The Last Grenade (1969) is another disappointing yet still very intriguing obscurity from Scorpion Releasing, a boutique label specializing in forgotten movies from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. An action drama about steely-eyed international mercenaries with ice water in their veins, the film begins spectacularly then gets fatally bogged down in a hoary romantic subplot. The varying performances, from good to appallingly bad, along with frequently outrageous dialogue add to the interest if not the quality.
As with Scorpion's The Internecine Project the transfer sources what looks like an original theatrical print complete with splices, reel change cues and the like, though it is 16:9 enhanced and serves its function well enough. If you liked the look of the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse, then chances are you'll be pleased.
The film opens with a bang. In the Congo after a pitched battle with many casualties, Major Harry Grigsby (Stanley Baker) is ready to get his mercenaries - including Scot Gordon Mackenzie (Andrew Keir), refined Andy Royal (Keir's Quatermass and the Pit co-star, Julian Glover), Cockney Terry Mitchell (future Inspector Morse John Thaw), and African-American Joe "Jacko" Jackson (Olympic champion Rafer Johnson) - out of harm's way. However, American mercenary Kip Thompson (Alex Cord), aboard the helicopter slated to pick everyone up, suddenly betrays his associates, machine-gunning everything in sight.
Grigsby, though ailing with tuberculosis, becomes obsessed with tracking Kip down on behalf of his fallen men. Eventually he learns Kip is working out of Hong Kong, hired by the Red Chinese to stir things up in the New Territories. The British government, with General Charles Whiteley (Richard Attenborough) acting as its representative, unofficially back Grigsby's plan to locate and liquidate Kip before he can do any more damage.
However, Grigsby's early attempts to capture Kip are a disaster; Grigsby is himself seriously wounded and during his hospitalization back in Hong Kong becomes friendly with Whiteley's unhappy wife, Katherine (Honor Blackman). The fat middle third of the film stops dead in its tracks so they can embark on a highly melodramatic affair.
After a slam-bang opening, with Kip's betrayal triggering an epic Reel 1 battle on a grand scale, with more big explosions in this one scene than most action films in their entirety, The Last Grenade loses its way, first through a long and sappy middle section, with Katherine achingly torn between her somewhat stuffy but loyal and gentle husband and Manly Stanley (Baker's nickname in Britain), here playing a cold-blooded soldier-for-hire to which she's irrevocably, self-destructively drawn. When the film finally gets back down to business, fueled by an impressively staged ambush, the long-in-coming final showdown between Grigsby and Kip turns out to be almost obscenely anti-climatic.
Stanley Baker was nearing the end of his career as a brooding leading man, the earliest success of a generation of intelligent action stars that included Patrick McGoohan and Sean Connery, both of whom got an early boost in Baker's excellent Hell Drivers. He was a big enough British star to support major Hollywood films like The Guns of Navarone (1961) and had later successes in the superb Zulu (1964), which he produced. By the time Baker made The Last Grenade he could still carry a fairly major production like this, but he's also prematurely aged and tired-looking (though just 41, he looks more like 55), and sports a singularly phony, unflattering toupee.
Baker's love scenes with regal Honor Blackman are trite and uninteresting, except for the goofy accompanying dialogue: "I'm not as good-looking as Frankenstein or as funny as King Kong," Grigsby explains, rather cryptically. "Oh, I don't know..." Katherine replies, invitingly.
But Baker's got nothing on Alex Cord, whose performance as psychotic turncoat Kip is impressively awful and unintentionally hilarious. The script doesn't help. Demonstrating Kip's sadism, one scene finds him gently feeding ducks in a pond then whipping out a kid's slingshot to bean them in the head with pebbles.
Also seriously damaging the film is its notably weak score, which shamelessly borrows from Holst's Mars and, in one scene with Blackman, former Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, bizarrely lifts the four-note motif from "The James Bond Theme."
And yet despite all these flaws The Last Grenade has many good points. The location footage in and around Hong Kong is impressive, and it's fun to see actors like Keir, Glover, and Thaw in juicy supporting parts. (One of the few good scenes late in the film is a confrontation between those three and Kip at a Hong Kong drinking joint.) There's also a grim but suspenseful set piece where Grigsby seats the corpse of his dead Chinese guide near a footbridge, booby-trapping the body with some explosives.
Video & Audio
Filmed in 2.35:1 Panavision, The Last Grenade is presented in an adequate 16:9 enhanced transfer, despite flaws that include some funky color timing and a few other issues, such as two frames of black leader interrupting a scene at 9:16. The mono audio (English only) is likewise okay. There are no other subtitle or alternate audio options but the disc is region-free.
Included is a 16:9 trailer for this and lots of other intriguing Scorpion obscurities I confess, in most cases, to films I never even heard of before.
Though overall mediocre, The Last Grenade's cast and production values keep it at least moderating interesting, though it's unfortunate the film doesn't live up to its exciting, spectacular opening reel. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.