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There was no love lost for The Last Run when it hit theaters in 1971; it closed rather quickly at the Village in Westwood. Reviewers saw nothing special in its story and gave its director, Richard Fleischer, a particularly bad time. Many of their criticisms are valid, but this pared-down tale of a getaway driver ferrying a prison escapee across three European countries now seems a perfectly acceptable thriller. That's probably because movies have become so forgettable, that anything decently produced and filmed from an earlier decade now seems far superior. You know, a real movie and not a stack of commercial compromises.
The modern crime tale has only five real characters and seeks the sort of existential vibe so easily attained by French crime directors like Jean-Pierre Melville. Ex- gangland wheel man Harry Grimes (George C. Scott) hasn't worked in nine years and has retired to a fishing village in Portugal, where he owns a fishing boat captained by Miguel (Aldo Sambrell, who seemingly appeared in every last movie made in Spain). Harry occasionally hires the services of prostitute Monique (Colleen Dewhurst, Scott's third wife) but still dotes on his turbocharged BMW roadster. Sure enough, a job comes along to drive escaped convict Paul Rickard (Tony Musante) to France. Despite Paul's edgy, unpredictable nature, all goes well enough. They pick up Paul's girlfriend Claudie (Trish Van Devere, Scott's fourth wife), which complicates things as the older Harry is immediately attracted to her. Paul's low opinion of his driver changes when Harry saves their lives in France -- the mob has busted Paul out of jail to have him murdered. Now pursued by the cops and several hit men, Harry pushes his car to the limit to get "the kids" back to Portugal. From there he plans to smuggle them to safety in North Africa. But does Claudie really want to defect to Harry, or is she just playing with him to ensure his cooperation?
"In the tradition of Hemingway and Bogart" read the tagline, but The Last Run was too early to get in on the neo-noir nostalgia craze. One reviewer said that George C. Scott, now a temperamental heavyweight after his success with Patton, was too big for the movie and ought to simply play Hemingway himself. Scott did exactly that several years later in the interesting To Have and Have Not clone Islands in the Stream.
The Last Run is no disaster. It has a clear story and fairly interesting characters. Best of all, it isn't particularly artsy or pretentious. As most of the running time is a road trip across beautiful Iberian scenery, perhaps the suits at MGM saw it as Easy Rider, but for men's men. George C. Scott's uneasy tough guy clashes with Tony Musante's callow, selfish killer. The younger man assumes that anybody as old as Harry should have known Dutch Schultz personally.
Screenwriter Alan Sharp has always been a man to watch. His original scripts have formed the basis of films that transcend their genres: Robert Aldrich's Ulzana's Raid, Arthur Penn's Night Moves, and Michael Caton-Jones's Rob Roy. But some of the dialogue in The Last Run either misses its mark, or simply doesn't fit the film's tone. Trish Van Devere's sexy allusions to lovemaking don't mesh with her undeveloped character Claudie. The prostitute Monique describes Harry as an "ardent" performer, which in context has us waiting for a joke line that never comes. Harry responds to an inquiry about his long-gone wife by saying that, "she went to Switzerland to have her breasts lifted. I thought she meant by surgery." As Harry is a guy of few words, Philip Marlowe-style snappy comebacks like this one ring false. I don't fault Alan Sharp for these odd moments, as The Last Run's pleasing "classic" setup prepares us well for a clash between an old-style pro crook and his modern punk counterpart. As generational crime stories go, it's far more credible than commercial pap like The Mechanic.
Critics blamed director Richard Fleischer for the movie's lack of impact, but it doesn't look as if he were calling the shots. Fleischer was a replacement and didn't prepare the filming. Original director John Huston left the show because of disagreements with George C. Scott. Auteurists could argue that a potential gangland Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with an older mobster showing a callow youngster the ropes, was ruined by Fleischer's shoot-the-script practicality. It looks to me as if the overbearing Scott may have insisted on story changes. The Last Run ends with a sentimental Ride the High Country- like finale for the noble Harry, instead of the ruthless finish toward which Alan Sharp's script seems to be working. Paul Rickard is a consistent rattlesnake, but Claudie's ambivalence in her affection for Harry is a dodge, plain and simple. The woman we see is soulful and sincere. The woman revealed in dialogue is an opportunist with a history of jumping from man to man for entirely selfish purposes. The wrap-up leaves her character unresolved. 1
What does work 100% are Richard Fleischer's realistic adventures on the road. The trip through Spain is entirely convincing and visually enjoyable without becoming a travelogue. The chases on winding mountain roads are not exaggerated. The cars are taking tight turns at 60mph, and we can see them fishtailing and slaloming through the curves. Car chase fans in 1971 probably expected to see vehicles leaping through the air (Bullitt) or driving on their sides (Diamonds are Forever). Fleischer does not undercrank his camera to speed the action, as is still the practice ... today's digitally enhanced Fast and Furious pictures might as well be animated cartoons. Fleisher's overall direction and handling of the action scenes is not to be faulted. But it seems that certain dramatic events were heavily influenced by actor Scott. The film's finale is definitely All About Harry, to the exclusion of an acceptable dramatic closure for the other actors.
One controversy ignited by The Last Run ocurred behind the scenes. Performing on location with his wife Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott met Trish Van Devere, and apparently something clicked. Harry and Claudie's on-screen romance is alternately cold or suspect, but Scott ditched his missus during the production and took up with the younger actress. Although the media showbiz slime industry was much smaller in 1971, news traveled fast. Such a switcheroo hadn't been recorded since the David McCallum - Jill Ireland - Charles Bronson brouhaha several years before. In this case, it only made actor Scott seem that much more of a temperamental ingrate. With talent.
The Warner Archive Collection's DVD-R of The Last Run is another Remastered Edition that really flatters the Panavision release. The movie is a pleasure to watch just to see all the Portuguese, Spanish and French location work; it's like Two-Lane Blacktop with gangsters. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist models the light handsomely in portrait shots, that don't try to ape the look of old films noir. The appropriately lean audio mix uses a sharp whine when the turbocharger on Harry's BMW kicks in -- somewhat like Mel Gibson's nitrous oxide injectors (?) in the Road Warrior movies. Jerry Goldsmith contributes one of his minimal, quiet music scores
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Last Run rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.