The Omega Man (1971) Classic Movie Review 44

The Omega Man (1971)

The Omega Man (1971)

Don't screw up. I know how to roll, but it's hard on the elbows. And if you just have to play James Bond, I'll bust your ass.

The Omega Man (1971) is an adaptation of the 1964 novel “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson. Maybe the boogeymen don’t stand up to modern standards, but legendary actor Charlton Heston sets the bar for post- apocalyptic survivors.

This movie is one of my all-time favorites. It is the fourth of the October 2015 films. The Omega Man (1971) is an adaptation of the 1964 novel “I am Legend” by Richard Matheson. Maybe the boogeymen don’t stand up to modern standards, but legendary actor Charlton Heston sets the bar for post-apocalyptic survivors.

Charlton Heston played the role of Neville presumed to be the last human alive. Heston was born in 1924 in Illinois. While in high school he joined the theater program and made a 16mm version of Peer Gynt (1941). He worked in the local community theater and received a scholarship to Northwestern. His next film was a sound version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1950).

With just a few small parts under his belt, Heston was cast as the circus manager in director Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). His co-stars in this film were Jimmy Stewart, Cornel Wilde, and Betty Hutton. After the strong showing, he was a busy actor. He acted in almost every genre but I can’t recall a comedy. He was cast as a man that could stand against any odds. He starred in The Naked Jungle (1954) as a plantation owner trying to save his home from a two-mile-wide army of ants. He teamed up with DeMille again for The Ten Commandments (1956) and was cast as none other than Moses.

Heston delivered a great performance as a Mexican detective in the film noir masterpiece Touch of Evil (1958) with Orson Welles. He starred with Gregory Peck in The Big Country (1958), a western. In one of my favorite films, The Buccaneer (1958) he played General Andrew Jackson along with Yul Brynner as pirate Jean Laffite and Inger Stevens as the governor’s daughter.

It is hard to say which would be his greatest role but Judah, the falsely accused Jewish prince in Ben-Hur (1959) is in the top five. Following much of his earlier work, he continued to play roles that featured him as real historical figures. These movies include playing the title role in El Cid (1961), playing an American officer in 55 Days at Peking (1963) fight against the Boxer Revolution, played “John the Baptist” in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), cast as painter “Michelangelo” struggling against the Pope played masterfully by Rex Harrison in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), and an English general China Gordon trying to save a besieged city in Khartoum (1966).

Heston returned to western with Will Penny (1967). Heston said this was his favorite film work in later interviews but he was about to take off in another direction a series of dystopian science fiction films. In the first of these films, he played astronaut out of time Taylor in Planet of the Apes (1968). I guess he had the first human/ape on-screen kiss as well. Heston made a brief appearance in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). These two ape films were followed by The Omega Man (1971). Finally, he starred in Soylent Green (1973) which was Edward G. Robinson last movie and co-starred rifleman Chuck Connors. Planet of the Apes (1968). I guess he had the first human/ape on-screen kiss as well. Heston made a brief appearance in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). These two ape films were followed by The Omega Man (1971). Finally, he starred in Soylent Green (1973) which was Edward G. Robinson last movie and co-starred rifleman Chuck Connors.

Heston was active in another genre as well, including two disaster movies – Airport 1975 (1974) and Earthquake (1974) which had Sensurround. Other great roles were in Midway (1976), also in Sensurround, and in Gray Lady Down (1978). I said he didn’t have a comedy film earlier but I have to back off a little. He played the good gas station actor in Wayne’s World 2 (1993), and as an eye-patch wearing agency boss in Schwarzenegger’s True Lies (1994). Heston died in 2008 at the age of 84.

Anthony Zerbe leader of the family, Matthias. Zerbe was born in California in 1936. As an adult, he served in the Air Force before heading to New York to study acting. Zerbe’s film debut was with Heston in Will Penny (1967). He had a small part as a miner in The Molly Maguires (1970), in The Omega Man (1971), as hustler in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), a leper colony leader in Papillon (1973), and a lawman turned bad in Rooster Cogburn (1975).

Zerbe did some television work in the early 1970s. In a movie I have never seen Zerbe played a mad scientist in KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978), an unconcerned father in The Dead Zone (1983), a sadistic perv in Opposing Force (1986), as a guy sucked out of an airlock License to Kill (1989), a guy that was killed by face stretching in Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and as Councillor Hamann in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003). He had a small role in American Hustle (2013).

Rosalind Cash played a leader of the other humans Lisa. Cash had a decent career but most of it was on television. Her only notable movies are The Omega Man (1971), Uptown Saturday Night (1974) with Harry Belafonte and Sydney Poitier, and Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975). Really I just wanted to say Cornbread, Earl and Me.

Paul Koslo was cast in the role of Dutch. Koslo’s first film was Little White Crimes (1966). He was cast in a lot of movies during the 1970s. These films include one of my all-time favorites Vanishing Point (1971) and of course The Omega Man (1971), western film Joe Kidd (1972), blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones (1973), The Stone Killer (1973), and of course Majestyk (1974) where he tried to strong-arm melon grower Charles Bronson. Bad-ass movie. Through the 1980s he worked in television and the 1990s were marked with straight to video.

Eric Laneuville played the role of Richie. Born in New Orleans in 1952 Laneuville played a hip youth in The Omega Man (1971) and A Force of One (1979) with Chuck Norris. He played the same as he aged in three television shows – “Room 222” 1970-1973, “The White Shadow” 1979-1980, and “St. Elsewhere” 1982-1988.


Of the three films based on the novel “I Am Legend” The Omega Man (1971) drifts the furthermost from the story and I think it is the most enjoyable. This movie begins with Neville (Charlton Heston) driving through LA on a sunny day without a care in the world. The top is down on his convertible and he has his sunglasses on. He is listening to jazz on his 8-track. That’s an iPod for you youngsters. Everything changes when he sees a shadowy figure move behind a window. He pulls out a machine gun and fires before driving on. As the credits roll, they begin to show the dead bodies and destroyed property. It becomes clear that no one else is around. Neville takes a corner too fast and wrecks his car. He is wearing a safari jacket, two pistols, and a knife. He walks into a car dealership and we learn that something happened in 1975. He has a conversation with a dead sales manager before driving out through the window. Remember I said this scene was stolen from The World, The Flesh, and the Devil (1959). Neville takes his convertible Mustang to the theater where Woodstock (1970) is showing. Neville says it has been held over for three years giving the time frame that he has been alone. He hooks up a generator and sits back to enjoy the movie. When he leaves the theater he looks at the sun and then his watch. He panics and then all the phones in town start ringing. Yes, there used to be phone booths on the street. He has to convince himself that they are not ringing. Then he says it’s almost day. They’ll be waking up soon. He races back to his house.

As he opens his garage door robed albino figures pour flames from above, leap into his car, and try to run past his automatic gunfire. Why are they wearing robes? Who knows but they are good day and night wear and are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. If you’re going out at night just put on a string of pearls, so why not. Neville makes it into the house after killing three. When he starts his generator, the lights force the family members outside away.

As Neville rides up in his elevator a nuclear war between China and Russia is shown in flashback. The news is reported by Jonathan Matthias (Anthony Zerbe). One side or the other use biological weapons. When the elevator reaches the penthouse everything is back in current time. Neville has conversations with a bust of Caesar in a purple robe and an Army hat. It is clear that Neville is insane.

About this time Neville hears the family outside laughing and carrying on. He goes to the balcony to see what they are going to destroy. They taunt him calling Neville as they burn books and art. The leader of the family is none other than the tv report now called just Matthias. Matthias laments about the deaths of the family members and the fact that the whole family can’t bring down one man. His second in command, Zachary (Lincoln Kilpatrick) calls it a honky paradise and Matthias begs him to forget the old ways. The family is anti-technology. Zachary wants to use modern tools but Matthias says it will bring back the plague.

Matthias flashes back to his news reporting and the beginning of the plague. The people are dying so fast that nothing can be done. It is at this point we learn that Neville is really U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D. and was working on a vaccine at the end. He is transporting version 97B-71 when the pilot of his helicopter dies of the plague and they crash. Neville is also showing signs of the disease so he gives himself the vaccine making himself the only one that is completely immune.

Back in modern time the family brings up a catapult and begins shooting fireballs at Neville’s house. Dressed in a hunter green velvet smoking jacket he opens up on them with an automatic rifle using a starlight scope to aim into the dark.

Sometime later he is out for a jog/hunt (you can’t do too much cardio) and he goes to a department store to gets some new workout gear. He spots an African-American woman with a giant Angela David afro pretending to be a mannequin. When he speaks to her she runs out. After chasing her for a while he decides he was hallucinating again.

Later the family catches Neville by pushing a wine rack over on him. He has an affinity for good Scotch so he was hanging around the cellar. The family, with Matthias as judge, give him a quick trial and sentence him to be-be discarded.

Neville and Matthias have a talk in the side room. Matthias calls him the angel of death and gives him the family manifesto. They take Neville to Dodger Stadium adorned with a nice dunce cap. They tie him to a wooden pile and get ready to burn him alive. At the last minute, the stadium lights are turned on blinding the family. Dutch (Paul Koslo), a former medical student cuts him loose and takes him the woman he saw in the store, Lisa (Rosalind Cash). There is some real 70s tough talking. Neville and Lisa get away on a stashed motorcycle while Dutch holds the family off. The stunt motorcycle driver is not even close.

They travel into the hills where Lisa and Dutch have a clan of children that don’t appear to have the disease. But they all have it, but in a lesser degree, like light sensitivity. They go in to see Lisa’s brother Richie (Eric Laneuville) who is close to turning albino mutant. Dutch explains they can turn fast or slow. Neville thinks he can make a serum from his blood. They decide to take Richie to Neville’s house to treat him. On the way there he says tried experiments on a family member. Lisa stays behind. One of the little girls asks Neville if he is God. No, he is Moses.

Neville throws himself into working on Ritchie. Lisa comes in all dressed up and they have a “date.” Lisa tells Neville that her people were part of the family until the family started to turn on them because their disease wasn’t far enough along.

They just touch lips for the first movie interracial kiss when the lights go out. Neville has forgotten to put gas in the generator. Zachary has a spear and a .45 hidden under his coat. He climbs up onto the balcony. Neville gets the generator going and comes up the elevator. When Neville see Zachary he shoots and for a time Lisa thought he was going to shoot her. Lisa and Neville kiss and do the nasty.

In Heston’s autobiography, he states that this was Cash’s first leading role and she was nervous because she grew up watching Heston movies. At one point Cash told him “It’s a spooky feeling, to screw Moses.”

Charlton Heston. In the Arena. Simon and Schuster. p. 443. ISBN 0-684-80394-1.

Lisa and Neville start shopping together and acting like a couple. She brings up birth control pills. Later they get medical supplies and draw Neville’s blood. They plan on leaving town as Ritchie gets better. Lisa goes shopping for the trip.

Ritchie gives Neville the location of the family but he wants him to cure them. Neville goes to tell Dutch the news and Richie goes to save the family. When Neville finds out that Richie is gone he gets ready to go to war. The family puts Richie on trial and then kills him. Lisa changes to an all white afro and joins the family. Neville races back to his house and the family keeps rolling cars in front of him until he crashes. He fights his way through with guns and explosives. At his house, Lisa is there and Neville tells her about Richie before he sees she has changed over. She has already let Mathis and his band into the house.

The family destroys all of his stuff but Neville is too much for them. He breaks free, grabs the blood, and drags Lisa outside. When Neville gets outside he turns to fire on Matthias who is on the balcony of Neville’s house. Neville’s gun jams and Matthias throws the spear that Zachary left into Neville’s chest.

In the morning Dutch shows up with the kids and Neville is hanging from a piece of art like he has been crucified. Dutch gets the blood and Neville’s last word is Lisa. Dutch, Lisa, and the kids leave the dead Neville behind.

There was one bit that was edited out of the film. Lisa who is pregnant goes to her parents grave to say goodbye. While there Lisa sees a family woman with a dead newborn. When she tells Neville about it, he asks if she took care of the family member. Lisa says it could be her in a few months and she did not. Neville is shocked but hugs Lisa.

World-Famous Short Summary – Family issues break up a couple’s happiness

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Beware the moors

The Omega Man (1971)

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