Cocky New York Jets quarterback “Broadway” Joe Namath was virtually assured a screen career thanks to his photogenic looks and widespread popularity. Like many other athletes-turned-actors, however, Namath wasn’t able to complement his charm with dramatic skill. He got by on bravado when he played a trash-talking biker in the colorful action flick C.C. and Company (1970), but wasn’t able to pull off the same trick in the misguided Western The Last Rebel. Lazily utilizing his offscreen persona to play a runaway Confederate soldier, he seems not only anachronistic but also way too upbeat given his character’s grim circumstances. (One gets the sense that being the real Joe Namath around this time was a nonstop party, which might explain his disinterest in acting like anyone other than Joe Namath.) It doesn’t help that the film’s story is thin and trite, or that the characterizations don’t make much sense.
Confederate soldiers Matt (Jack Elam) and Hollis (Namath) escape from Union pursuers and free a black man, Duncan (Woody Strode), from a lynching. The three then form a criminal gang. Huh? Aren’t they all trying to avoid attention because they’re fugitives? The exploits of these roving dudes mostly comprise getting card sharp Hollis to a gaming table, whereupon Hollis wins a small fortune and refuses to divide the winnings to Matt’s satisfaction. This triggers a blood feud between the two men. Again, huh? As to why any of these things happen, your guess is as good as mine.
The Last Rebel proceeds in a linear fashion, so it’s not a complete logistical quagmire, but so many events go unexplained that the movie starts to take on a surreal quality, with unmotivated actions piling atop one another. At its weirdest, the picture includes a seduction scene that rips off the famous dinner sequence in Tom Jones (1963), but in lieu of that film’s flirtatious editing, The Last Rebel simply intercuts shots of a smirking Namath with close-ups of two women molesting their food lasciviously. Compounding the peculiarity of the whole enterprise is the fact that it was shot in Italy (with no attempt to make the locations look American), and the fact that the horn-driven rock score was cut by members of the venerable band Deep Purple. Period authenticity was not a priority.
The Last Rebel: LAME