This Blog Post is a four, for the price of one deal!
It is not just an ‘I Am Legend Movie Review’. I start by taking a look first at the original 1954 novel, and then trace its interpretative journey, through the 1965, 1971 and 2007, movie adaptations
This is of course a period which covers more than a considerable segment of the Boomer Generation Years.
I hope that you find it interesting.
Richard Matheson – I am Legend The Novel
As a semi-professional Blogger I am of course about stories and I have been struck by the very distant similarities between the widespread lock down situation that many of us find ourselves in and the Richard Matheson novel ‘I am Legend’
I thought that it might be interesting to look at the development and treatment of that story since its first publication in July 1954.
Robert Neville, the subject of the novel, is alone after a mutation spreads, turning everyone into vampires. Each night, he is barricaded in his house keeping the vampires at bay. Chronically lonely, he relies on alcohol for some solace from the situation.
Neville’s wife, Died from the disease. Neville is tortured by the fact that when she died he was supposed to burn her body, thus preventing her from becoming a vampire. He couldn’t bring himself to burn her and as a result she rose from the dead and tragically he then found himself forced to kill her.
Now alone, Neville spends his time reading and researching and in his nightly defence against the vampires. He Carries out experiments, to test vampire light sensitivity. Soon he finds the origin of the mutation: a form of bacteria, and he starts a search for a cure.
Neville, to his surprise sees a young woman walking near his house in broad daylight. He forces her to his home and demands to know how she has been able to survive untouched by the disease. He learns that she is from a mutated new race who are now fighting the original mutation with medicine. Eventually other members of the new mutated race capture Neville with the intention of executing him. The young woman, having pity on him, secretly slips him some deadly drug so that he Is able to take his own life.
Vincent Price – The Last Man on Earth I954
‘The Last Man on Earth’ is a 1965 movie adaptation of the Matheson novel starring Vincent Price, with the name of the chief protagonist being changed to Robert Morgan.
It was made by American International Pictures and perhaps surprisingly was filmed entirely in Rome.
This interpretation stays pretty much faithful to the novel except for the name change and the addition of references to his daughter. She is introduced in the flashback sequences that show his wife and daughter becoming ill and eventually succumbing to the disease.
In this version he burns his daughter’s corpse to prevent her rising as a vampire, but he cannot bring himself to do this with his wife and he secretly buries her.
Unfortunately she rises and comes to his home and attacks him and he is forced to kill her discovering that a stake through the heart will kill the vampires. He then becomes a vampire hunter.
While hunting one day Morgan comes a cross a young woman, he takes here back to his home but after a while he develops a suspicion that she is infected. This is confirmed when he finds her injecting herself with a blood and vaccine combination formulated to combat the disease’s effects.
The woman confesses to Morgan that she is in fact from a group of people, all like her. She goes on to tell him that they are infected but functional using the blood vaccine cocktail. We discover that this vaccine, while in the bloodstream, allows for normal human functioning until it wears off When this happens the infection once again takes over
The young woman tells Morgan that these people plan to rebuild society anew as they destroy the incurable vampires. She also tells him and that many of the vampires Morgan dispatched were still alive and redeemable with the vaccine.
While she sleeps, Morgan transfuses his blood into her. She is cured miraculously. Morgan Believes, they can now cure the others completely. Before Morgan can enact his plan the ne mutants attack. Morgan flees with his gun, while the new mutants kill those vampires gathered by Morgan’s house.
Morgan is spotted by the new mutants and they give chase. There is an exchange of gunfire, Morgan is wounded and he seeks cover in a church. The young woman pleads for Morgan’s life to no avail. The new mutants grotesquely impale him with a spear on the church altar.
In his death throes, Morgan denounces the new mutants as “freaks” and with the young woman cradling him, in her arms she declares that “he is the last true man on Earth”.
As she then slowly walks away from Morgan’s dead body, we hear the cries of a baby.
I grew up watching Vincent Price movies and this is classic Price. It is dark, dramatic, and more than a little 1930s theatrical, campy, melodrama, very much his style.
It was obviously pretty low budget looking at the sites and the production style, but it was a fairly close representation of the original novel and worth a look.
Charlton Heston – The Omega Man 1971
‘The Omega Man‘ was mad in 1971 by Warner Brothers.
In early, 1975, a Sino-Soviet border dispute develops into worldwide biological warfare, killing the majority of the world’s population. Colonel Robert Neville, M.D., a scientist based in Los Angeles, succumbs to the biological agent. Neville then injects himself using an experimental vaccine, which gives him immunity.
Six months later, Neville is convinced that he is the only immune survivor. Struggling to hold on to sanity, Neville occupies himself by daytime patrolling an empty Los Angeles, hunting and killing “the Family”, a cult of biological victims, now become mutant, nocturnal, albinos. They plan to destroy any surviving technology and kill Colonel Neville, the symbol of science that they hold responsible for the downfall of humanity.
Each night Neville barricades himself in on the top-level of a heavily fortified apartment block, which he has equipped with an arsenal. He is effectively a prisoner in his own home.
One day, while in one of the many empty department stores getting himself new clothes, Neville spots a young woman who on seeing him runs away. He quickly pursues her but loses sight of her and later assumes that he was hallucinating and thinks no more of it.
The Family eventually capture Neville. He is sentenced for execution and narrowly escapes burning at the stake when rescued by Lisa, the young woman, not a hallucination after all. Lisa we learn is from a group of survivors, many of whom are children. Their youth appears to render them some resistance, though they are still vulnerable, and will still, in time, succumb to mutation. Neville realizes that even if he were able to duplicate the original vaccine, it would take years to save the human race. He believes, however that his own immunity could be extended to others by creating a serum from his blood.
Neville and Lisa plan to leave Los Angeles with the other survivors, should the serum be effective, to start a new life in the back country, abandoning the Family to die. Neville successfully creates and injects it into Richie, one of the young survivors and Lisa’s brother. Richie, once cured tells Neville the location of the Family’s hidden lair but is insistent that the Family are human beings and therefore the serum must also be given to them.
Neville adamantly disagrees and Richie secretly goes to the Family, in an attempt to persuade them to take the cure. Matthias, their leader, and former TV news anchorman, refuses to believe that this is a genuine offer of help Richie is accused as a spy and is summarily executed. Neville finds a note that left by Richie and rushes to rescue him. Richie’s still dead body is discovered by Neville in the Family’s hideout.
Lisa quickly and quite unexpectedly succumbs to the mutation, becoming herself one of the Family. Neville tells Lisa on returning home, of her brother Richie’s death. We Learn that Lisa already knows and that she has betrayed Neville to the Family giving them entry to Neville’s home.
Neville then is forced to watch as the Family torches his home sets his home. While the fire rages Neville breaks free, escapes with Lisa. As Neville aims his rifle at Matthias, who is above on Neville’s balcony, the weapon jams and Matthias has just enough time to launch a spear at Neville, piercing and mortally wounding him.
The following morning, the remaining survivors find Neville in a fountain, mortally wounded. Neville hands a flask of the blood serum, to one of the survivors and immediately dies. The survivors along with Lisa, who is now weak and compliant in the day’s sunlight are seen leaving Los Angeles forever.
I also grew up, as a boy, watching many Sunday afternoon movies of Charlton Heston and others of that ilk in my parents lounge on what was probably, in the early years anyway, a 17-inch black and white TV.
Heston was a giant of cinema and of the three adaptations this is the one that I have and continue to enjoy most.
Will Smith – I Am Legend 2007
In 2009, genetically engineered measles, originally created originally to cure cancer, becomes mutated and lethal. It goes on to kill 90% of the population of the world, turning 9.8% into cannibalistic mutants known as the Darkseekers. They are extremely vulnerable to sunlight and they kill 0.2% who had natural immunity to. Three years later, Army virologist Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville is living an isolated life in the empty metropolis of Manhattan. Neville is doubtful of the existence of other uninfected people.
Neville’s experiments with infected rats in the hope of finding a cure. When he is not doing this he forages for food and useful tools and equipment. He waits daily, in hope, to hear from other immune people who might answer his continuous looped radio broadcasts. These carry a repeated instruction to meet him at noon on the South Street Seaport.
Flashbacks reveal that his wife and daughter died in a helicopter accident during the chaotic evacuation of Manhattan. Now Neville’s only company consists of his German Shepherd, Samantha (Sam), the mannequins he routinely “talks” with, and the players in the video recordings he picks up in the abandoned rental stores.
His nights are spent barricaded, with the German Shepherd, inside a heavily fortified Washington Square Park mansion hiding from his nemesis the Darkseekers.
Neville discovers a serum which he produces using his own blood. To test it he sets a man trap and he snares a female Darkseeker. A male Darkseeker attempts to follow Neville goes after Neville but abandons the chase when affected by the sunlight. At the basement laboratory in the fortified house, Neville attempts and fails to treat the captured Darkseeker.
On the following day, he is caught by a trap similar to the one in which he had captured the Darkseeker. He escapes, but as the sun is setting and he is set upon by a pack of virus infected hounds.
Between them Neville and his dog Sam take the hounds out, but Sam suffers bites in the course of the fight. Injected with a strand of his serum, Sam still shows signs of infection and Neville is tragically forced to choke his faithful companion to death before she is turned.
Now heartbroken and full of revenge fuelled rage, he ventures out and deliberately attacks a group of Darkseekers the following night.
Neville is rescued by a pair of humans who have immunity, Anna and a young boy, Ethan. They heard the broadcasts and have traveled from Maryland to find Neville. They carry the badly injured Neville back to Washington Square. Here Anna explains that they were aboard a Red Cross evacuation ship from São Paulo and survived the outbreak. They were trying to get to a survivors’ base in Bethel, Vermont. Neville refuses to believe that such a place exists
Now back in the basement laboratory Neville has made adjustments to his experimental and he once again injects the captive female Darkseeker. The following night, Darkseekers, who had followed Neville and Anna back the previous night, mount an attack on the Washington Square house.
Neville, and his two new young friends secure themselves in the basement laboratory, with the female Darkseeker. As he realises that the last treatment has cured the captive female Darkseeker, Neville begins to weigh up the situation as a Darkseeker hammers away at a toughened glass door to attempting a break in.
Neville then draws a vial of blood from the now cured female Darkseeker and he hands it to Anna. He then immediately shuts the two youngsters in a coal chute at the rear of the basement. Neville then sacrifices himself by pulling the pin on a grenade and releasing it killing the attacking Darkseekers.
Ethan and Anna are then seen arriving at the Bethel survivors camp, where they are greeted by military officers and more immune survivors. Anna hands over the serum to the officers.
Anna is heard in the background narrating how Neville’s work and personal sacrifice in saving humanity ultimately became legend.
Smith has shown himself to be a pretty versatile and popular actor and while I like the more quirky contemporary spin that he put on the central character it still only gets second place for me in the film choice of adaptations of Matheson’s novel.
Commentary And Opinion
While I have a pretty clear pecking order for the three movies I would have to say I love the production style of the 60s, evident in the Heston adaptation. This movie was famous for one of the first interracial kisses which happened between Heston and Rosalind Cash (Lisa). On a chat show with Whoopi Goldberg some years later she said to Heston that it really was time that society moved past the inter racial kiss and Heston moved in and kissed Goldberg!
There are many things I like about the Smith movie though I can see why it had two endings (see Wikipedia for the directors cut ending). It clearly in common with the Omega Man had a considerably better budget than the original Price movie and this gave a deeper richer atmosphere than was afforded the ‘Last Man on Earth’.
While the differences in treatment and nuances to each of the adaptations can be easily identified in the descriptions above, so too, can the central themes and threads running through each of them.
One of the reasons I was reminded of the novel and the movies was the parallel with the current situation because the real star of all three movies and the book is of course the unseen virus which provides the raison d’être for the story.
I am not suggesting that we are in anything like the same position now. But the measure we are taking to combat the spread of our Global Pandemic are unprecedented.
Maybe Matheson, Price, Heston and Smith have something to teach us?…………
P.S. If this post has inspired you to become a Blogger yourself, you can find out, how to do just that, by taking a look at this Blog Post which I encourage you to visit.
This includes an easy FREE method to get started and FREE hosting of a website upon which to base your Blog.