The Omega Man. 1971. USA. Directed by Boris Sagal. With Rosalind Cash, Charlton Heston, Eric Laneuville, Paul Koslo, Anthony Zerbe. 35mm. 98 min.
Though she’s introduced nearly 40 minutes into The Omega Man, Rosalind Cash makes an arresting addition to a plague-ridden Los Angeles in which, to that point, scientist Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) had appeared to be the only human survivor. Having immunized himself with an experimental vaccine, Robert contends daily with a nefarious clan of diseased mutants intent on killing him. He appears to be doomed until the intrepid Lisa comes to his rescue toting a gun, clad in a red snakeskin pantsuit, and crowned by a mighty afro. When Robert discovers that Lisa is guardian to a group of uninfected children, he begins to imagine a life beyond the loneliness of this hellish landscape, and they form a complex partnership. One of the first studio productions to boldly feature an interracial romance, it also made Lisa one of sci-fi’s earliest black leading ladies (as a character that didn’t exist in the film’s source material, the 1954 novel I Am Legend). Cash, an outspoken, uncompromising actor who died at the age of 56, was Heston’s first choice for the part, and in his autobiography he recalled her as being “quite stunning.” Her spirited performance makes one wish she had more screen time, but The Omega Man undoubtedly does her justice by amplifying Lisa’s agency and prioritizing her survival, resolutely writing her into the future.