AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Soylent Green
Alternate Title: Make Room! Make Room!
Director: Richard Fleischer (Dir)
Release Date:   Apr 1973
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 18 Apr 1973; New York opening: 19 Apr 1973
Production Date:   5 Sep--early Nov 1972
Duration (in mins):   97-98
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Cast:   Charlton Heston (Thorn)  
    Leigh Taylor-Young (Shirl)  
    Chuck Connors (Tab [Fielding])  
    Joseph Cotten ([William R.] Simonson)  
    Brock Peters (Hatcher)  
    Paula Kelly (Martha [Philips])  
  and Edward G. Robinson (Sol Roth)  
    Stephen Young (Gilbert)  
    Mike Henry (Kulozik)  
    Lincoln Kilpatrick (The priest [Father Paul])  
    Roy Jenson (Donovan)  
    Leonard Stone (Charles)  
    Whit Bissell (Santini)  
    Celia Lovsky (The Exchange leader)  
  Additional characters: Dick Van Patten (Usher #1)  
    Morgan Farley (Book #1)  
    John Barclay (Book #2)  
    Belle Mitchell (Book #3)  
    Cyril Delevanti (Book #4)  
    Forrest Wood (Attendant)  
    Faith Quabius (Attendant)  
    Jane Dulo (Mrs. Santini)  
    Tim Herbert (Brady)  
    John Dennis (Wagner)  
    Jan Bradley (Bandana woman)  
    Carlos Romero (New tenant)  
    Pat Houtchens (Fat guard)  
  And the Furniture Girls: Joyce Williams    
    Erica Hagen    
    Beverly Gill    
    Suesie Eejima    
    Cheri Howell    
    Kathy Silva    
    Jennifer King    
    Marion Charles    

Summary: In 2022 New York City, food and housing are extremely scarce because the population has risen to over forty million people. Because of the environmental effects of excessive pollution, most plants and animals have died out, leaving people to consume a manufactured plankton-based product known as Soylent with varieties in red and yellow, and a new high-protein version in green. Police detective Thorn shares a tiny apartment with aged Sol Roth, a former university professor and now police “book” who conducts research to aid Thorn’s investigations. One morning over breakfast, while Thorn urges Sol to expedite information to close his latest two cases, Sol embarks on a familiar rant that when he was a boy, food was sold in stores and people could eat fresh vegetables and real meat. Later, Thorn crawls over several sleeping people on the stairway on his way to a crowded street filled with abandoned, rotting cars and crowds of pedestrians. A mysterious government representative meets with assassin Gilbert in one of the empty cars, providing him with a metal meat hook. At the luxurious Chelsea Towers West apartments, retired attorney and board member of the Soylent Company William R. Simonson presents his companion Shirl with a computer game. Shirl and bodyguard Tab Fielding then depart for supplies and visit an underground black market where Shirl acquires a solitary piece of meat. Meanwhile, Gilbert slips undetected into Chelsea Towers and confronts Simonson. Relating a message of apology and explanation from his employers telling Simonson that he has become unreliable and dangerous, Gilbert then kills the unresisting older man with the meat hook. Later that evening, Thorn assumes investigation of the murder and learns from building manager Charles that the security monitors had recently broken down for the first time in years. Thorn then questions Shirl, who is known as “furniture,” a woman who is contracted with the accommodations. Shirl reveals Simonson was a kindly man, lately depressed, involved in politics and associated with the current governor, Santini. Thorn returns home to present the stunned Sol with sheets of real paper, pencils, an onion, an apple, whiskey and beef, all pilfered from Simonson. Thorn then gives Sol two volumes of the Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report from 2006 and 2015 and urges him to learn all he can about the murdered man. That afternoon, Thorn reports to police headquarters and chief detective Hatcher. Reluctantly admitting he cannot close out one of his pending cases, Thorn nevertheless strongly disagrees when Hatcher suggests providing him with a new “book,” citing Sol’s age. Turning to his new case, Thorn states his suspicion that Simonson was assassinated, citing the unusual surveillance system failure, lack of anything stolen and the intentionally crude murder weapon, a support for his theory, then suggests Fielding’s involvement. Following Fielding later, Thorn goes into a guarded apartment building, but upon reaching Fielding’s room, finds only Fielding’s companion, Martha Philips. After admiring the spacious apartment, Thorn leaves, surreptitiously taking a spoon covered with a red substance. At home, Thorn discovers Sol has utilized the stolen food to make a remarkable meal. Over dinner, Sol reveals that Simonson’s biography noted that he worked for a large legal firm related to the Santini family. Later, Simonson became director of a food freeze-drying company that was eventually bought by Soylent, in which Simonson became a high-standing board member. Afterward, Thorn gives Sol the spoon taken from Martha and Fielding’s apartment and the old man identifies the substance as strawberry jam, which sell for $150 a jar. Returning to Chelsea Towers, Thorn is surprised to find Shirl entertaining several women from the building. Taking Shirl to the bedroom, Thorn reveals that Simonson was murdered and Shirl discloses that Simonson had recently taken her to a church where he prayed with a priest. Later, after the others have departed and Thorn and Shirl have sex, Shirl urges him to remain and take advantage of the hot shower and fresh soap. That night Thorn visits the church and questions the exhausted Father Paul, who will only admit that the truth weighs upon him. The next morning, Thorn returns to headquarters where Hatcher orders him to sign off on the Simonson case, admitting that he has been pressured to do so by the government. Angrily refusing, Thorn departs only to recall he has been assigned to riot duty for the weekly distribution of Soylent Green. Meanwhile, when Santini learns of Thorn’s meeting with the priest, he authorizes any action necessary and that afternoon, Fielding murders Father Paul in his confessional. By late afternoon the Soylent Green supply has been exhausted, infuriating thousands who have waited all day in vain for their portion. While Thorn joins the other police in restraining the crowds, Gilbert pushes his way toward him. As large trucks called scoopers arrive to literally shovel people up, Gilbert fires at Thorn several times, inadvertently killing bystanders. Thorn struggles through the crowd to catch Gilbert who manages to wound the detective in the leg, before accidentally falling under a crushing scoop. Thorn then goes to Fielding’s apartment and, as Martha watches with horror, beats him up, revealing he knows that Fielding must be working for Soylent if he can afford the price of strawberries. Later, Thorn goes to Chelsea Towers where Shirl bandages his leg and laments the arrival of a new tenant. Meanwhile Sol takes the two survey volumes to the Supreme Exchange, a storehouse of the last remaining books and newspapers from the past. Upon learning that the books reveal why Simonson was eliminated, the Exchange Leader tells Sol they must have proof before they can present the information up to the international record keepers, known as the Congress of Nations. Despondent but resigned, Sol goes to a clinic where he will be euthanized while provided peaceful, personally tailored last moments of music and visuals. Arriving home and reading a farewell note from Sol, Thorn rushes to the clinic where he demands to see his old friend. Restricted to standing outside Sol’s private room, Thorn is astonished to see huge screen images of wildlife, plants, birds, fish and nature displayed for Sol’s final moments. Touched by Thorn’s presence, Sol tells him that the images show how the world was once, then relates his knowledge about Simonson and, as he dies, begs Thorn to take proof to the Exchange. Stunned, Thorn secretly follows Sol’s body as it is transported to a waste disposal utility where, along with thousands of other bodies, it is converted into Soylent Green. After fighting off two facility guards, Thorn returns downtown, but finds suspicious men lurking around the Exchange entrance. Thorn tries to phone Hatcher, but when he cannot get through, calls Shirl to tell her to forget him and stay with the new tenant. Thorn is then connected with Hatcher and manages to ask for help before being chased away by several men led by Fielding. Thorn seeks refuge in the church, but Fielding follows him inside, where he severely wounds the detective before Thorn stabs him to death. Hatcher and the police arrive in time to arrest the others. As he is carried away, an overwrought Thorn howls in despair that that Soylent Green is made from people. 

Production Company: Walter Seltzer Productions, Inc.  
Production Text: A Russell Thacher-Walter Seltzer Production
Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.  
Director: Richard Fleischer (Dir)
  Daniel S. McCauley (Asst dir)
  Gene Marum (2d asst dir)
Producer: Walter Seltzer (Prod)
  Russell Thacher (Prod)
Writer: Stanley R. Greenberg (Scr)
Photography: Richard H. Kline (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Edward C. Carfagno (Art dir)
Film Editor: Samuel E. Beetley (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Robert Benton (Set dec)
  Terry Ballard (Prop master)
Costumes: Pat Barto (Cost des)
  Betsy Cox (Cost)
  Norman Burza (Cost)
Music: Fred Myrow (Orig mus)
  Gerald Fried (Symphony mus cond)
Sound: Charles M. Wilborn (Sd)
  Harry W. Tetrick (Sd)
Special Effects: Robert R. Hoag (Spec photog eff)
  Matthew Yuricich (Spec photog eff)
  A. J. Lohman (Spec visual eff)
  Braverman Productions, Inc. (Spec photog seq)
  Magnum (Prologue photos by)
Make Up: Bud Westmore (Makeup)
  Sherry Wilson (Hair styles)
Production Misc: Professor Frank R. Bowerman (Tech consultant)
  Lloyd Anderson (Unit prod mgr)
  Jack Baur (Casting)
  Charlsie Bryant (Scr supv)
  Glenn Shahan (Unit pub)
Stand In: Joe Canutt (Action seq coord)
  Denny Arnold (Stunts)
  May Boss (Stunts)
  Larry Duran (Stunts)
  Gary Epper (Stunts)
  Jeannie Epper (Stunts)
  Stephanie Epper (Stunts)
  Tony Epper (Stunts)
  Fritz Ford (Stunts)
  Ralph Garrett (Stunts)
  Bob Herron (Stunts)
  Kim Kahana (Stunts)
  Frank Orsatti (Stunts)
  Eddie Paul (Stunts)
  Dick Warlock (Stunts)
  Jack Williams (Stunts)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: The first movement, Allegro ma non Troppo, from Symphony no. 6 in F Major, op. 68 ( Pastoral ) by Ludwig van Beethoven; Symphony no. 6 ( Pathétique ) by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky; "Morning" and "Asa's Death" from Peer Gynt Suite no. 1, op. 46 by Edvard Grieg.
Songs:
Composer: Edvard Grieg
  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
  Ludwig Van Beethoven
Source Text: Based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (Garden City, NY, 1966).
Authors: Harry Harrison

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. 11/4/1973 dd/mm/yyyy LP42096

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Metrocolor
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision

 
Genre: Science fiction
Sub-Genre: Environmental
 
Subjects (Major): Conspiracy
  Food
  Investigations
  Pollution
 
Subjects (Minor): Aged persons
  Assassination
  Baths and showers
  Businessmen
  Cannibalism
  Clinics
  Corruption
  Death and dying
  Deception
  Detectives
  Factories
  Friendship
  Games
  Hired killers
  Murder
  Pollution
  Research
  Riots
  Suicide--Assisted
  Wounds and injuries

Note: The working title for the film was Make Room! Make Room! , which was the title of the novel on which it was based. The onscreen credit for Technical Consultant Professor Frank R. Bowman read: "Director of Environmental Engineering Programs University of Southern California; President American Academy of Environmental Engineers." The film opens with a montage of images from the 19th century of simple family life and the development of technical innovations that, as decades pass and the population increases, gives way to vast, global industrialization that destroys the environment by the film’s time period in 2022. Throughout the film, scenes shown outdoors are presented in a markedly yellow-brown haze to emphasize the caustic effects of pollution.
       A Dec 1970 HR news item reported that producer Walter Seltzer hoped to cast Melvyn Douglas for an unstated role in the film. According to a Sep 1972 HR news item, Soylent Green was shot entirely at M-G-M and modern sources indicate that it was the last film to be shot on the studio's famed back lot. Soylent Green marked the final screen appearance of longtime actor Edward G. Robinson (1893--1973). Many reviews commented negatively on the fact that the film featured a prolonged death scene for Robinson's character, "Sol Roth," while the actor himself was dying of cancer.
       The film differed in some major ways from the novel. In the book, first published in 1966, the setting is 1999, rather than 2022, but, as depicted in the film, there is rampant over-population, pollution and food is scarce. Rather than a murder investigation of a noted industrialist, as in the film, the novel’s lead character, “Andrew Rusch” (“Thorn” in the film), is pursuing a killer with black market and political connections. The romance between Rusch and “Shirl,” as in the film, is central to the plot. The assisted death of “Sol Roth” in a clinic is absent from the novel. The major difference between the novel and the film is that in the former, while the food supply is a constant dilemma, there is no insidious company turning corpses into food, as depicted in the film.
       Modern sources add Robert Ito, Ida Mae McKenzie and Richard Sterne to the cast. The film's final line, delivered by "Thorn" (Charlton Heston), crying out "Soylent Green is people!" has become iconic, and in 2005, was voted #77 of "AFI’s 100 Years...100 Quotes" list of the most famous movie lines.  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   30 Apr 1973   p. 4585.
Daily Variety   12 Jan 1973.   
Daily Variety   7 Feb 1973.   
Filmfacts   1973   pp. 39-42.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Dec 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   5 Sep 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   22 Sep 1972   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Nov 1972   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Apr 1973   p. 3, 9.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   19 Apr 1973.   
Los Angeles Times   18 Apr 1973   View, p. 1, 28.
Motion Picture Herald   14 Apr 1973.   
New York Times   20 Apr 1973   p. 21.
New Yorker   28 Apr 1973.   
Newsweek   7 May 1973.   
Time   7 May 1973.   
Variety   17 Mar 1971.   
Variety   18 Apr 1973   p. 22.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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