'Soylent Green': THR's 1973 Review
On April 18, 1973, MGM unveiled Richard Fleischer's dystopian, 98-minute sci-fi drama Soylent Green in Los Angeles at Red Carpet theatres. The Hollywood Reporter's original review of the Charlton Heston starrer is below.
Soylent Green, produced by Walter Seltzer and Russell Thatcher and directed by Richard Fleischer from a screenplay by Stanley R. Greenberg, conjures up a terrifying vision of the future that is made all the more urgent by today's inflationary food prices and fast approaching energy crisis.
Soylent Green is a food, something like a green cookie; it feeds the 40 million inhabitants of New York City in 2022. Everything is scarce; only half the citizens have jobs. Poor people live in cars and the hallways of tenements. Women are completely oppressed; if they are young and pretty they become "furniture" girls, permanent mistresses in the apartments of the rich.
The only pleasant experience is death, a perverse idea which provides Edward G. Robinson with as moving a screen farewell as any actor has ever had. Robinson plays the book researcher for detective Charlton Heston, who is searching for the assassin of Joseph Cotten, one of the richest, most powerful men on earth. He initially suspects his "furniture," played by Leigh Taylor-Young, and bodyguard Chuck Connors.
When Robinson discovers the hideous secret behind the murder, he decides to "go home," the movie's euphemism for dying. He is taken into an air-cooled room, given a potion; while listening to Rachmaninoff, he sees on film the wonders of the earth as it used to be. It's a great scene, wonderfully rendered and emotionally exhausting.
The secret of Soylent Green shouldn't be revealed; suffice it to say that it isn't quite as chilling as it should be, given the energy put into making it mysterious. However, Soylent Green is a continually interesting movie with a largeness of production rare these days.
Fleischer's direction is economical and controlled; he's comfortable with the big Panavision look and he tries to give each scene a fresh approach. He nicely stage manages the extensive special effects and huge crowd scenes.
The action sequences are magnificently coordinated by Joe Canutt; the stunt work is amazing, particularly a food riot in which human beings are scooped up by bulldozers just as if they were so many rocks in a field.
Greenberg's screenplay, adapted from a novel by Harry Harrison, is efficient, structurally inventive and adept at creating characters with simple strokes. The writing, however, has a certain lethargy, which is the movie's biggest problem.
Heston is fine as the honest detective, a deeply cynical man who holds on to the old values so movingly embodied by Robinson. Taylor-Young is lovely and sympathetic. Cotten is vivid in a brief appearance. Brock Peters excellently plays Heston's boss. Paula Kelly has more spirit than anyone in the movie as Connors' "furniture."
Stephen Young forcefully plays Cotten's murderer. Mike Henry is the head of a riot squad. Lincoln Kilpatrick is a benumbed priest; Leonard Stone is a sadistic apartment manager. Roy Jensen is in charge of a terror squad run by Gov. Whit Bissell; Celia Lovsky is briefly effective as the leader of a book exchange.
But Soylent Green is Edward G. Robinson's movie. As a man who remembers the wonders of civilization before it died, he is witty, cultivated and endlessly appealing.
Although rarely inspired, the technique of the film is always inventive. Richard H. Kline's photography uses hazy filters which vividly evoke a poisoned atmosphere. The art direction of Edward C. Carfagno and set decoration of Robert Benton are best with decay, only routine with the splendors of the rich. Part Barto's costumes don't have the precision to suggest the development of fashion, although the use of work clothes for the poor is successful.
The movie is enhanced by special photographic effects by Robert R. Hoag and Matthew Yuricich, special visual effects by A.J. Lohman, special photographic sequences by Braverman Productions and an excellent prologue by Magnum.
Samuel E. Beetley's editing is consistently inventive; his action scenes are especially well modulated while the dramatic scenes are quick and deft. Fred Myrow's music is impressively varied, moving from the symphonic to the electric. — Alan R. Howard, originally published on April 16, 1973