Sunday, December 13, 2015

Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970)

          If nothing else, Last of the Mobile Hot Shots has an impressive pedigree: Based on Tennessee Williams’ play The Seven Descents of Myrtle, the picture was written by Gore Vidal and directed by Sidney Lumet. (The on-camera talent is not quite as luminous, since James Coburn shares the screen with Robert Hooks and a hopelessly miscast Lynn Redgrave.) Pretentions, seedy, and talky, the film seems more like an over-the-top recitation of tropes from previous Williams plays than a serious drama. The metaphors are obvious (the characters occupy a decaying mansion while awaiting a flood), the sexual material is lurid (incest, impotence, miscegenation, prostitution), and the rhapsodic speeches about the good old days of the antebellum South feel trite. While everyone involved works at a high level of skill, the only moment that feels fresh is the scene spoofing TV game shows, which is somewhat peripheral to the overall storyline. In sum, Last of the Mobile Hotshots is a straight shot of Williams’ boozy and hateful debauchery, with a pinch of Vidal’s signature bitchiness for extra spice.
          After sloppy drunk Jeb Thornton (Coburn) gets ejected from a bar in New Orleans, he staggers to a nearby TV studio, where folks are lined up to get inside. Jeb watches a taping of a redneck game show, and when the host asks for volunteers to marry onstage, total stranger Myrtle Kane (Redgrave) grabs Jeb and drags him before the cameras as her betrothed. Soon enough, the two are newlyweds, trekking back to Jeb’s family estate with the carload of appliances they won on the TV show. Upon arriving at the estate—a wreck of a place covered in filth from the last devastating flood—Myrtle meets Jeb’s half-brother, an African-American laborer nicknamed Chicken (Hooks). Turns out Jeb married Myrtle in order to produce an heir, thereby absconding with Chicken’s inheritance—but Jeb didn’t account for his own dire health issues.
          None of this is remotely believable, no matter how many scenes feature monologues about wild dreams of glory and wealth. Adding to the artificiality of the piece are dreamlike flashbacks and a recurring trope in which Lumet changes the lighting to blood-red while Jeb lurks in a wheelchair and contemplates his situation.
          Yet Last of the Mobile Hot Shots is periodically interesting. Coburn fares best here, since he has a full arsenal of actor’s gimmicks at his disposal—in addition to an accent, he gets to play several maladies at once while giving monologues about betrayal and pride. He’s quite arresting, even if his character is nothing more than a flight of fancy. Hooks is fairly strong as well, playing a character who’s equal parts opportunist and sadist. Redgrave is the weak link, because she murders dialogue by speaking in high-pitched, high-speed volleys, and her character seems insane instead of eccentric. Worst of all, the picture appears to be a misguided attempt at dark comedy, especially during the ridiculous finale. Oh, and for no discernible reason except perhaps for the general tawdriness of the themes, Last of the Mobile Hot Shots carried an X-rating during its original release.

Last of the Mobile Hot Shots: FUNKY


Peter L. Winkler said...

Where did you see this?

Marc Edward Heuck said...

Warner Archive released this as a DVD-R about four years ago, so it's more easily available than before.

I recall seeing snatches of it on cable years ago, and even though the film was only shot 1.85 (Lumet never shot in 2.35), the print that was aired had an anamorphic squeeze to it - maybe it was a 16mm "adapted scope" print that was being sourced. Anyhow, just made the movie look extra bizarre.

By Peter Hanson said...

Peter, I caught it on TCM, but as Marc noted, it's available on DVD-R, as well.