The Last Man on Earth (1964) Review

last man on earth poster

“Another day to live through. Better get started.”

Get up, go to work, sleep, repeat. As Kendrick Lamar put it in Dreams, “They say we’re only living to die. Imagine if we’re already dead, waiting to live, living in hell.” Vincent Price’s Morgan, wandering the living hell of The Last Man on Earth, is certainly more dead than alive.

lastMan1

Although we’ve seen similar apocalyptic visions in the years since this film was made, The Last Man on Earth’s opening is still striking: a dead city, lifeless; roads empty and still, scattered with corpses and abandoned cars. Soon, we find that the world is not yet completely void of  life – there is Morgan, former scientist, husband, and father; and then, there are the vampires. Morgan, last of his kind, spends his days following a meticulous search pattern that takes him through every corner of LA, hammering stakes into the hearts of the monsters, preying while they sleep. By night he drinks, blasts music to drown out the moaning dead, and reminisces on his former life. Morgan is a man who has let his soul be destroyed, a man with nothing to live for beyond hate.  As Nietzsche put it, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”

lastMan2

Scripted by Richard Matheson from his own legendary story, I Am Legend (later disowned by him, due to his displeasure at the final product and Price’s casting), The Last Man on Earth presents a bleak, chilling picture of a collapsed world and human hubris. It asks us to look at the futility of fighting change, to face the arrogance and flawed logic of believing in humanity’s indomitability  and to  question the seeming immutability and morality of a dominant culture. Despite Matheson’s disapproval of Vincent Price as lead, he’s wonderful here, delivering one of his best performances, controlled and nuanced, exuding self-loathing, hate, and despair, particularly in the second act where we witness his ironic descent from positive, hopeful scientist to superstitious husk.

lastmanonearth3

Although not a perfect adaptation of I am Legend and despite a rushed, somewhat flawed third act, The Last Man on Earth is a powerful, dark film, and one of the most interesting in Price’s filmography.  Modern zombies owe much to Matheson’s novel and to this film’s moaning, nearly-mindless masses.  Not to be missed.

Rating: 8 out of 10

16 thoughts on “The Last Man on Earth (1964) Review

  1. I saw this a while back. You’ve done a good job of giving it a fair review. It is a good movie, though somewhat flawed for its departures from the book. However, that said, it is probably the film adaptation closest to the original text, which makes it a gem in its own right. Will Smith’s “I am Legend” and Charlton Heston’s “Omega Man” are good in their own right, but there are very few similarities between them and Richard Matheson’s novel, except in a very broad sense.

  2. One of my favorites also…Mathesons novel is like the “Dune” of apocalyptic fiction when it comes to being filmed, notoriously difficult-not fantastic movie objectively I suppose but still really good(and it had Vincent Price!)

  3. This serves a reminder that I need to watch this film. I started watching it several years ago, but didn’t get to finish. it seemed like it was going to be a good one. Thanks for the review and keeping it alive.

  4. Reblogged this on Babylon Tales and commented:
    Note to self, I need to watch this film. Started to years ago, and never got to finish. To those who know nothing about it, it’s the first adaptation of I Am Legend with Vincent Price. Later, we’d get Omega Man with Charlton Heston. And even later still, we’d get I Am Legend with Will Smith. True story. Well, that those are adaptations of the same story, not that the story is real.

    1. The movie’s ending is different from the book’s, but there are surprises along the way you might not want spoiled. On the other hand, seeing a movie first helps me visualize the events in the book. I read the book first. The ending of the book was not spoiled, but then some of the visualizations in the movie were enlightening.

  5. First saw this on TCM as part of some marathon. I was blown away by it. Up till then I didn’t have much taste for Price but after that I did. I think he’s fantastic now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s