December 1965. Is that all it has been since I inherited the world? Only three years. Seems like 100 million.– Robert Morgan
It’s the anniversary of Vincent Price’s death, so I decided to revisit one of his old films and one of my favourites, The Last Man on Earth (1964). It’s one of several cinematic adaptations of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend – another of my favourites – and arguably the most faithful of the bunch.
What makes it a favourite of mine is how Price approaches the role of the embattled Robert Morgan, the eponymous Last Man. Price, especially in the latter half of his career, had a tendency to play up the camp in many of his roles, lending even creatures like the murderous Dr. Phibes a welcome (if unsettling) sense of humour. But here, there is none of the expected mugging and not a hint of a chuckle. Price as Morgan is a grim spectre – a living dead man, stalking the ruins of his world and bringing oblivion to the bloodsucking remnants of humanity.
Price plays Morgan as a man on the razor edge of sanity; a slave to routine, for whom even the most minor of deviations is a cause for panic. Every day is the same for Morgan, a monotonous prison of his own making – a just punishment for his self-perceived failure to create a cure for the ailment that doomed mankind. Price is restrained, even as Morgan’s carefully constructed world begins to collapse. It is only in the final moments of the climax that Morgan’s desperation and fury boils over at last. He becomes the monster his attackers believe him to be – a ranting horror, a shadow of the world that was – challenging their mastery of the broken world with fire and stake.
All in all, it’s one of Price’s best roles, though possibly not among his most memorable. His Morgan is at once sad and savage, a man made into a monster by necessity as much as anything. If you haven’t seen the film, you definitely should – perhaps especially if you’re not a fan of Price.
I give it five stakes out of five.