Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend has officially been made into three movies. 2007’s I Am Legend being the most recent, 1971’s The Omega Man being the most famous, and 1964’s The Last Man on Earth being the best of the three. This isn’t to say it is a great film, but it is quite entertaining and very influential.
The Italian made film The Last Man on Earth stars Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, a solitary man who lives his life alone, following a worldwide plague that has some how missed him and killed the lucky ones. The unlucky ones are turned into vampires. Morgan spends his days searching vainly for other survivors and killing vampires. He spends his nights barricaded in his house, drinking, while the vampires attack his house and taunt Morgan. This goes on and on until one day he sees a woman walking about in broad daylight. Morgan eventually finds her again, thrilled to no longer be alone, but all is not as it appears!
The Last Man on Earth, directed by Ubaldo Ragona, is quite visually striking, especially considering the miniscule budget the film was shot on. There are gaping plot holes, but Ragona keeps the action moving at a brisk pace so you don’t have a lot of time to dwell on them.
Vincent Price gives one of his better performances as the determined and desperately lonely Robert Morgan. Just going through his daily routine you can feel the despair, boredom, and loneliness. The widescreen compositions aid tremendously in showing the emptiness of Morgan’s existence. The film when cropped to 4:3 becomes nothing but VIncent Price closeups.
The film has had a lasting influence on the world of horror and science fiction cinema as George Romero was heavily influenced by the scenes of Morgan waiting out the Vampires in his boarded up house when making Night of the Living Dead.
Legend Films has a new DVD of Last Man on Earth. Despite a misprint on the DVD cast the film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. If you’ve only seen this on TV or public domain video, then you really haven’t seen it. I was really taken by how much was truly missing off the screen in the dark, cropped transfers that are floating around out there. The disc has both colorized and black and white versions of the movie, but I recommend the original black and white version.
As far as extras on the disc, there are some trailers for other Legend DVD releases and a half hour TV show called It Happened in Hollywood. The show appears to be a look at the making of different genres of film. The show is hosted by Vincent Price, and the episode is about westerns. There are lots of clips from unnamed, ancient, westerns, and really rudimentary inside information about back lots and stunt work, but the real treat is to see Vincent Price dressed as a cowboy!