Friday, June 5, 2015

The Last Run (1971)

          The intrigue that unfolded behind the scenes of this turgid thriller is more interesting than anything that actually happens onscreen. Not only was an iconic director replaced with a filmmaker of considerably less distinction, but the leading man left his wife for another woman—and both ladies are featured in the cast. Had any of this tension seeped into the movie’s scenes, The Last Run could have been edgy and exciting. Instead, it’s a slow movie about a man who spends his life driving fast. Make what you will of the irony. In any event, George C. Scott plays Harry Garmes, an American wheelman who spent most of his career driving cars for mobsters in Chicago. Because of some unnamed existential crisis, which was exacerbated by the death of his young son the infidelity of his now ex-wife, Harry lives in Portugal, drinking and smoking his way through days full of nothing. When he gets hired to drive an escaped convict and the convict’s girlfriend across Europe, Harry embraces the opportunity to see if he still has what it takes. Predictably, this simple scenario gets complicated, thanks to double-crosses, secret agendas, and Harry’s burgeoning romantic interest in the convict’s girlfriend.
          There’s a certain poetry to some of the dialogue in Alan Sharp’s script, and it’s fun to imagine what The Last Run might might have become if John Huston, the project’s original director, had remained involved. Alas, he bailed partway through production, apparently because of friction with the notoriously difficult Scott, and his successor was Richard Fleischer, whose filmmographry includes several enjoyable films but also a number of genuine embarrassments. The Last Run falls somewhere between those extremes; while it’s a disappointment that often gets stuck in the mud of pointless and/or repetitious scenes, it’s never overtly bad. Rather, it’s drab and lifeless and uninspired. Although Huston was at a weird stage in his career, he was an old pro at telling stories about self-destructive men, so it’s tempting to believe he would have elevated the material more than Fleischer did. After all, the story is a quintessential ’70s downer, and Huston rebounded from a creative slump with the grim Fat City a year later.
          That said, the characterizations in The Last Run are so thin, and the narrative events so trite, that perhaps the picture was destined for mediocrity. Scott strikes a spark every so often with his signature blend of anger and ennui, but costars Tony Musante and Trish Van Devere barely register while playing pure clichés—the hotheaded crook and the opportunistic moll. Behind-the-scenes talents do what they can, with composer Jerry Goldsmith’s jaunty score complementing cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s moody imagery. As for that other aspect of behind-the-scenes drama, Scott began production married to actress Colleen Dewhurst, who appears in one scene as a prostitute, and by the end of production, Scott was with Van Devere, whom he subsequently married.

The Last Run: FUNKY


Unknown said...

I've always felt a slightly proprietary interest in Tony Musante because my father knew him way back when he went to Oberlin, and our interest in him perked up a little when he got to star in the series "Toma." Dad was also amused by Musante being obliged to play the evil Mr. Parker in an "Equalizer" episode. Musante may not be very distinguished here -- nor may the movie itself -- but at least I can tell Dad he once got to costar with George C. Scott. Thanks!

starofshonteff1 said...

In my own perverse way, actually prefer a number of Fleischer's movies - BOSTON STRANGLER, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, MANDINGO - to anything from Huston.