Public Domain Theater: The Last Man on Earth (& “Bars and Stripes Forever”)

Welcome to Public Domain Theater, your home for the wonderful world of films that have (in the United States, at least) fallen into the public domain, and are free for everyone to see!

This month we have for you a very special film, the 1964 sci-fi/horror picture The Last Man on Earth, featuring Vincent Price in a rare turn as the hero rather than the villain (or is he?) This is the first of several screen adaptations of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, and the only one that makes a real stab at being faithful to the original.

One part gothic horror, one part post-apocalyptic survival story, and one part psychological drama, with a dash of social commentary, it’s a most dark and depressing but thoroughly enthralling picture. The forebear to Night of the Living Dead and the wave of zombie apocalypse movies that followed, it takes the concept in different and subversive directions, ones that those descendants wouldn’t explore for decades to come. If you want a horror story that’s different from most anything else, you owe it to yourself to give this one a viewing.

We don’t want this feature to be entirely about the gloom of survival in a world overrun by a bizarre new disease, though, do we? So let’s start things off on a lighter note, with the classic Merrie Melodies short “Bars and Stripes Forever”.

You won’t find any of the big name Looney Tunes stars like Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig here, just a bunch of unnamed anthropomorphic dogs. You won’t find Chuck Jones or Tex Avery or anyone famous like that in the credits, either; directing is credited to Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton, with a story by Jack Miller and animation by Rod Scribner. And this isn’t one I remember turning up much, if at all, back when Cartoon Network and the WB would air Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts.

But you deserve to see this cartoon, because it is a frickin’ delight! With only a faint nod towards what we’d call “plot”, it hits you with a frenetic, non-stop barrage of hilarious gags, building up to a wild, free-for-all climax like only the folks at Termite Terrace could do. It’s a true classic of the Golden Age of Animation, and I urge you not to let it fall into obscurity!

So whether you’re in the mood for the desperate story of one man’s survival in a world of the undead, or a madcap romp full of cartoon dogs, why don’t you pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, and see what the public domain has to offer!

Opening Cartoon:

Feature Presentation: