Soylent Green Movie Review
Let's pause for a moment and reflect on Charlton Heston's wonderful '70s science fiction career. He had a penchant for wincing his way through angry line deliveries like, "Gehhhht yer STINKING PAWS off me, you DAMN DIRTY APE!" using every wrinkle in his brow, his shark-like teeth gleaming in the sun. Sweat would glisten on his prominent brow and chiseled cheeks. When he dies, we shall say there was an actor.
On to Soylent Green. Before the urban paranoia begins, we're treated to a black and white montage that shows the farmlands of America becoming transformed via an industrial revolution into an overcrowded nightmare. This is accompanied by happy-go-lucky piano trills, which become increasingly discordant as society falls apart. It vaguely reminds me of the "Eleanor Rigby" section of Yellow Submarine.
The overpopulated streets of New York City, all 40 million residents in Soylent Green, are shot through a hazy green filter, which makes everything look as though it were taking a bath in smog. Bodies litter the steps of every brownstone, over which Charlton Heston marches on his way to work every day.
The police are often put on riot duty to squelch the crowds which assemble every Tuesday, which happens to be "Soylent Green" day. Yes, Soylent Green is the wafer-thin food of choice among the masses. The government claims that this mass product has been created in rural factories from plankton extracts -- heh heh heh. If they run out of Soylent Green, the streets become ablaze with angry customers.
Charlton Heston swaggers onto the scene as Detective Thorn, who is casually investigating the murder of a prominent businessman in the Soylent company (played by Joseph Cotton, milking his five minutes of screen time for all they're worth). Mostly, he uses the opportunity to see how the "other half" lives. He's stuck in a crummy apartment with no food, air conditioning or water.
While Cotton's body rests in a puddle of blood, old Chuck Heston raids the fridge and chugs down some of the "real bourbon -- God damn!" He barely has time to interrogate the one and only suspect (evil Chuck Connors) as he stands in front of the air conditioner, gasping and baring those teeth as only Charlton Heston can. He inhales the soap with childlike pleasure and washes his hands -- who needs to search for clues when there's soap!
The plot trudges along with Heston's non-investigation leading him to romancing Cotten's "furniture." That's what they call the women of the future. "Furniture." Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) is the buxom furniture in question, and she meekly defers to the will of Moses. They make love discreetly off-screen then take a jolly shower together. This is the "Charlton Heston and the Girl Both Laugh" scene. No dialogue. Just "HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!" as they soap themselves up.
It's quite an amusing movie. The plot (based on the book Make Room! Make Room!) noodles around, content to show the world of the future rather than concentrate on any sort of cohesive mission for Heston. Sure enough, Charlton stumbles across the fact that Soylent Green just might have something to do with the murder.
Be forewarned: spoilers ahead. But I think Saturday Night Live dispelled all Soylent Green plot twists a few years ago. The climax of the movie itself is pretty disappointing after Phil Hartman's tour-de-force of running down the street (as it happens, Chuck is dragged away in a stretcher). Those hoping for the equivalent of the classic "DAMN YOU!" finale of Planet of the Apes or the heavy religiosity of The Omega Man.
But (spoilers ahead, last warning!) you can't beat the dialogue: "Soon they'll be breeding us like cattle! You've got to warn EVERYone and tell them! Soylent GREEN is MADE of people! PEEE-O-PLE! You've got to tell them! Soylent green is PEOPLE!"