Edward G. Robinson made 101 feature films during his career such as Double Indemnity, Little Caesar, Key Largo, and The Woman in the Window. His last one was as Sol Roth in 1973’s dystopian science fiction thriller Soylent Green.
The film takes place in the 2022 world of New York City. The place is an overpopulated mess of 40 million people where pollution, starvation, and suffering runs rampant. After an attorney named William R. Simonson turns up dead, Detective Robert Thorn must track down the killer. Robinson’s Sol Roth helps Thorn uncover a sinister conspiracy that leads to the horrible truth about a food product called Soylent Green.
While Robinson was a seasoned actor, his poor health made filming difficult for him. It was reported that during shooting, Robinson was almost totally deaf and could only hear the cast and crew if they spoke directly into his ear. His dialogue with other actors would be filmed several times before he could believably respond to their words. Additionally, Robinson was unable to hear director Richard Fleischer yell cut during filming. He often continued acting until someone stopped him.
Most of Robinson’s screen time was with Charlton Heston who played Detective Thorn. The two men shared a dilapidated apartment in one of the city’s “better” slums. However, he also worked with a small group of actors in the Supreme Exchange—a library / gathering place for fellow “Books” as he was known in the film.
The final scene Robinson ever filmed was at the government’s clinic for mass euthanasia where his character decided to die rather than live with the horrible truth he uncovered. Heston, who had previously worked with Robinson on The Ten Commandments (1956) said in his book, The Actor’s Life: Journal 1956–1976, “He knew while we were shooting, though we did not, that he was terminally ill. He never missed an hour of work, nor was late to a call. He never was less than the consummate professional he had been all his life. I’m still haunted, though, by the knowledge that the very last scene he played in the picture, which he knew was the last day’s acting he would ever do, was his death scene. I know why I was so overwhelmingly moved playing it with him.”
Edward G. Robinson passed away on January 26, 1973 of bladder cancer; days after his completion of filming. He was 79.