As we were rewatching this film last week, Becca said, “It always seems so hot in this movie, everyone is sweating all the time.” And I replied, “Yeah. We’re kind of living in it now.” Yep, other than turning people into food and my stairwells being filled with sleeping people, the world of Soylent Green feels like its getting closer every single day.
Was Charlton Heston the poster boy of the apocalypse? Between this, Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man, Chuck was in a ton of end of the war films. This is based on Harry Harrison’s book Make Room, Make Room. Harrison’s writing may seem like slam bang science fiction action, but it hides in its heart plenty of satire and a marked disdain for violence and the military.
Heston plays NYPD detective Frank Thorn, who lives with his elderly police analyst Solomon Roth, played by Edward G. Robinson in his final role. I can barely watch him in this movie without being moved to tears, as he died from bladder cancer 12 days after filming ended. Heston said, “He knew while we were shooting, though we did not, that he was terminally ill. He never missed an hour of work, nor was late to a call. He never was less than the consummate professional he had been all his life. I’m still haunted, though, by the knowledge that the very last scene he played in the picture, which he knew was the last day’s acting he would ever do, was his death scene. I know why I was so overwhelmingly moved playing it with him.” That scene decimates me every single time that I watch it, as Solomon realizes that his time, a time that remembers the past (he’s one of the few alive who can read from old books) is now gone. As he lies in state as part of the euthanasia process, Thorn tries in vain to stop him but is soon mesmerized by the footage of extinct animals and a once green world.
Outside of Sol, everyone in this film is corrupt. Thorn and his fellow cops steal everything they can from the murder scenes that they investigate when they aren’t being riot cops, using bulldozers to lift people and throw them in the air. He even takes advantage of murder victim William R. Simonson’s (Joseph Cotten!) live-in lover, Shiri (some women in the future are allowed to be concubines and live in luxury; Thorn refers to her as furniture). And Chuck Connors shows up as Simonson’s bodyguard.
This film frightens me because so much of it is prophetic. The Twin Towers are gone in this future. The things that Sol says to Thorn, like “Ocean’s dying, plankton’s dying” are happening as well. This movie is nearly fifty years old and predicts the greenhouse effect that so many people don’t want to see is happening.
Director Richard Fleischer would go on to have a career of ups and downs. The son of animator Max Fleischer, he’d also direct Amityville 3-D, Red Sonja, Conan the Destroyer, Fantastic Voyage, Madingo, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the horrific Neal Diamond vehicle, The Jazz Singer. That’s probably the most all over the place directorial credits ever.