Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Roy Scheider (JAWS, ALL THAT JAZZ, MARATHON MAN), Janet Margolin (ANNIE HALL, GHOSTBUSTERS II), John Glover (52 PICK-UP, BATMAN AND ROBIN, GREMLINS 2), Christopher Walken (THE DEAD ZONE, MCBAIN), Charles Napier (RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), Sam Levene (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, CROSSFIRE). Music by Miklós Rózsa (THE KILLERS '46, BEN-HUR, SPELLBOUND). Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE SIXTH SENSE, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF).
Best one-liner: "You gotta do better than that, Jack! WHO SENT YA?!"
LAST EMBRACE is one of acclaimed director Jonathan Demme's (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PHILADELPHIA, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED) first commercial efforts, and though it's reputation is nearly nonexistent (I hadn't even heard of it until this week), it ranks somewhere between "fairly okay Roy Scheider vehicle" and "lost De Palma film."
Based on the novel THE 13TH MAN by Murray Teigh Bloom, LAST EMBRACE stars Scheider as a CIA-ish secret agent who sees his wife gunned down in Mexico by a gang of dudes including MANIAC's Joe Spinell, a character actor who I've described as "Ron Jeremy meets Vincent Price."
In the wake of her death, Scheider undergoes a nervous breakdown and spends several months in a Connecticut sanitarium. Upon his release, he finds a stranger (Janet Margolin) subletting his apartment, receives cryptic Aramaic messages, and encounters all sorts of people who are probably trying to kill him, including his own agency. ...Or is he simply delusional?
And so that's the set-up– Scheider tries to stay alive while attempting to unravel this conspiracy which may or may not actually exist.
How is the film? It's pretty good. It's got a great hook, some nice Hitchcockian suspense, and in Scheider, an excellent star. Scheider really knows how to carry a movie. The man's one of the best actors of the 1970s. If you haven't already– go see ALL THAT JAZZ. Do it now.
Anyway, the plot of LAST EMBRACE begins to degenerate around the halfway mark, and it builds to some hilariously bad melodrama that may or may not involve the white slave trade. But Scheider never stops giving it his all, and he will in all likelihood convince you that you're watching a much better movie than you actually are, and that's okay with me.
His intensity has rarely been matched. In the scene pictured above, he needs to speak with Janet Margolin, who happens to be taking a shower. He whips back the shower curtain (with Norman Batesian panache) and begins saying what he needs to say. There's no hint of lasciviousness or peeping Tomitude– he's got the precision and matter-of-factness of a surgeon. Scheider has played a lot of CIA and military types before (MARATHON MAN, TIME LAPSE, THE RUSSIA HOUSE, THE FOURTH WAR, etc.) and you absolutely believe him. His acting choices are simple and understated- when he wants to indicate that ice water runs though his veins, he doesn't showboat around, he just becomes that hardened man. Incidentally, I recently found out that Roy Scheider was a boxer, long before he was an actor. He went 12-1 before moving on to theater. Who knew?
In any event, a few of the signposts and highlights of LAST EMBRACE are these:
#1. Tak Fujimoto's cinematography. A long-time Demme crony, Fujimoto is a master craftsman whose first film was fuckin' BADLANDS. Along the way, he slummed for Corman (DEATH RACE 2000 and others), lensed a few John Hughes classics (FERRIS BUELLER and PRETTY IN PINK), shot the MACGYVER pilot episode, and worked with Demme 17 times. Somehow he's never even been nominated for an Academy Award. What the hell!?
#3. Christopher Walken's brief appearance as a CIA handler. As always, he's hilarious, creepy, and enunciating unexpected syllables.
He's not particularly given a great deal to do here, but he still imbues his character with the amazing, eccentric energy we've come to love and expect from Glover.
There's a chase/shootout scene up a bell tower that recalls VERTIGO, and the final showdown takes place at Niagara Falls, referencing Hitchcock's propensity to end films at national landmarks (like Mount Rushmore in NORTH BY NORTHWEST or the Statue of Liberty in SABOTEUR to name a couple).
In the end, it's a sort of lackluster thriller with some great character actors and brilliant, anchoring lead performance by Roy Scheider. Three and a half stars.