The Last Man on Earth (Italian title: L'Ultimo uomo della Terra) is a 1964 Italian horror/science fiction film based upon the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend. The film was directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, and starred Vincent Price. The script was written in part by Matheson, but he was dissatisfied with the result and was therefore credited as "Logan Swanson". William Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, and Ubaldo Ragona were the other writers.
It was filmed in Rome, Italy, and was later released theatrically in the United States by American International Pictures. It has since fallen into the public domain. MGM Home Video, the current owners of the AIP film catalog released a digitally remastered widescreen print in September 2005.
In the year 1968, every day is the same for Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). He wakes up, gathers his weapons and then literally goes vampire hunting. Morgan lives in a world where everyone else has been infected by a new disease that turns them into vampire-like creatures. They cannot stand sunlight, fear mirrors, and are repelled by garlic. They would kill Morgan if they could, but fortunately, they are weak and not too smart. At night, Morgan locks himself inside his house listening to jazz on the hi-fi, and in the morning, he kills as many vampires as he can, destroying the bodies.
Morgan's psychological disposition is a significant element in the movie, and his struggles with despair imbue the character with intensity and gravitas. He is an ordinary, flawed man trying to deal with an extraordinary catastrophe. It also explores the loneliness of being by himself, excitement and hope of finding others, and disappointment over still finding himself alone.
Flashbacks are used to explain how his daughter succumbed to the plague, and then his wife. Instead of taking his wife to the same public burn pit used to dispose of his daughter's corpse, Morgan buried his wife without the knowledge of the authorities. Morgan becomes aware of the need to kill the plague victims with a wooden stake when his wife returns to his home and attacks.
Much of the story is devoted to Morgan's struggles to understand the plague that has infected everyone around him, and the movie details the progress of his discoveries. He offers scientific basis for such symptoms as aversion to garlic, craving of fresh blood, and resistance to bullets but vulnerability to stakes and sunlight. The aversion to mirrors and crosses is classified as psychological. This represents one of the first attempts in popular culture to explain vampirism scientifically, something that has become more common in vampire stories since. Morgan hypothesizes that he is immune to the bacteria because he was bitten by an infected vampire bat when he was stationed in Panama, which introduced diluted plague into his blood.
One day, a dog appears in the neighborhood. Morgan chases after the dog but does not catch it. Some time later, the dog appears wounded at Morgan's doorstep. Morgan takes the dog into his home and treats its wounds, looking forward to enjoying the company of his new companion. He quickly discovers that it too has become infected with the plague. Morgan is later seen burying the dog, which he has impaled with a wooden stake.
While out on his daily activities, Morgan spots a woman in the distance. Ruth is terrified of Morgan at first sight, and runs from him. Morgan convinces her to return to his home (in an apparent conflict with this earlier scene, Ruth later comments that he dragged her back to his house). Morgan is suspicious of her true nature. Ruth becomes ill when Morgan waves garlic in her face, but claims that she has a weak stomach.
Morgan's suspicion that Ruth is infected is confirmed when he discovers her attempting to inject herself with a combination of blood and vaccine that holds the disease at bay. Ruth then tells him that she is part of a group of people like her - infected but under treatment - and was sent to spy on Morgan. The vaccine allows the people to function normally with the drug in the bloodstream, but once it wears off, the virus begins to take over the body again. Ruth explains that her people know more about the disease than Morgan, have developed the vaccine, and are planning to rebuild society as they destroy the remaining vampires.
Ruth's people are afraid of Morgan because they do not know who he is or how he is able to stay immune to the disease without vaccination. They also fear him because he was unknowingly killing their people, mistaking them for vampires. To them, he is a super-human, which is why he is a legend among them, he is shrouded in mystery. He is dangerous to them as he is the only normal human that is not affected by the disease. They do not know how he is able to walk in the daylight and kill the vampires at no danger of getting sick.
While Ruth is unconscious, Morgan transfuses his own blood into Ruth. She is immediately cured, and Morgan sees hope that he and Ruth can cure the rest of her people. However, now that night has fallen, Ruth's people attack. Ruth initially draws a gun on Morgan, but surrenders it to him. Morgan takes the gun and flees his home while the attackers slay the vampires gathered around Morgan's home.
Ruth's people spot Morgan and chase him. He exchanges gunfire with them, and picks up tear gas grenades from an armory along the way. While the tear gas slows his pursuers somewhat, Morgan is wounded by gunfire and retreats into a church. Despite Ruth's protests to let Morgan live, he is finally impaled on the altar by a spear thrown by one of Ruth's people. With his dying breaths, Morgan makes a dramatic exit with the quote, "Freaks! You're all Freaks!" and declares that he was the last true man on earth.
Moments later, Ruth tells a crying child "It's okay now, it's all gonna be okay."
Differences from the Novel Edit
The protagonist of the novel is named Robert Neville, not Robert Morgan. The movie also changed Neville/Morgan's profession from plant worker to medical researcher, perhaps in order to account for his knowledge of the disease's nature later in the movie. This change has also been maintained in the subsequent adaptations of the novel starring Charlton Heston (The Omega Man) and Will Smith (I Am Legend). The dog that showed up on Neville's doorstep was originally timid and came and went when it pleased. The relationship with Ruth also slightly differs from the novel and no transfusion takes place, a cure seems implausible even as Robert Neville hopes he will find one. Ruth escapes after Neville discovers that she is infected. He isn't captured until many months later, and even then he barely fights his capture. The book ends shortly before Neville is to be executed: Ruth returns to give him suicide pills, and finds irony in the fact that he has become as much of a legend to the new society as vampires once were to his (hence the title of the novel).
The novel implied that the vampire plague resulted from environmental destruction resulting from nuclear wars. The origin of the disease was not explained in The Last Man on Earth, and was altered in the subsequent adaptations.
- Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan
- Franca Bettoia as Ruth Collins, an infected individual
- Emma Danieli as Virginia Morgan, the wife of Robert Morgan
- Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as Ben Cortman
- Umberto Raho as Dr. Mercer
- Christi Courtland as Kathy Morgan
- Antonio Corevi as the Governor
- Ettore Ribotta as the TV Reporter
- Rolando De Rossi
- Carolyn De Fonseca dubbed for Ruth Collins' voice in the English release of the film. She was uncredited.
- Giuseppe Mattei as the leader of the survivors. He was also uncredited.