(1964) dir. Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo Ragona
I viewed this film as part one of an I am Legend double feature. I am Legend is a seminal 1950’s horror novel by the great Richard Matheson about a plague that wipes out the human race and turns them into phylophobic disease carriers or out and out undead zombie/vampires. Matheson is noted for a number of books, stories, screenplays, and from where I have known him best, from the original Twilight Zone television show’s most remarkable episodes. I’d been meaning to read the novel for some years and inspired by the fact that yet another version of this story is about to be released, thought I could pull this all together into a good little grouping. And thus…
The Last Man on Earth stars the inimitable Vincent Price as the lead role and holds pretty tightly to the novel, though with some logical contrivances to truncate narrative. Shot is black-and-white, the film is an earnest portrayal of a man against the world, with nice location shooting, interestingly having Italian cityscapes stand in for Los Angeles. It’s the interesting thing about this narrative and its intent. It’s very much about the demolition of the suburban family and American ideals. One of the most compelling aspects is the death of his daughter and wife, the wife who returns from the grave to come home to get him (which is by and far the best moment in the film).
Overall, though, the film is slow and not very compelling. Outside of the excellent sequence of his wife’s return from the dead, the film lacks emotional impact and drama. The ending, which is a rushed version of the novel’s ending, botches the irony and drama in playing through the story too quickly. It’s not a bad film, but not an amazing one, either.