Will Smith’s I Am Legend is the third film version of the book I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Vincent Price starred in the first film, The Last Man On Earth, and Matheson so hated that film he took his name off the credits. Matheson didn’t like The Omega Man either, and I can’t say that I blame him much.
Charlton Heston made three of the oddest movies of his long career in the 1970s, Solyent Green, The Omega Man, and Planet of the Apes. It’s kind of odd watching these films now and seeing a slightly out of shape, middle aged man, walking around with his shirt off a good deal of the time. The Omega Man feels more like a long episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery than a feature film. I also noted that the film was made by WB-A Kenny Leisure Service. Am I the only one that has never heard of this? I guess Warner Brothers was going through some hard times in the early 70s.
The story is of the Last Man on Earth, Old Doc Neville, who cruises around a mostly abandoned L.A. in a convertible shooting at anything that moves. He seems happy enough as the film opens, but we come to see that he is a little bit nuts. When he has a blowout, he doesn’t bother to change the tire, he just walks into a showroom and drives off with another car. He even haggles with the long dead car salesman and calls him a cheat as he drives off. He notices that it is late and he had better get home.
In the book, the vampires all knew where Neville lived and would call for him to come out and give himself up. The Family, the infected/vampires/mutants who inhabit the city with Neville in The Omega Man also know where he lives. These bad guys are more or less rational and normal, expect for bad make-up and bad acting. For some reason the head mutant, who used to be a newscaster, has decided that all tech is bad-except for catapults and cars-those are ok. Guns are bad though. So they have to use bows and arrows and throw rocks when they see Neville and want to do him harm.
Neville soon finds that he is not the last man on earth, merely the last uninfected man on earth. He has the cure to the disease in his blood and he proves this by healing a young man who is on his way to becoming a vampire. Neville meets a pretty woman and has sex with her and we get a couple of nice gratuitous scenes of her standing around naked. She is a black woman that talks like a blacplotation action hero and had a very large afro. There are several scenes that the makers of the Austin Powers films must have studied in great depth. At one point Neville is wearing a velvet dining jacket and white sheet with giant ruffles up the front. Austin would have felt right at home here.
This is an odd movie. The Family is most reminiscent of a Star Trek episode where Landru brain washes everyone into thinking they are ‘part of the body.’ The fact that they all the infected in The Omega Man wear hooded robes and hide their faces adds to the similarity. The mirrored sunglasses that all the infected wear are kind of silly. As with the current I Am Legend, our hero Neville dies and passes on the cure to someone else. There is no indication that there is a happy ending in sight, as only a handful of people are left, and they are all infected already.
One of the biggest difference between The Omega Man and a modern film is the soundtrack. Here the music was mostly just soundtrack, which sounded a lot like the music from The Prisoner. There were a few times when Neville pops in an 8-track, but even then he seems to have a strong love of elevator music. There were several times while watching The Omega Man that I thought, they should have put It’s a Wonderful World right there, or All You Need is Love would have set the right tone for that scene. But it was all just bad music.
The 1970s are easily the worst years in film history. The Omega Man was fun in a campy sort of way, but it is paced too slow for an action film, and is was too dumb to be a thoughtful film. For some reason I still liked watching it.