*** ½ Out of 5
Tagline- Do You Dare to Imagine What It Would Be Like to Be the Last Man on Earth or the Last Woman?
Release Date- March 8th, 1964
Running Time- 86-Minutes
Screenplay- William F. Leicester & Logan Swanson
Director- Ubaldo B. Ragona & Sidney Salkow
Starring- Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi
Released in 1964 the Last Man on Earth while a cult favorite also draws some mixed reviews with some thinking Vincent Price was miscast in the lead role, which probably stems from Richard Matheson stating that in an interview. The Last Man on Earth is based off the classic novel I Am Legend, which was written by Richard Matheson and its also had two other adaptions. There was the Omega Man with Charlton Heston and lastly I Am Legend with Will Smith. In my opinion Last Man on Earth was the best adaption followed by the Omega Man. As for the casting while all three actors did well in their role I thought Vincent Price was the best of the three. While the idea for the novel by Richard Matheson was terrific and there’s a reason the novel is seen as a classic, but its a very difficult novel to adapt since most of the dialogue are the thoughts of the main character (Robert Neville in the book). The Last Man on Earth is quite a low budget film, which is quite obvious and while it can hinder the film a tiny bit I also think the low budget helps elevate the film.
After a deadly plague wipes out mankind leaving only vampire/zombie hybrids, Robert Morgan (Price) is the last survivor.
The screenplay was written by William F. Leicester & Logan Swanson and Logan Swanson is actually Richard Matheson who wasn’t overly fond of the final product and decided to use an alias. As mentioned I Am Legend is quite difficult to adapt, but I felt Leicester and Matheson actually do a fairly decent job. For most of the first act its filled with voice overs and though it mainly worked there’s a reason most films avoid using voice overs. Characters are decent with the strongest being Robert Morgan, which probably has more to do with Vincent Price. While sure the script has some issues it’s still a good script and solid adaption of the novel.
I’m not sure exactly who directed the film since certain prints credit Ubaldo B. Ragona and others Sidney Salkow. The one thing this film very much gets right is the look. The deserted streets outside of a few corpses is quite a chilling site and Ragona & Salkow deliver some eerie atmosphere. The pace of the film isn’t the most exciting, but the film mainly works due to the bleak tone. Despite the short running time perhaps a few minutes could have been lost, but while the pace is a bit slow in spots its made up for in the bleak tone established. The final act is where the action really kicks in and while it plays out well the low budget might hinder how they were staged. Last Man on Earth isn’t exactly filmmaking at its very best, but Ragona & Salkow craft an eerie film that makes up for the shortcomings.
In my opinion Vincent Price was absolutely the perfect choice for the lead. For a good portion of the film Price goes at it solo and you can really feel the loneliness and isolation Morgan feels. Vincent Price was an actor that could even make subpar films at the very least watchable and when given great material he’s as good as an actor as anyone else. Here the material isn’t perhaps the best he’s had to work with, but its strong enough to allow Price to showcase his talents and quite honestly I’d rate this in perhaps my top 5 Vincent Price performances.
Overall the Last Man on Earth has its flaws and again the novel really isn’t easy to adapt. The pace may not be the most exciting, but its made up for in atmosphere and the acting by Price. Just soak up the atmosphere and it help makes up for the flaws to some degree. While the Omega Man and I Am Legend might be the more exciting films this one in my opinion is the best. The interesting thing about the film is the infected are a vampire/zombie hybrid and there are certain scenes you can easily see the influence on such films as Night of the Living Dead and countless other zombie movies.