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.