Film Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, written by Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo Ragona, William Leicester, and Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson), and starring Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart.

"Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the only survivor of a devastating world-wide plague due to a mysterious immunity he acquired to the bacterium while working in Central America years ago. He is all alone now...or so it seems. As night falls, plague victims begin to leave their graves, part of a hellish undead army that''s thirsting for blood...his!"

Though technically a vampire flick, the book that the movie is based off of, Richard Matheson's I am Legend, was the main inspiration for George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, four years after this film adaptation released. One could also say that the manner of the vampires and the way they move and act is instead much closer to the modern interpretation of zombies. So I think I can let this one non-zombie movie slide considering we may never have seen very many living dead movies over the years without Matheson's novel. To me, not reviewing this fine piece of cinema would have been blasphemy. It's a landmark in film history and is greatly underrated and under-appreciated. The film has been remade three times since this version with Vincent Price: The Omega Strain (1971) with Charlton Heston, the unofficial adaptation I am Omega (2007), and I am Legend (2007) with Will Smith.

For whatever reason, "Richard Matheson felt Vincent Price was miscast as Robert Morgan," but I can't honestly think of one instance when I felt Price's acting faltered, nor in any other movie he's starred in. From his cleaning up of the dead bodies littered throughout the city, to his constant barricading of his home, to the ever-pursuit of ridding the world of vampires, section by section, Robert Morgan deals with the pain and feeling of loss of living in a dead world full of maleficent creatures. You feel his plague of loneliness and seclusion from the world his used to know, most especially in his old family videos of his wife and daughter during a circus, which leads into flashbacks. It begins with his finding out about Europe's plague from his colleague at his daughter's birthday party. This is one element of the film in which I feel drags the movie down a bit, but not much. It's one of my favorite and least favorite parts of the movie, due to its necessary back-story, but also due to its length. It takes up a good portion of the middle, and without it, would have been little more than an hour really. Another fault is the poorly recorded post-production dubbing, which is more noticeable in the flashbacks than "present day." It tends to convey an amateur effect to the production of the movie, and that's unfortunate.


Many are right, in the fact that the movie plays out more like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. But this doesn't sway me against it in any way. I grew up on the old, black and white series (though in the form of re-runs), and I got a certain satisfaction from noticing this myself. The movie itself is beautiful in its cinematography, though to a keen eye, to resemblant to Italy (where it was filmed) to truly be an nameless American city. It's eerie and claustrophobic, despite a good portion of the movie taking place outdoors. With streets and buildings empty, and no people or animals to be found (except a little dog that Morgan is barely given time to befriend), the whole world feels absolutely barren and devoid of life. It's no wonder that, after three dreadful years, Morgan is slipping into anger, depression, and even insanity with nothing to comfort him, save for old home videos, cigarettes, scotch, and the ever-near undead.

I've never read the novel myself, though I need to, but others have said that this film is the closest adaptation to its original content, and it rightfully should be. Author Richard Matheson helped write the screenplay himself, but in the end, was displeased with it, and used a psuedoname instead. What it does basically keep intact, though, is the title's meaning, which Will Smith's I am Legend failed to do. I won't spoil it for you if you haven't seen it, but I will say that few movies have such a powerful conclusion to measure up or compare, that it simply leaves me wondering why more people don't fully appreciate this movie for not only all that it is, but all that it has inspired since. You owe it to yourself to see it. I've seen this many times over the years, but if you haven't, then you can watch the full movie for free, now that it's in public domain, on YouTube, which is actually better looking than the copy I purchased a couple of weeks ago. Figures.

Best quote: "You're freaks! I'm a man! The last man..."

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