By David Weiner
In 1976, as America was gearing up for colorful red, white, and blue Bicentennial celebrations, Sci-Fi at the movies had veered into a decidedly dark pattern of dystopian and post-apocalyptic themes. Unlike the optimistic vision of the future portrayed in STAR TREK on television, films such as PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN, and SOYLENT GREEN — all starring Charlton Heston, interestingly — played on our fears that civilization was headed toward Armageddon. LOGAN’S RUN, on the other hand, had it both ways, blending enticing visions of the far future with a healthy dose of future shock. And like any great Sci-Fi tale, it put up a mirror to contemporary society.
“It’s identifiable,” says title star Michael York. “It pre-figured many things, like the malling of America, these great, giant indoor spaces that were soon anywhere, and plastic surgery on demand. There was a certain prophetic truth to what it was positing about the future.”
Based on the book by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (who also penned episodes of STAR TREK and THE TWILIGHT ZONE), the premise was simple: A hedonistic, utopian society run by computer in which people relax, entertain themselves, enjoy drugs and engage in open sexuality. The catch? Population control. When the residents turn 30, or near “Last Day,” they must “renew” at the ritual of Carousel. Those that choose to run face execution by the feared Sandmen. The plot of LOGAN’S RUN follows what happens when York’s title character Logan 5, a Sandman, is tasked by the computer to infiltrate a resistance and find Sanctuary — a mythical place where runners can escape to — to destroy it. By doing so, he must become a runner himself.
The film, directed by Michael Anderson (whose credits included 1984 and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS), is notable for its otherworldly production design, iconic Sandman costumes and weapons, incredibly detailed miniature work creating the illusion of a sprawling, multi-domed-society, and a synthesizer-heavy score by Jerry Goldsmith that contributes to the futuristic feel.
Ironically, York was already over 30 when he was cast to play Logan 5. “I know, I was a fraud,” says the Brit actor with a laugh. “Nobody brought it up. I’ve always looked young for my age, so I think I scraped by.” He adds, “Someone told me that unless I signed on, they weren’t going to do LOGAN’S RUN. I don’t think that’s true for a moment, but that’s what I was told. So, in a way, I’m glad I did it. Because if that was true, this film that has delighted people for generations would not be here.”
By all accounts it was a pleasant set to work on. Jenny Agutter and York became good friends, and she credits the social atmosphere for preventing the film from feeling like hard work. “The one bugbear about working on a big film, and particularly when you’re with a studio, is the amount of time it takes to set things up,” she says. “It can take a long time to get the lighting right, the scenes right, the crowd scenes right, the whole thing. So you can completely lose track of what you’re doing.” The shoot lasted approximately four months and was quite a process. She notes, “When we weren’t in MGM on the huge sets, we were in Dallas in a huge modern mall there. It was quite a long shoot.”
Back in the ‘70s, giant indoor shopping malls were a new concept in America. Shooting in the Dallas Market Center — the largest shopping mall in the country at the time — provided just the right look and feel for the futuristic and cavernous setting required for LOGAN’S RUN. And having a large amount of young, attractive, nubile extras hanging around the set was a bonus. “We were working with all these young Texans, all floating around in their diaphanous clothing,” says York, adding with a chuckle, “They all looked so good and sexy. I think there was a no bra policy. Of course, that emphasized the whole sensual, sexual nature of having it all.”
Part of having it all in the film is emphasized in the scene in which Logan first meets Agutter’s character, Jessica 6, who arrives through “the circuit” — a literal teleport equivalent to an Internet sex cam site. For that first scene set at Logan’s apartment, York recalls the wardrobe, or lack thereof, that Agutter wears in the scene: a racy, side-slit gown that was very revealing. “Jenny in her un-dress, it made it a sexy scene,” he muses. “I don’t know whether she was dying a million deaths or not. You’ve got to ask her. It looked great.”
“It’s sort of indicated that I was naked,” says Agutter. “I had a little green dress, I remember, that split right up the side and everything. I remember that looked quite naked, I guess. … In the ’70s, nobody was particularly concerned. I think that the nature of the film was in showing a society that also was meant to be fairly open-minded and not a restricted society. They’re people that find their sexuality easily. It’s meant to be a very free, open world. If we’d all been dressed up like Victorians, it wouldn’t have worked.”
Despite memories of hot Texas temperatures, an itchy nylon Sandman uniform, and Sandman guns that were constantly misfiring, York singles out the collaborative working relationship Anderson had with everyone. “Michael’s a wonderful, civilized director; doesn’t play games, and gets the best,” says the actor. “He loved his job, and he communicated that.” Agutter agrees, “He was wonderfully energetic, and had the enthusiasm of a child. I remember him saying how delighted he was to be doing something like LOGAN’S RUN. He said, ‘I get to play with all the toys I’ve ever wanted to play with.” … I think that kind of enthusiasm for it really does rub off.”
One of those “toys” was a brand-new technological development that was used for the futuristic saga. York explains, “The hologram had just been invented. We went up to San Francisco to this funny little studio workshop, and there it was. And even as it revolves [in the movie] it looks a bit bent. You can see the joins, but there it is. I was intrigued, delighted that it had been discovered in the nick of time so that we could incorporate it.”
The ‘70s marked a seismic shift in the way the big Hollywood studios made movies, managed their budgets, and hired their movie crews. Contract agreements were phasing out, and studio heads started taking cues from the maverick filmmakers making waves outside the studio system. Indie production sensibilities were starting to take hold, and LOGAN’S RUN represented one of the last examples of a dying breed of Hollywood glamour. MGM still used their own in-house “studio people”: the makeup department, costume designers, props masters, grips and gaffers, etc. and Agutter says she really enjoyed mining the crew for tales of Hollywood’s yesteryear. “What I loved about [making this film] was being at the end of this era of MGM, the end of a real old-fashioned Hollywood era — a world where the glamour was most important. It was a very different world,” she says. “That was very different from anything I’d done. It is also very different from anything that is done now.”
In fact, a scene in which a major water stunt was required was shot in the massive tanks where Esther Williams filmed many of her famous aqua-musicals. The stunt required Agutter and York to be swept away when they open a door to the outside world: “I remember saying to the stunt person, ‘What does one expect as the water goes through?’ And they just said, ‘No idea.’” chuckles Agutter. “That was the only time I sort of thought, ‘Well, that could be a bit risky!’ Because you could end up on your head and kind of rolled over. … But, on the whole, I think they were very careful about watching what one does.”
As the token “old person” in the film, Peter Ustinov was a pleasure to be around on the shoot, offering up engaging on-set tales. Agutter remembers him as “very, very funny and enchanting,” while York says, “He’s such a joy and such a personality. Enjoying himself. Respected. Loved. Wonderful stories.” The elderly character quotes a passage from OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS to his large collection of felines running around the Library of Congress toward the end of the film, and York chuckles, ”T.S. Elliot and his book of cats; I’m sure that gave Andrew Lloyd Webber a few ideas.”
Then, of course, there was Farrah. When LOGAN’S RUN was released, the blonde goddess and ‘70s icon was well on her way to stardom thanks to appearances on TV’s THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN with hubby Lee Majors and other bit parts. But CHARLIE’S ANGELS and her bestselling red bathing suit poster (the suit is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection), which would vault her to the stratosphere of fame, were still a few months away. York shares how he “discovered” her and got her cast in the film: “[The producers] were looking for the Holly character, and I went to a friend of mine’s house. They had a tennis court, and there, on the tennis court was this vision of loveliness, Farrah Fawcett Majors, with this hair. I found out she was an actress, so I went back the next day and told casting that I had seen this wonderful girl and that they should contact her.” He quips, “So, I am responsible entirely for Farrah Fawcett’s amazing career.”
LOGAN’S RUN earned a solid $25 million at the box-office, almost three times its production budget, and won a special achievement Oscar for its visual effects alongside nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
“Looking back 40 years, you can evaluate things,” says York. “I think LOGAN’S RUN holds up pretty well. I don’t regret anything, and just feel very pleased that after 40 years it’s still entertaining audiences. With any picture, I don’t think we really ever can tell the outcome, because it’s a question of whether the ingredients come to the rise or not, and there’s no predicting this. As we know, big studio pictures go flop. I think that’s what makes it so interesting — nobody quite knows. The guys in the suits in the glass towers might as well be tossing coins.”
“It has a slightly old-fashioned feeling about it,” assesses Agutter. “It has this episodic storytelling to it, and sense of discovery. … But part of me wonders whether the writing for a woman today might be different than it was then. Jessica would probably be made to be much more a strong young woman coming out of that world.”
A sequel and even spin-off film ideas were tossed around after the box-office success of LOGAN’S RUN. A year after the movie was released, a primetime TV version debuted on CBS — one that both York and Agutter respectfully declined to appear in — starring the dark-haired Gregory Harrison as Logan 5 and Heather Menzies as Jessica 6 (with Donald Moffat as the memorable android companion Rem), but it ran only 14 episodes before being cancelled.
A sequel never materialized, and over the decades a LOGAN’S RUN remake has often been in the works. DRIVE director Nicolas Winding Refn was close to getting the film made with Ryan Gosling several years ago, and then X-MEN: APOCALYPSE co-scribe Simon Kinberg took a stab at the project, envisioning it as a sort of HUNGER GAMES-type franchise. Agutter suggests, “They would be wise to go back to the book and make it that much younger, because I think it just adds a different kind of an edge to it. Make it very gritty. Do it with 21-year-olds. Just really make it this weird world run by kids.”
Of course, York and Agutter are each the perfect age to make cameo appearances. York beams, “Now I can play the old man role that Peter Ustinov did!” Agutter adds with a laugh, “That would be fun. They could change [that role] to a woman that’s living outside. The cat lady! The cleaner in Washington, tidying up after the cats.”
(A shorter version of this article first appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland issue #286)
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