Thursday, August 27, 2009

Homage or Rip-off?

Recently I finally had the pleasure of seeing one of my Holy Grail movies, namely 1959’s The World, The Flesh And The Devil, starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer. It’s a post-apocalyptic movie loosely based on what is considered the first modern post-apocalyptic novel, M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud (1901). It’s a very interesting meditation on race, relations between the sexes and the end of the world as we know it. Belafonte is a commanding presence as a Pennsylvania mining safety inspector who gets trapped in a mine during what appears, at first, to be a routine cave-in, only to emerge five days later to discover he’s the last man on earth. Or is he? He travels by stolen car to nearby New York City, having to walk through the Lincoln Tunnel because it’s too clogged with empty cars to drive into (one wonders if Stephen King’s The Stand was influenced by this powerful image).

As I watched, a frisson of familiarity tickled the back of my brain. I’ve seen some of this before, the tickle said. Recently, too.

Richard Matheson’s I am Legend is one of my all-time favorite novels. Ever. I reread it every few years and it’s always good. Three movies have been based on it: the most faithful, but low-budgeted Vincent Price vehicle The Last Man on Earth (1964), the groovy, Chuck Heston-driven, albino-afroed The Omega Man (1971) and most recently, the ironically least faithful, Will Smith-starrer I am Legend (2007). I won’t even get into the nitty gritty of why the Will Smith version falls the farthest from Matheson’s source material, because that’s not germane to this essay.

What is relevant is how much of The World, The Flesh And The Devil was plagiarized (or do I want to be open-minded and polite and say paid homage) in 2007’s I am Legend.

In The World, The Flesh And The Devil (heretofore to be referred to as TWTFATD), Belafonte, slowly going mad from loneliness, makes friends with mannequins:

In I am Legend (ibid. IAL), Smith, slowly going mad from loneliness, makes friends with mannequins:

In TWTFATD, Belafonte broadcasts to the world in hopes of finding other survivors:

In IAL, Smith broadcasts to the world in hopes of finding other survivors:

In TWTFATD, Belfonte runs through an impressive shot of a totally abandoned Times Square carrying a rifle:

In IAL, Smith runs through an impressive shot of a totally abandoned Times Square carrying a rifle:

In the book I am Legend, the lead character does none of the above (particularly not the final one because it's set in California), so the movie version seems to have cherry-picked this striking imagery from TWTFATD.

I’m just saying.


Robert Boyd said...

Good find.

I liked I Am Legend (the movie) OK, but thought the changes from the novel all made the movie weaker. One thing I really disliked about it was that the vampire-like creatures were super-powered. I loved that in the novel, all the protagonist has to do is board up his house and make sure he is inside and locked up by sunset. That alone is terrifying enough.

Bob Fingerman said...

Yeah, well, the critters in IAL were fakey CGI, too, which really was pointless. I loved the first third of it, though, when it was just Smith and the empty city. That was really powerful. Once the creatures were shown it lost me (except for the very first time, when they were all at rest standing in a dark room clustered together; that was creepy as hell).

the hanged man said...

Turner Classic Movies has shown The World, The Flesh And The Devil in the past, but sadly doesn't have any showings scheduled at the moment.

Here's a link to the trailer:

Bob Fingerman said...

It definitely deserves a DVD release. Not sure why it hasn't come out. If it's music rights again, I'd be surprised (though Belafonte does sing in it).

JRSM said...

To my shame, I've never seen 'The World, THe Flesh and The Devil', but now I MUST SEE IT (somehow). I agree about the first third of the Will Smith version--New York in grassy, plant-reclaimed, animal-infested ruins was really beautiful. I wanted more of that!

JRSM said...

Oh! Oh! (Getting over-excited here) I recently saw a really good low-budget (but very well done) post-holocaust movie from 2001, 'Ever Since the World Ended' :

Well worth seeking out.

vinylsaurus said...

I saw TWTFATD many years ago in college (I think it was a 16mm print) and kind of forgotten about it. Too bad it's so hard to see now as it looks like a great one to revisit. I think I like OMEGA MAN the best out of all the I AM LEGEND films. It's cheesy but so fun and the essential themes are there. LAST MAN ON EARTH has its moments but the low budget and terrible sound/dubbing really hampered it, IMO.

I'm really enjoying FROM THE ASHES, Bob. I think you missed a joke in the 3rd issue though, as the homophobic preacher could've found out your last name was "Finger Man".

Bob Fingerman said...

And let it never be said that I shun cheap plays on my own name. Glad you're enjoying FTA. #4 hits the racks this Wednesday, September 2nd.

I like The Omega Man, too. Heston rocks a mean ascot. Is there a weirder image than Heston loving the movie Woodstock?