Thursday, June 23, 2011

Running For Your Life

This is a bittersweet time, I am sure, for those who knew and loved Farrah Fawcett.

Earlier this year, her longtime companion, Ryan O'Neal, donated several items from her career — including the swimsuit she wore in her best–selling poster in 1976 — to the Smithsonian.

(It is somewhat amusing, I must admit, to think of that suit — a component of millions of boys' adolescent fantasies — enshrined in the Smithsonian.)

In a few days, it will be the second anniversary of Farrah's death, and, if I could say anything to those she left behind, it would be that the second anniversary of a personal loss is far different from the first.

If those who were close to her stop to think about it, they may realize that June 23 is the 35th anniversary of the premiere of "Logan's Run."

It wasn't Farrah's best film. It wasn't even her first film. But it was the last thing she did before Charlie's Angels made its debut in September 1976 and changed Farrah's life forever.

Farrah's role in "Logan's Run" was a small one. She was, as I say, on the brink of becoming a star in June 1976.

The film's female star was Jenny Agutter, who was about five years younger than Farrah but much more of a show business veteran. By the time she made "Logan's Run," she had been performing in front of the camera half her life.

I remember my mother taking my brother and me to see the movie sometime during the summer of 1976. She was drawn, I think, by the knowledge that much of the movie was filmed here in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. At least, I remember her telling my brother and me about that as we drove to Little Rock to see it.

Dallas is where Mom grew up, and I think she was hoping to see familiar sights, but she had been away from this area for many years when "Logan's Run" was filmed, and the main location didn't exist when she married and moved away — so I'm not really sure what she expected.

Personally, I didn't see anything that I could identify. We visited my grandparents in Dallas frequently when I was a child — and, if the movie had been filmed on the SMU campus or something like that, I probably would have known the landmarks.

But I recognized nothing in "Logan's Run."

I enjoyed the story, though — and Mom seemed to enjoy it, too. In some ways, it has even been prophetic — although the culture shown in the movie has not yet come to pass (at least not here). And that is consistent with the tale because it is supposed to be about the 23rd century.

I know Mom liked the acting. I don't recall hearing her say anything about Agutter — Fawcett's role was rather small, and she wouldn't have been a topic of conversation then, anyway, because almost no one knew who she was — but I remember Mom speaking with obvious pleasure about the performance of Peter Ustinov.

Mom always liked Ustinov, and his was a contradictory character in the movie, to be sure. The premise of the film was that, in this futuristic society, population management was achieved by executing anyone who reached the age of 30 — and Ustinov's character (known simply as "old man") must have been at least twice that.

There was a kind of comic relief when he was on the screen. Ustinov was as serious and talented and as versatile an actor as you will find, but I remember one moment during which Agutter's character wondered if "those cracks" (wrinkles) in Ustinov's face were painful (presumably those were the first wrinkles she had ever seen). She reached out, tentatively, to touch his face, and Ustinov pulled away slightly, giggling a little as he did.

As I say, he provided some comic relief.

I remember that the late film critic Gene Siskel wrote disparagingly of the movie, saying that Ustinov's acting was the "only decent thing" in it. Personally, I thought it was better than that.

Michael York played Logan, a Sandman, the name given to those charged with the task of terminating "runners" — those nonconformists who refused to go quietly.

He was approached by the faceless state with a revelation and an assignment — the revelation was that "renewal," the article of faith that persuaded so many people who were on the verge of turning 30 to passively give up their lives, was a sham, and the assignment was to go outside the domed city, find the "sanctuary" that was the destination of all "runners" and destroy it.

To accomplish this, he had to become a "runner" himself — and that required the state to re–program him so that the lifeclock that was installed in his palm upon his birth would mimic one of a person about to turn 30 (the audience had already seen that the lifeclock of a person approaching his/her 30th birthday would start to blink).

Logan was four years from becoming 30 and, understandably, wanted to know if he would get those years back when the mission was completed. He got his answer in the form of a non–answer from the state.

Not really knowing what to expect, he embarked on his mission with Jessica (Agutter), who was at first reluctant to believe that one of the state's enforcers would run. But she was convinced when Logan helped another runner.

And the two set off on an adventure into the world outside.

I always felt the conclusion was somewhat anticlimactic — but, in hindsight, I guess it was really all that could be done.

And the film did win an Oscar for its visual effects. Those visual effects may look cheesy now — but, remember, this was 35 years ago. Technology has come a long way.

"Logan's Run" will never be the best sci–fi, fantasy, futuristic movie you've ever seen — but it will never be the worst, either.