SOYLENT GREEN (1973). Directed by Richard Fleischer. Screenplay, Stanley R. Greenberg. Based upon novel by Harry Harrison.Photography, Richard H. Kline. Art Direction, Edward C. Carfagno. Special sequence of opening montage by Braverman Productions. Prologue photos by Magnum. Futurist Frank Bowerman was hired as consultant for an accurate vision of future.
Director Fleischer is competent and a good technician. His films, almost all commercial (with little substance) are a very mixed bag. Some people call Fleischer a hack, but there are bright spots in his "oeuvre." These include several films noirs of various calibers (e.g. COMPULSION or THE BOSTON STRANGLER), as well as spectaculars like BARABBAS. FANTASTIC VOYAGE was a minor landmark. TORA! TORA! TORA! bombed but, upon reevaluation it is not bad at all. Other works, like THE VIKINGS, are underrated.
It is hard to get an overall handle on Fleischer. I too used to call him a hack, until, here and there on TV, I started catching films that were forgotten and of value. Someone ought to make a study of this director.
In any case, his last good film, and probably his very best, was SOYLENT GREEN. This is sci-fi about New York in 2022 AD, a nightmarish city overcrowded by 40 million who live and die in huddled masses. They are undernourished. The polluted air is unbreathable. It is like a shabby, somber return to near-primitivism with, arguably, the most apocalyptic vision of a megalopolis before Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER.
Among the notable sequences are the riots when the cops bring in the "scoops" --garbage-like machines that add to the garbage trucks used for everuything. (Cars only exist as derelict housing) .
The main (and almost only) foods, synthetic and made in factories, are Soylent Blue, Soylent Yellow and the newcomer Soylent Green, said to be made from plancton.
Almost all people are like zombies. A few, the rich, have the niceties of life and apartments which come equiped with "furniture", i.e. live-in women..
Thorn (Charlton Heston) is the good cop investigating the death of privileged Joseph Cotten, who accepts it because he knows (as the film unravels) that he has become unreliable to the Soylent Corporation after finding out their big trade secret.
His search search adds a solid thriller dimension to the film, the plot of which should not be revealed. He lives with an old man, his best and possibly only friend, Sol Roth (E.G. Robinson).
In the U.S. the critics were overall inimical to this movie, calling it plodding, cliched and priggish. Yet in Europe it got rave reviews. The fact is that whether or not there are flaws, this is quite a good movie, by far the most sensitive Fleischer has done. It is eminently worth seeing -- among other reasons for the last screen appearance of Edward G. Robinson. He is given several good scenes, especially his last one--a most touching, unabashedly tear-jerking farewell to this story, to movies and to life, with Beethoven's Pastoral playing and scenes of calm, beauty and sunlight projected. (Edwin Jahiel)