It is an accepted fact that Johnny Cash is The Man in Black. Agreed. However when it comes to the world of movies look no further than Yul Brynner for a close second. From The Magnificent 7 to Westworld and finally this post apocalyptic thriller I have a hard time thinking of an actor who wore the black with such a deadly grace and don’t mess with me attitude better than the bald one himself.
Nearing the end of his film career Yul appeared here as a man for hire who takes the side of Max Von Sydow’s group of people who are trying to remain somewhat civilized in a world where plague has wiped out humanity in New York 2012 A.D. Across the barricades are a group of scavengers led by familiar tough guy and screen villain William Smith. The main cause for taking sides is food. Who has it as well as the capability of growing gardens and vegetables. With most films of this nature life is cheap and this time out is no different. As the film moves towards it’s inevitable conclusion the rather bloody showdown between our 2 combatants doesn’t disappoint with 55 year old Yul Brynner looking trim and ready to rumble against the always dangerous Smith.
William Smith was certainly a go to actor when it came to villains in the 70’s and 80’s. His most widely seen role was probably that of Clint Eastwood’s nemesis in Any Which Way You Can featuring their fight that attempted to rival the Wayne-McLaglen match of The Quiet Man. The film looks like it’s been done on sets left over from Beneath the Planet of the Apes at times or perhaps ones being designed for Escape From New York. In reality I think they’ve been done on the WB backlot where Bogart and Cagney once reigned as Kings. The film was directed by Robert Clouse of Enter the Dragon fame and you have to wonder if Bruce Lee was alive would he have been in the Brynner role.
One ironic and ultimately sad note, when asked by Sydow why he opted to join their side as opposed to Smith’s, Yul’s character answers that it was the promise of unlimited cigars. As you may know Yul died of cancer and just before his death made commercials asking people not to smoke. One of my regrets is when I was a boy not nagging my parents enough to take me see him play The King on stage while touring close by. Even at a young age I was captivated by the loner in black.