I Am Legend: THE OMEGA MAN (Warner Brothers 1971)

When I was a lad of 13, back in the Stone Age, I saw THE OMEGA MAN on the big screen during it’s first run. I remember thinking it was real cool, with Charlton Heston mowing down a bunch of mutant bad guys with his sub-machine gun, some funny one-liners, and a few semi-naked scenes with Rosalind Cash. What more could an adolescent kid ask for in a movie? Now that I’m (ahem!) slightly older, I recently re-watched the film, wondering just how well, if at all, it would hold up.

I’m happy to report THE OMEGA MAN, despite some flaws in logic, stands the test of time as a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action/adventure, with a touch of Gothic horror thrown in. The film is the second of three based on Richard Matheson’s novel I AM LEGEND, the first written by Matheson himself (under the pseudonym Logan Swanson) as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, a 1964 Italian production starring Vincent Price. The third and most recent was titled I AM LEGEND (2007) starring Will Smith. Each version brings it’s own unique take on the basic story; I’ve seen all three, and enjoyed them equally, disproving the theory held by some critics that all remakes are automatically bad.

Charlton Heston was in his sci-fi heyday at this point in his career. He’d starred in the mega-hit PLANET OF THE APES and iys sequel, and soon would headline SOYLENT GREEN. Heston was big box-office, and his presence in these films gave them more prestige than other genre entries of the era. Chuck makes a good protagonist, ex-Army immunologist Robert Neville, whether cruising down the deserted streets of LA listening to a smooth jazz version of “Theme from A Summer Place” on his 8-track, sitting in an empty theater watching WOODSTOCK for the umpteenth time, hunting down and battling those aforementioned mutants, or making history by have an interracial love affair with co-star Rosalind Cash, who could’ve very easily filled Pam Grier’s boots in any of her 70’s Blaxploitation flicks.

THE OMEGA MAN was the first time I became aware of actor Anthony Zerbe as Mattias, leader of the mutant cult known as The Family. The biological plague has caused them to become nocturnal, albino-skinned creatures of the night, and Zerbe gives a truly chilling performance. Since then Zerbe’s become one of my favorite character actors, gracing us with his talent in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN, PAPILLION, FAREWELL MY LOVELY, ROOSTER COGBURN, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK, THE DEAD ZONE, numerous TV movies and mini-series, and a regular role on David Janssen’s private eye series HARRY O. Zerbe was in both sequels to THE MATRIX and recently in AMERICAN HUSTLE. Other cast members include Lincoln Kilpatrick , Paul Koslo, Eric Laneuville, and Monika Henreid (daughter of Paul) as one of the cult.

Yes, THE OMEGA MAN is an artifact of its time, like any film. It does hold up well though, and is still an entertaining take on Matheson’s story. Actually, you really can’t go wrong with any of the three versions out there, but for a good dose of 70’s apocalyptic action, go with THE OMEGA MAN.

16 Replies to “I Am Legend: THE OMEGA MAN (Warner Brothers 1971)”

  1. I enjoyed your review. Those mutants are like members of ISIS. All Neville can do is “mow” them down with a machine gun, the same way you have to mow down a lawn with a lawn mower.

    I haven’t seen the original film with Vincent Price yet.

    Neville is a Christ figure in The Omega Man. His death is like the crucifixion with his arms stretched wide, and he gives his untainted blood to save the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Neville’s sacrifice of untainted blood makes him a “savior” to the world. You’ve got to see Price in “Last Man on Earth”, it’s got more of a “Night of the Living Dead” feel to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice review Gary. It must have been great seeing this on the big screen at the time. Lucky you! I caught it on late night TV in 1984. There’s something special about The Omega Man. It is a fantasy with real depth and the tragic ending so typical of the early 70s.

    On a first watch I was shocked when Heston got caught in the cellar. I thought “he’s had it!” Then later, after all he had to endure, to end up drowning in his own blood so to speak. But the real star of this flick, IMO, is the musical score. It is so melodic and flowing yet somehow creepy. It punctuates every suspenseful moment.

    I’ll have to check out the 2007 version. Last Man On Earth was OK but lacked the impact of this one. Btw, thanks for visiting my site too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree that this film holds up pretty well over time. I found the 70s vibe a bit distracting at first, but soon become so engrossed in the story I didn’t notice it. There are a lot of really tense scenes here, and a terrific cast.

    Liked by 1 person

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