element common from other prints. The American International Television title card and theme music that starts off most prints is replaced with an inserted sequence of MGM's famous lion roar trademark and the MGM website address. This DVD was initially problematic on its release because of Sony's then recent purchase of MGM. Sony had canceled the entire Midnite Movies line, and, though the DVD was already set to be released, Sony had initial reservations on releasing it at all. Copies managed to accidentally get shipped to some stores, such as Best Buy, in the US and Canada, where they were immediately flagged as "recalled." Most were, either immediately returned by the stores or pulled by cashiers who should have refused the purchases. Some were still sold, regardless, in early May 2005, before they should have been. By September 2005, Sony released the DVD properly into the wide market."
IMDB also adds "There are at least two versions of The Last Man on Earth in common release. The Diamond DVD release version and a second one, that was shown on TBS in 1993-94. The aforementioned baby scene has some minor closing dialog to be a bit more faithful to Richard Matheson's intentions with his novel's ending. Depending on if the ending is trimmed or not, another edit may exist in the opening credits. A bizarre inclusion of a grey box that obscures some of the copyright credits" (the copyright for the original film lapsed without being renewed).
BEHIND THE SCENES
The Last Man on Earth was based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend. It was an early effort for the writer who described his beginnings in an interview in The Horror People by John Brosnan. "My first novel was called Someone Is Bleeding. It was a mystery novel and I wrote it because when I came out to California in 1951 the first person I stayed with was a mystery writer, and everyone I met through him were mystery novelists, so I just decided I would try one too. I wrote two of them before I did my first science fiction novel, which was I Am Legend, and after that came The Incredible Shrinking Man."
According to Matheson in Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver, he originally wrote the film adaptation of I Am Legend for a British film company. "I did go over to England, and I was there for about six weeks, adapting I Am Legend into a screenplay for Hammer Films, around 1957. I was working for Tony Hinds, who was going to be the producer. It turned out very well, then later he told me that the censor wouldn't pass it, and they finally ended up selling it to some guy in the United States, Robert Lippert. I remember going to Lippert's house and having him tell me, "We're gonna get Fritz Lang to direct this thing." And I thought to myself, "Oh, Jesus - how wonderful!" Then later I got a call, and they told me, "Now we're going with Sidney Salkow." And I thought [in a sarcastic tone], "Well, there's a bit of a drop!" The last I heard of him, Salkow was teaching at some college in the Valley, and he regards The Last Man on Earth as one of his masterpieces."
The original working title of Matheson's adaptation for Hammer Films was Night Creatures. That title was later given to Hammer's 1962 production about pirate smugglers in 18th century England that starred Peter Cushing as the pirate leader Captain Clegg. In England it was released as Captain Clegg but in the U.S. it was distributed as Night Creatures. It was a remake of the Walt Disney adventure, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1962) which featured Patrick McGoohan in the lead. There was also a 1937 version starring George Arliss.
Writer Harry Spalding, who worked with film distributor Robert Lippert, recounts a different version of how Lippert became involved with The Last Man on Earth in Attack of the Monster Movie Makers by Tom Weaver. "I was involved on several last-man-on-Earth-type pictures. When I first came down here to Hollywood, Charles Marquis Warren and Robert Stabler had an option on a book by George Stewart called Earth Abides, which was a last-man-on-Earth story. Unfortunately, before much happened, Metro made another last-man story, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1950), so that pretty much killed Earth Abides. Then later on, I went through the old cliché of finding a book in a second-hand bookstore, a paperback of I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - another last-man-on-Earth story, several years old. I talked to Bob Lippert about it, and he liked the idea. (Last-man-on-Earth stories have very small casts, which makes 'em quite reasonable [laughs]!) So I got in touch with Dick Matheson, who is a very nice man, very talented. He had an idea which I love to this day: Make one of the major scenes the last man on Earth trying to make friends with the terrified last dog on Earth. It typified the whole story. Meanwhile, a deal was made to shoot it in Italy, so it got out of our hands altogether. I had to go back to Matheson and tell him that, which didn't make him too happy. Didn't make me happy, either. American International made it as The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price, and they had their own approach. Matheson was talking along the lines of Cat People (1942) - using the audience's imagination. American International had the attitude of putting as many vampires at the window as they could afford!"
Vincent Price was questioned about the making of The Last Man on Earth in Rome by Tom Weaver in Attack of the Monster Movie Makers. He recalled, "The problem doing The Last Man on Earth was that it was supposed to be set in Los Angeles, and if there's a city in the world that doesn't look like Los Angeles, it's Rome. We would get up and drive out at five o'clock in the morning, to beat the police, and try to find something that didn't look like Rome. Rome has flat trees, ancient buildings - we had a terrible time! And I never was so cold in my life as I was in that picture. I had a driver and I used to tip him a big sum to keep the car running, so I could change my clothes in the back seat."
QUOTES FROM "THE LAST MAN ON EARTH"
Robert Morgan: Another day to live through. Better get started.
Ben Cortman: Morgan, come out!
Virginia Morgan: Let...me...in.
Robert Morgan: Your new society sounds charming.
Robert Morgan: I can't afford the luxury of anger. Anger can make me vulnerable and destroy my reason and reason is my only advantage over them.
Robert Morgan: Freaks! All of you. Freaks! Mutations! I am a man! I am the last...man.
Compiled by Jeff Stafford
The Horror People by John Brosnan
Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Interviews With 20 Genre Giants by Tom Weaver
Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver
Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Harold E. Knox, Robert L. Lippert
Director: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow
Screenplay: William Leicester, Richard Matheson, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo Ragona
Cinematography: Franco Delli Colli
Film Editing: Gene Ruggiero, Franca Silvi
Art Direction: Giorgio Giovannini
Music: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price (Dr. Robert Morgan), Franca Bettoia (Ruth Collins), Emma Danieli (Virginia Morgan), Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (Ben Cortman), Umberto Raho (Dr. Mercer), Christi Courtland (Kathy Morgan)
"Directors Sidney Salkow and Ubaldo Ragona and star Vincent Price (giving a poignant, straightforward performance) are able to conjure up some genuine chills here, mainly in the use of stark, black-and-white images and the underlining mood of the piece. The most haunting images include those of shrouded bodies being tossed into a blazing pit and Price’s sulking face as he plays jazz and tries to muffle out the sound of the moaning dead outside. The film could have been an over-the-top camp piece, but its makers are able to make most of it play very subtly, slowly getting under our skin as Morgan’s despair and madness eventually overtakes him."
- Daniel Griffin, Film as Art
Elvis has left the building, and he took Joe Bob with him.