When George Clayton Johnson died on Christmas Day 2015, the science fiction world lost one of its giants. The free-spirited Johnson was a mainly a short story and teleplay writer associated with greats like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson in a loose knit collective known as The Southern California School of Writers. He wrote many story ideas and scripts for THE TWILIGHT ZONE, including the classic episodes “A Game of Pool” (starring Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters) and “Kick the Can” (redone by Stephen Spielberg in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE). Johnson wrote the first aired STAR TREK episode (“The Man Trap”), the story for OCEAN’S 11, and was a driving force behind the creation of the San Diego Comic Con. Perhaps his best known work was a novel he did in collaboration with William F. Nolan in 1967, LOGAN’S RUN, made into a big-budget movie by MGM in 1976. David Zelag Goodman adapted the screenplay, allegedly changing some key elements to make it more cinematic. I’ve never read the book, but I can tell you LOGAN’S RUN is eye-poppingly stunning, a visual feast of colors and state-of-the-art (at the time) special effects. It’s amazing what could be done pre-CGI, and the story is greatly enhanced by the film’s look and feel.
In the post-apocalyptic world of 2274 AD, a huge domed city run by computers is populated by hedonistic youths who live only for pleasure. When they reach the age of thirty, they’re taken to a ritualistic “time of renewal” called Carousel. A crowd gathers to watch as the participants are beamed upwards and float toward a shining ball of light, and when they reach a certain point are disintegrated in a shower of sparks, supposedly renewed into new bodies. The crowd oohs and aahs as if they’re watching a fireworks display, but it’s more like a backyard bug zapper with humans as the insects.
Logan and his buddy Francis are two ‘Sandmen’, whose job is to track down and terminate Runners, those who try to escape their fate at Carousel. Sandmen are well-respected in the dome, doing the dirty work for their computer masters. Logan meets Jessica via “The Circuit”, a sort of hologram dating service, and jauntily says, “Let’s have sex!” But the girl turns him down, fearing the Sandman after friend was terminated by one. Jessica’s wearing an Ankh, and Logan is soon summoned to a debriefing room where the computer tells him its the symbol of a rebel band who help runners escape to Sanctuary in the outside world. Logan discovers “Renewal” is a scam, and 1056 runners have gone unaccounted for. The ‘Life-Clock’ embedded in his hand is reprogrammed to approach ‘Last Day’ and become a runner himself, giving him the task of escaping to the outside and destroying Sanctuary. Unfortunately for Logan, this means he loses the remaining four years of his life. Now the hunter becomes the hunted and enlists Jessica’s aid to reach Sanctuary, with former friend Francis in dogged pursuit.
There’s action and thrills along the way, as Logan and Jessica encounter thieving feral children, a murderous face-changing doctor, flooding tunnels, and an ice cavern guarded by a robot named Box, Francis always at their heels. When they finally make it to the outside world, they find the ruins of Washington, DC! The pair stumbles upon a sight they’ve never beheld before…an Old Man living in the former Senate chambers. The Old Man has only cats as his companions, and welcomes the couple with quotes from T.S. Eliot. Logan and Jessica are convinced Sanctuary doesn’t exist and decide to stay, but their reverie is interrupted by an unwanted intruder…Francis!
I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen the movie yet. Suffice it to say there’s a few more surprises in store before the conclusion. Michael York is perfect in the role of Logan, even if he was a baby-faced 34 at the time of filming. York has appeared in some major productions, including THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET, CABARET, Richard Lester’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS and its sequel THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, JESUS OF NAZARETH, and the Austin Powers spy spoofs. The latest issue of Shock Cinema magazine has a great article/interview with the British star, for those of you who still read magazines (I know I do, and the quarterly Shock Cinema is a personal favorite!)Jenny Agutter (Jessica) first came to prominence in Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 WALKABOUT, and won an Emmy that same year for THE SNOW GOOSE. Agutter most recently appeared in Marvel’s THE AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Richard Jordan (Francis) acted with Burt Lancaster in VALDEZ IS COMING, Robert Mitchum in THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, and Charles Bronson in CHATO’S LAND, but is best remembered as the star of the TV mini-series CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS. The voice of Box was Roscoe Lee Browne, whose credits include Alfred Hitchcock’s TOPAZ, THE COWBOYS (with John Wayne), and THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES (director William Wyler’s last film). And the Old Man is played by the great Peter Ustinov, a two-time Oscar winner (SPARTACUS, TOPKAPI), three-time Emmy winner, Grammy and Golden Globe winner. Ustinov was an actor, playwright, director, star of Disney comedies and dramatic films, and all-around humanitarian.
Director Michael Anderson helmed the 1956 Best Picture winning AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and a wide range of films from ALL THE FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS to ORCA. His son Michael Anderson Jr. appears as the doctor here. He can also be seen in THE SUNDOWNERS, THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER, and Sam Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE. Anderson Jr. costarred with Barbara Hershey in the 1960’s youth-oriented TV Western THE MONROES.
Farrah Fawcett has a small part as the doctor’s receptionist. This was around the time she was just starting to hit it big on CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Her iconic 70s poster was on the walls of lusting teenage boys all across America. This has nothing to do with LOGAN’S RUN, I just wanted an excuse to put the poster in here!
Those state-of-the-art special effects I mentioned earlier won an Academy Award for L.B. Abbott. He’d previously won for DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, TORA! TORA! TORA!, and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. The Art Direction and Set Designs by Dale Hennesy were nominated, but lost to ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, of all things! Hennesy had won for 1966’s FANTASTIC VOYAGE, and his work can be seen in Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, and the 1976 remake of KING KONG. Jerry Goldsmith’s score enhances the film’s different moods, using electronic sounds for the domed city and a full orchestration in the outside world scenes.
The film LOGAN’S RUN was so popular a TV series and Marvel comic were based upon it. Neither of them lasted very long, probably because STAR WARS came along in 1977 to completely dominate science fiction fandom. LOGAN’S RUN is a dazzling piece of science fiction entertainment, one I really enjoyed watching. I think you will, too.