Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Emma Danieli, Christi Courtland, Umberto Raho
Written by: "Logan Swanson" (Richard Matheson), William F. Leicester, based on a novel by Richard Matheson
Directed by: Sidney Salkow
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 86
Date: 05/06/1964

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Misgiving Legend

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

According to writer Richard Matheson, Fritz Lang was at one point considered to direct The Last Man on Earth. That would have been amazing, but this version, directed by Sidney Salkow (Twice-Told Tales) is a little less so. Even Matheson famously disliked it, and signed his screenwriting credit with a pseudonym, "Logan Swanson." Matheson adapted it from his own great 1954 novel, I Am Legend, which made it to the big screen two more times: The Omega Man (1971), with Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007), with Will Smith. Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, who lives alone in the midst of a plague that turns people into undead zombies. He wakes up, goes out for supplies and tries to kill as many of the monsters that he can, burning their bodies in a huge pit. Then, a lengthy (and slightly dull) flashback shows his family and how everything began. Morgan eventually meets another human, Ruth (Franca Bettoia) and briefly hopes to find a cure before everything comes crashing down. Price seems too old for the role, although he does manage to convey the sheer exhaustion, depression, and loneliness that the character must feel. The whole production — shot in Italy with an Italian cast and crew — feels the same way, just a little shabby and tired, but still effectively conveying the mood. The film has fallen into the public domain, but Kino Lorber released a good Blu-ray edition in 2021. Bonuses include a commentary by Richard Harland Smith, a "Trailers from Hell" episode with Joe Dante, a short interview with Matheson, an alternate ending, TV spots, and trailers.

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