SOYLENT GREEN cues us with the prologue “The Year: 2022. The Place: New York City. The Population: 40,000,000“, but it’s not until the climax of this sorrowful 1973 sf thriller that we grasp that the title wafer is not a pure plankton product, but instead is mushed up from something yummier, easier to harvest, plentiful in your own figurative backyard. There are no literal backyards in the story’s presumed future Manhattan, just streets, halls and steps jammed with so many people you literally have to monkeyvault over them.
While the script—written by Stanley R. Greenberg, based on Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel “Make Room! Make Room!”—overshoots the density factor (as of May, 2022 there are only about 8,852,000 people jostling The Big Apple), a five-decade blip later sees the reckoning with our suicidal Home-wrecking is baked in. With the present roiling boil Soylent‘s pessimistic plotline hits harder now then back when Tricky Dick was President. If the prologue no longer spooks, one later observation, uttered with quiet truth by the great Edward G. Robinson, stands the time test, to our collective shame: “People were always rotten. But the world ‘was’ beautiful.” *
Handling the murder case of a wealthy business tycoon, detective ‘Robert Thorn’ (Charlton Heston, in fine form) gradually ferrets out the truth, mightily helped by his “Book” (a police analyst), roommate and friend ‘Sol Roth’ (Robinson, grand), old enough to remember what life was like before everything went to ecological hell. Thorn gets some solace from ‘Shirl’ (Leigh Taylor-Young), the dead man’s concubine (or ‘furniture’), but bodyguard ‘Fielding’ (Chuck Connors) is a definite block. And what’s with those volumes of ‘Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015–2019′ ? Could powers-that-be possibly…lie…to us?
The catch-phrase for this intense movie is part of pop culture, so there’s not great surprise at the reveal, but the path getting there is a compelling one, well directed by Richard Fleischer, his last decent project. What sells the dystopia idea to relatable ground-level human effect are the fully committed performances from Heston and Robinson, who make a great Mutt & Jeff team. Their heartfelt work in the scene where they enjoy a feast of rare foodstuffs and in the gripping sequence where Robinson takes his farewell bow does both actors proud. The 79-year-old Robinson was himself on death’s door when it was shot, and his farewell is a gallant, emotionally wrenching experience.
Though 35th place for the year was modest, the dire forecast nonetheless ground out enough soiled green to comfortably cover a $4,000,000 tab with a gross of $10,900,000.
100 minutes, featuring Brock Peters, Joseph Cotten (the rich swine whose murder starts the discovery process), Paula Kelly, Stephen Young, Roy Jenson, Leonard Stone, good old Whit Bissell, Celia Lovsky, Mike Henry (dubbed), John Dennis, Dick Van Patten (he also showed up that same year in Westworld) and Cyril Delevanti.
* Soylent, dead ahead! So, there aren’t 40,000,000 people in New York City. Whew, so everything’s cool—if you’re an abject moron, or bought shill for the Exocaust class, then what’s happening right in front of your smug mug somehow isn’t. Bang? Whimper? Pick your poison.