For years, I’ve tried to watch The Omega Man (1971) and haven’t been able to get through it. I thought it was slow… I kept dozing… I was distracted… For whatever reason each time, I was unable to finish it. I’m not a quitter, though, and the umpteenth time is a charm because I not only finished it, but I also thoroughly enjoyed it.
I didn’t find it slow at all. Sure, this variation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (and Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth) spends a lot of time with only one character that’s all alone in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. But he’s not just sitting still. He’s out on the road driving fancy cars too fast and exploring empty stores for the latest fashion at a very reasonable price.
He even enjoys an afternoon in a movie theater; I’ve got to admire him for that. I don’t know how many times he’s seen Woodstock, but at least it’s a film to which he can, and does, sing along. He loses track of time as the sun sets and we soon learn he’s not alone. He shares the city with a “family” of plague survivors who’ve become nocturnal creatures with an attitude.
It’s been a while since I’ve read the novel or watched another adaptation of the story; however, I feel that this one explores new territory by focusing on the family leader, Matthias (Anthony Zerbe) and his very logical, yet misguided, attempt to eliminate the one person that reminds them of how they used to be. They have a serious issue with the fact that he survived the plague.
As you’d expect with a Charlton Heston movie, The Omega Man charts new territory with its emphasis on action. I don’t remember Matheson describing Neville riding out of a tunnel on a motorcycle, beautiful woman hanging on, and then jumping over a car (presented here, of course, in slow motion.)
For that matter, I don’t remember a woman in the story. Apparently, there’s a group of survivors, mostly children, who haven’t contracted the disease in the last three years, but are now suddenly at risk. Lisa’s (Rosalind Cash) brother, Richie (Eric Laneuville) is crippled by it and Neville’s own blood is the key to a vaccination that could save him.
I don’t need to say how eerily prescient this all is, but I guess I just did. Maybe that’s why I paid a little more attention when watching it this time around. It’s good, goofy fun that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. It doesn’t pack the wallop of the other Heston sci-fi films of the time (Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green), but together, the three make a terrific trilogy.
Written by John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington
From the novel by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend)
Directed by Boris Sagal
Starring Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Rosalind Cash, Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville
RT 98 min.
Released August 1, 1971
Recorded on May 18, 2020 on TCM
Rating 7 Possessed Children (out of 10)
This review is part of the annual Countdown to Halloween. I invite you to join me as I attempt to gain some space on my DVR. Every day, I'll be watching something from the bottom of the list, thereby reducing the percentage that's full... so I can record more!
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