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Soylent Green (1973)

Food is the driving force of the plot in this bleak futuristic tale from director Richard Fleischer that stars the iconic Charlton Heston, and in his final screen role, the legendary Edward G. Robinson. Thanks to a pair of lovely ladies, Kristina at Speakeasy and Ruth over at Silver Screenings, just what we eat is the central focus of this blogathon that celebrates “Food in Film.”

In New York City alone there are 40 million people populating the streets in the year 2022. While Heston and his father figure, Robinson share a cramped living space an ad plays on the TV screen behind them advertising the new product Soylent Green. It’s a cracker sized form of nutrition that is more or less a fabricated food to feed to the masses. Eddie longs for the foods of his youth before pollution, overpopulation and a greenhouse effect burned up the world’s natural food supplies. It’s hard not to wonder if we’re headed in the same direction ourselves. Say around the year 2122? Which would put this storyline missing the mark by a scant 100 years.

Heston is a police detective in a world gone wrong. He’s been called in to investigate the murder of the wealthy Joseph Cotten. Cotten has lived a life of luxury in a high rise apartment for the well to do with his very own “furniture” included. The “furniture” in question is beautiful Leigh Taylor-Young. He also has a bodyguard under employ played by former Heston costar of 1958’s The Big Country, Chuck Connors. While Chuck and Leigh are out rounding up some rare items for dinner an assassin enters Cotten’s home. We’ll learn he’s expected his killer all along. He willingly submits to his death by bludgeoning.

Though Heston may be an officer of the law, a badge is a license to confiscate items for one’s own personal use including the lady of the house and that’s exactly what our hero does as he goes over Cotten’s apartment while questioning Connors and Young. Booze, snacks, a couple vegetables, a rare chunk of fresh beef and even a bar of soap. While thousands stand in “breadlines” Heston brings Robinson to tears with a meal fit for a king.

As far as the murder goes, Heston thinks it’s an inside job and Connors is his man. It’s the why that’s going to shock him. Cotten was connected to the political machine that drives the production of the movie’s title, Soylent Green. When his superior Brock Peters wants the case closed, Heston suspects a conspiracy at play. That’s not going to stop Heston from digging deeper and facing off against Connors more than once before uncovering the reason behind Cotten’s assassination and the terrible secret being kept from the poverty stricken population.

I’ll assume many of you who have stopped in to read this do indeed know the mystery at the heart of the story that shocked audiences back in the time of it’s release so I won’t get into the final plot details, “Soylent Green is ……….!!!!”  but rather some observations from a film fan and some quotes from Heston and Fleischer.

Always one to point out the character players in movies, you’ll notice Whit Bissell in here along with the always thuggish Roy Jenson and a surprisingly dubbed Mike Henry of Tarzan fame. Henry had just costarred opposite Heston in his previous film, Skyjacked and would go on to play the hilarious Junior opposite Jackie Gleason in the Smokey and the Bandit films.

By far the best performance here comes from Edward G. Robinson and his final moments on screen are so befitting an actor of his stature whose star began at the dawn of the talking motion picture. If your a fan of Eddie, you may well be wiping a tear as he makes his final journey on camera to the ever after. Robinson would not live to see his performance on screen as he passed away only days after his work was done here on this MGM release. If you find a copy of Richard Fleischer’s most enjoyable auto-biography, Just Tell Me When To Cry, you might even tear up reading about Eddie on the set as he delivers a wonderful performance though nearly deaf and quietly keeping his impending death from cancer to himself.

Heston who had already worked with Eddie in The Ten Commandments and almost on Planet of the Apes before Eddie bowed out of playing Dr. Zaius, called working with Eddie in his final scene on camera, “an awesome experience” and that “no actor could ask for a better way to go” in his own auto-biography, In the Arena. Truthfully it is a hell of a fade out for Robinson and it’s easy to understand both Heston and Fleischer being overcome with emotion at recalling the experience.

While Soylent Green may not be as well known as countless other movies depicting the future, the product Soylent Green lingers and if you look closely in novelty shops, you might even be able to pick up a box of the green crackers made presumably from just what Heston warns us of.

Now before signing off, I’d like to invite you to check out the other bloggers who’ve contributed an article on the topic of food in the movies by clicking here to have a look and work up a hunger. 

 

17 Comments »

  1. You are right about Robinson’s death scene. You almost made me tear up just reading about it in your review!

    I consider “Soylent Green” a terrifying and important film, and I’m glad you featured it in the blogathon. It’s criminally underrated and ought to be more well known. Like you said, its message is more relevant today than when it was released. I’m also glad you didn’t give away the Big Surprise – it is a shocker.

    Thanks for joining us, Mike! I was hoping someone would choose “Soylent Green”.

    • Always glad to participate and thanks to you for helping to put it all together. Heston actually refers to it in his bio as his one and only message film and here we are nearly 50 years later and we’re getting closer to the film’s vision in some respects.
      As you say underrated and Robinson went out with a touch of class and style.

  2. Wonderful article on one of my all-time favorite dystopian films, and you found some marvelous screen captures to illustrate its richness and superior cast. It is indeed grim but brilliantly executed by all involved. Need to pull out my blu-ray to watch again this weekend!!
    Perfect theme for the “Food in Film” blogathon, too!
    -Chris

  3. One of the best futuristic tales in the movies, although that overpopulation booger bear seems to have been a case of chicken little screaming the sky is falling at this juncture in history.

  4. Charlton Heston might not be on everyone go to man for action sci-fi but incredibly he did three really iconic ones. Obviously Planet Of The Apes at the pinnacle but both Omega Man and Soylent Green are top cult classics. Three brilliant films way up on my desert island list.
    As always a super read and I love your cheeky pick for food. BTW isn’t green Gatorade the same thing!
    The Edward G Robinson scene is so touching and add that to that wonderful dinner scene, it’s hard not to well up. I didn’t know he passed away not long after the film had finished filming 😦

    • I’ll have to check the nutrients on a Gatorade bottle! Heston has long been one of my movie heroes. He had that effect on a kid growing up watching TV in the late 70’s and 80’s His action and sci-fi films were SUPER COOL. Eddie a class act here and supposedly died 12 days following his death scene in the film. I suppose he knew he was nearly gone and have to believe that’s why his on screen death is so well acted and tearful no for us looking back.

      • You’re so right Mike, me too on Mr Heston’s action films. “Gray Lady Down” is superb and “Skyjacked” and “Airport 1975” are good old fashioned fun. Plus “Two-Minute Warning” has been on my to watch again soon list. Been ages since seeing that one.
        Plus on my Basil Dearden mission I was surprised to see he did a film with Charlton called “Khartoum”. Looks a bit epic! Don’t know if it’s any good though?

  5. Great article! I think my mother was quite traumatized by this film when she saw it as a teenager lol, but I personally quite enjoyed it. The scene where Edward G. Robinson dies, however, is so so sad! 😥

  6. Yes! I was so looking forward to someone covering this one for the blogathon, to me it’s a natural for this topic 🙂 But even with the big Soylent “revelation” it is truly EG Robinson’s scenes that stick the memory. Great post as always, thanks for joining the party!

    • So natural I’m sitting around struggling for a movie about a chef or something far too long. Switched to food and the light bulb went on. Pretty unanimous among film buffs on the Eddie G. factor. Thanks for stepping up and helping to organize.

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