THE OMEGA MAN —– “Now the question is survival. Is this the end of technological man? Is this the conclusion of all our yesterdays? The boasts of our fabled science? The superhuman conquests of space and time? The age of the wheel? We were warned of the judgment. Well, here it is! Here, now in the form of billions of microscopic bacilli. This is THE END!!!” That’s ‘Matthias’, the raving albino mutant who leads his ‘Family‘ of half-blind, sore-covered, Druid-robed plague victims, making one of a number of wacky speeches in this nostalgic camp classic from 1971, the second movie version of Richard Matheson’s influential 1954 novel. *
The Soviet Union and Red China (ah, for the good old days) start fighting, and the end result is biological warfare that scours the globe (if it will save the elephants and dolphins, bring it the hell on). This includes California, with Los Angeles a silent, empty graveyard. One man, a scientist with an antivirus, survives the germageddon, but ‘Neville’ (Charlton Heston, in full Hestonic overtime) has nightly company—and regular target practice—in the form of those murderous mutants of mouthy messiah Matthias (Anthony Zerbe, having a ball). When he finds another survivor, Neville gets action of a different kind, via ‘Lisa’ (Rosalind Cash), a Black Power badass with Afro, attitude and artillery. Soon as you can say “Some of my best friends kill zombies” they get romantic, because, well, the playing field has shrunk to the size of this script’s credibility.
Ham-fisted direction by Boris Sagal meets cheapskate production qualities, bad acting, gallons of the brightest blood available from Squibs-R-Us, a couple of gratuitous nude scenes with Cash (long live the 70s!), jive-talk (as imagined by people that couldn’t), machine guns, fireballs from a catapult (the mutants are so regressive they actually build a catapult?), a motorcycle chase featuring a glaringly obvious stunt double for Chuck, and enough idiotic “with-it” retooling of the source material to require isolation, immunization and a furnace.
Charlton. Heston. You had to be there. While my issue stances tend to lean in the opposite direction to those of the departed icon, I don’t cotton to the tiresome kneejerking too many reviewers apply to the guy. What he did well—larger-than-life heroes of the past–he did really well. What he floundered in was being convincing playing anyone more modern than, say, the Boxer Rebellion. With the exception of Planet Of The Apes, when Heston put on modern garb he moved like someone who’d found a stick and misplaced it, and his arsenal of painful grimaces and terse intonations could fell a Redwood. Plus, in this role he gets a death scene (no spoiler–you can’t spoil this movie) that’s a crucifixion so blatant you can’t help but conjure “Jesus Heston” or “Charlton Christ”. **
The terrible screenplay was the brainstorm of husband & wife team John William Corrington and Joyce H. Corrington. Like most of the movie, the music score by Ron Grainer is a debit, sounding distinctly out-of-place. 98 minutes of amusement, with Paul Koslo, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Eric Laneuville and–rather sadly—John Dierkes. A gaunt 6’6″ with a compelling voice, Dierkes had choice roles in Shane, The Red Badge Of Courage and The Alamo, and it hurts to see him reduced to a nothing role in mutant makeup for this cheese-grinder.
Popular at the box-office in ’71, coming in 28th place, it grossed $12,100,000. Keeping Neville and Matthias creepy company that year: The Abominable Dr.Phibes, The Andromeda Strain, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, The Devils, The Mephisto Waltz, THX 1138 and our old friend Willard.
* Matheson’s end-of-the-world story first arrived on screen from Italy in 1964 as The Last Man On Earth, with Vincent Price. Using the original title, 2007s I Am Legend, with Will Smith, did it in style.
For Rosalind Cash, 32, it was a big break, in only her second film role, which featured one of moviedom’s first interracial kisses. From Heston’s interesting autobio, “In The Arena”, commenting on Ms. Cash and the love scene : “It was in the seventies that I realized a generation of actors had grown up who saw me in terms of the iconic roles they remembered from their childhoods. ‘It’s a spooky feeling,’ she told me, ‘to screw Moses.”
** Choice Charlton: The Big Country, Ben-Hur, El Cid, 55 Days At Peking, Major Dundee, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The War Lord, The Agony And The Ecstasy, Will Penny, Planet Of The Apes, The Mountain Men.
Chucky Cheese: The Savage, Arrowhead, Secret Of The Incas, Diamond Head (OMG!), Counterpoint, Number One, Earthquake, Airport 1975.