Logan’s Run 1.4 – The Innocent

Logan and Jessica’s sheltered upbringing in the City of Domes helps to complicate this story by D.C. Fontana and Ray Brenner. On the one hand, if only they’d seen that episode of Twilight Zone where Billy Mumy keeps sending people into the cornfield, they’d have figured out that they needed to treat nineteen year-old Lisa, who lives alone in a bunker with a couple of robots, with kid gloves.

But there’s also the reality that the movie only glanced at and the TV show certainly never addressed: in Logan’s world, nineteen year-olds certainly seem to be very sexually active. Their world isn’t one where people seem to fall in love or forge committed relationships or acknowledge jealousy. But because Gregory Harrison has to play the part of a morally upright character, a hero in a TV series for kids in 1977, the subject of sex never comes up, but rather the importance of taking time to get to know people before you decide that you “like” them.

Because Logan’s a hero, he also asks Lisa to release the pursuing Sandmen from her version of the cornfield a day after they leave. To be blunt, that’s awful stupid of you, Moral Boy.

Lisa is played by Lisa Eilbacher, who we saw almost a year ago in that episode of Shazam! with the dune buggy. It’s kind of a thankless part, a psychokinetic girl who hasn’t had a conversation with another human in fifteen years and is hurting from puppy love, but it’s pitched perfectly toward kids. Ours really enjoyed this, even if, again, the grown-ups have seen this all before. I wouldn’t mind a surprise next time.

Logan’s Run 1.3 – Capture

Many shows in the seventies would have, instead of a pre-titles scene, a little teaser reel of bits from the episode you’re about to watch. Columbo did this, and so did The Rockford Files, often to good effect.

Unfortunately, somebody made the dumb decision to do that with this series and give away the big plot reveal, that Jessica has not actually been kidnapped by slave-trading mutants who live by a nearby swamp, but by a sadistic and downright demented couple who play “the most dangerous game.” They’re played by Horst Buchholz, who we saw in The Amazing Captain Nemo just four days ago, and Mary Woronov, who Goff and Roberts had cast in the legendary “Angels in Chains” episode of Charlie’s Angels the year before.

I was actively bothered by the spoiler. I don’t know why it aggravated me so much, but the episode didn’t have anything to keep my attention – “man is the most dangerous animal of all!” has never been a plot trope I enjoy – so my mind wandered and I imagined a different clip reel that suggested it was about Logan and Francis teaming up in a desperate bid to save Jessica, so that when the villains revealed their plans, it would have been a nasty surprise.

Logan’s Run 1.2 – The Collectors

You sort of get the idea that television in the seventies, back when they were making shows that could be run in whatever random order any goon at a TV station could show it, simply didn’t try very hard to find any internal consistency from episode to episode. This is only the second installment shown, but just like you could tune into any random episode of The Fugitive and understand the premise and watch David Janssen look like he’d been on the run forever, all the characters act like they’ve been looking for Sanctuary for many months and had all sorts of adventures we didn’t see.

Logan and Jessica also act far more intelligently and with more awareness than anybody who’s lived their lives in the sheltered upbringing that they’d had. They get caught by humanoid-looking aliens who are collecting specimens two-by-two throughout the galaxy, which I’d have thought would be the sort of premise that our heroes would have considerable trouble understanding. I guess Rem gave them a crash course in juvenile sci-fi sometime in those many months of stories we never saw, because Logan’s plan to make the baddies’ home planet believe this ship couldn’t escape Earth’s gravity is a pretty tall order for somebody who only learned the air outside his city wasn’t poisonous just a week previously.

Anyway, this is pretty silly and didn’t engage me very much, except for Rem, who is by far the most interesting, curious, and resourceful of the trio. The story is by James Schmerer, who had produced the final two seasons of the western drama The High Chapparal for NBC, but may have become acquainted with D.C. Fontana by contributing a script to the Star Trek cartoon in 1973. Among the guest stars playing the disguised-as-Earthings aliens, there’s Leslie Parrish in one of her final acting roles (she retired in 1978), and Angela Cartwright, who had played Penny in Lost in Space.

Logan’s Run 1.1 (pilot)

About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to watch the film of Logan’s Run with our son, and when I went to order it, I saw that I could get the 14-episode TV series, which CBS ran in the fall of 1977, for just nine bucks more. I’d never seen the show, and always unfairly assumed the worst of it, but I feel like challenging assumptions in my middle age.

So it looks like William F. Nolan, Saul David, and Leonard Katzman were the original producers, and they gave CBS the original pilot in 1977. CBS needed some changes and wanted an android character, David was dismissed, and Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, who had developed Charlie’s Angels with Aaron Spelling for ABC the year before, were brought on. I’m not sure who hired D.C. Fontana as story editor, but that was a good idea.

The three heroes in the cast were played by younger actors with several guest credits. This was the first regular starring role for each of them: Gregory Harrison, Heather Menzies, and Donald Moffat. Interestingly, two of Moffat’s prior guest credits were on episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man that we’ll be watching later this summer. Our heroes are exploring the land outside the domed city, but they’re also running before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant sandman obsessed with their capture. This is Francis 7, played by Randy Powell.

So here’s one big assumption overturned: I’d always figured this TV pilot was a retelling of the feature film. Hardly! It reuses some establishing shots and special effects, but it zips along at a totally different pace. Logan and Jessica are out of the city within ten minutes. The show actually addresses a problem that I had with the movie: why Francis cares to pursue them. In the show, Francis is summoned by the computer to a strange building where he meets the real rulers of the city: a council of old men. They fess up that Carousel is a scam and there is no renewal, that they have to keep deaths and births in perfect synchronicity to not deplete their resources. They want Logan and Jessica back to be brainwashed and reprogrammed to disavow any claims about an outside world and stop people talking. In return, they’ll let Francis skip Carousel and quietly grow old in their private building.

This explanation really, really opens an entirely different can of worms and questions, but let’s not spend all night complaining about a forty year-old half-season flop.

Anyway, the first hour of the pilot is mainly Logan and Jessica finding a Dean Jeffries hovercar and driving it around a ranch in southern California, getting involved in a years-long squabble between some peace-loving farmers who live in a huge fallout shelter and some slavers on horseback with laser guns who stole their land. It seems to end there, but there’s an additional half-hour mini-episode grafted onto the back of it, and this tells the story of how Logan and Jessica meet the brilliant android Rem in a city of simple-minded humanoid robots.

Our son enjoyed this a lot more than I was expecting. I knew that the film, cerebral and strange as it is, would challenge him, but this is simple kids’ entertainment with identifiable baddies and some pretty good action scenes. The leads are likable and he enjoyed the adventure. It’s bloodless and a little tame, but it’s also breezy and I’m not going to be too surprised if some of these episodes don’t cover the same ground as Ark II did the previous season. I swear Filmation drove the Ark II through the same ranch that Logan and Jessica visit at least once.

Not that I’m expecting any huge surprises, but I’m going into this show completely blind. I wonder whether we’ll run into any guest actors or writers that I will recognize…

Logan’s Run (1976)

A case might be made that our son, who has only turned six recently, might be too young to appreciate or understand Logan’s Run, and maybe I should have held off on showing him this. However, we’ll be watching Star Wars in a couple of weeks, and I wanted him to have a little idea of what American science fiction films were like before George Lucas showed up and kiddified everything.

He’s far too young to grasp the cerebral likes of 2001, Westworld, or The Andromeda Strain, and while Planet of the Apes is on the agenda for later this year, I still worry that film’s going to scare him quite a bit. (Which is why I postponed it until 2020 instead!) So I decided that Logan’s Run, despite the worrying premise of early death and fleeting glimpses of nudity, would serve as our example. It also led to a much more kid-friendly TV series the following year, and so I decided we’d watch that as well, so look out for that next month.

So the techno-future of Logan’s Run is all lights and computers and travel capsules and escalators in shopping malls under a big dome. It’s a PG film of the seventies, so much of the discussion of pleasure is left understated, but this is a world where the people play with abandon and sleep together without repercussions. They’re under the thumbs of the Sandmen, who wear black and there are quite a few more of them than you’d expect standing around in the background. The Sandmen take their orders from a sultry-voiced evil supercomputer. People are promised the possibility of renewal – reincarnation, basically – after their lastday, and a garish and totally over-the-top death ceremony called Carrousel. People don’t question the system, and people don’t ask what’s outside the domed city.

The film stars Michael York as Logan 5, a Sandman who has been given a deep undercover assignment to find the secret exit to Sanctuary which Runners – people who make a bid for freedom before their lastday – have been using. He realizes that Jessica, a girl that he recently met while looking for some free evening company who is played by Jenny Agutter, wears an ankh symbol affiliated with the Sanctuary movement.

This level of detail went a little over our kid’s head. We did have to pause early on, because the first half-hour is a little talkier than our six year-old wanted to handle, and so we had to tell him to quit kicking his legs around and pay attention, and if he had questions, actually ask us instead of ignoring the movie until some shooting started. He improved, but in fairness, the action quotient did, too.

Logan is so deep undercover that the other Sandmen don’t know about his mission. He’s forced to become a Runner himself and make his way through the strangely complicated way out of the city that the underground resistance movement guards. Unfortunately, the network of Runners have made their own jobs so difficult that none of them know that they’ve been sending Runners to their deaths at the hands of a demented robot who has killed hundreds and hundreds of people. Until Logan shows up, nobody has been armed and able to defend themselves from it.

The robot, Box, is played by Roscoe Lee Browne, and I don’t mind telling you that when I first saw this movie on HBO around 1979 or so, Box really gave me the creeps. He’s not around for long – educated guessers have figured that the Box scene, and an earlier one in their run in which Logan and Jessica get separated in a steam room orgy, were both ruthlessly edited down to remove as much nudity as possible so the movie would get a PG rating – but Box is one of those creations that every kid of the seventies remembers. Until Star Wars made them safe, robots were often very menacing.

The movie is flawed in places and certainly dated, but there’s really a lot to like. I enjoyed how the music is all disco synthesizers and Jean-Michel Jarre electronics inside the city, but is played by a traditional orchestra once our heroes get outside. I like how the lasers used in the New You clinic are surgical things that cut you with solid beams of light, and not zap guns. I enjoyed Farrah Fawcett and Peter Ustinov, and I especially liked that the writers didn’t make Ustinov’s character, the old man that they meet outside the dome, the wise fellow who can explain everything. The old man is just as baffled by the world as Logan and Jessica, but he understands a tiny bit about how families can work in a society where kids aren’t born in tanks and raised by computers. And Richard Jordan, who plays the Sandman who believes Logan has betrayed the system, is an entertaining villain, but heaven knows how a guy who’s never seen the outside world before is able to track our heroes on an overnight excursion.

Actually, the real flaw in the film is its need to make Logan the savior of the story and individual cause of the city’s explosive downfall instead of the protagonist who got out and began getting the outside world ready for people leaving the dome. Things should have been set into motion by having Jordan’s character call for as much backup as possible once he found all of the bodies that Box had frozen, and then let a large company of Sandmen see the sun for themselves.

The writer seems to have painted himself into a corner by the path they took, which means there’s no real way out except for explosions and destruction literally driving the population outside. This means that the sultry-voiced evil supercomputer has to do that “Does not compute… SELF-DESTRUCT!” thing that evil supercomputers often did around the seventies. No wonder all of our generation’s parents were terrified when we gave them their first hand-me-down PCs. They spent more than a decade waiting for the darn things to blow up in movies.

I’m grousing a lot over a generally entertaining movie that has our son curious to see its retelling as a weekly show, but the ending is massively silly, and I love the way all the people fleeing the dome just show up at the top of some stairs. None of this army of extras has any urgency, none of them move like “our entire world is blowing up,” they just show up and say “check out Peter Ustinov and his old man hair.” It’s a good setup, an interesting dystopian utopia, full of good actors, and one deeply goofy ending. Maybe the show will do it better?