Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Last Embrace (1979)

Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: David Shaber
Genre: Spy Thriller
Duration: One Hour, 42 minutes
Other Actors: Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, John Glover, Sam Udell
Similar Films: Notorious, Marathon Man, Three Days of the Condor
Movie in a Sentence: Harry Hannan (Scheider) was a top-notch American spy until he got his wife killed by accident, which brought on a nervous breakdown, but now he's out of the hospital and someone's trying to kill him and they're sending him death threats in ancient Aramaic, and his only friends are a cute graduate student (Margolin) who moved into his apartment while he was away, her college Professor boyfriend (Glover), and a mysterious old man (Udell) who is a member of a secret Jewish organization, but can he be trusted, can she be trusted...
Can ANYONE be trusted?

Scheider about to give the ol' knife-hand to a quivering Patinkin

MPAA Rating: This movie got an 'R' rating, and I'd have to agree. There's some profane language, a barrage of not-very-bloody violence, and a handful of nipple-shots, but really, the scene where Margolin has sex with a guy in a bathtub, pushes him under the soapy water and doesn't stop riding him until his death-twitches are over, that probably has to push it past a PG-13, right? It's so hard to tell these days.
FUN FACT: Margolin, Glover and Walken were in ANNIE HALL together, though they didn't share a scene. Glover was Annie's boyfriend (the one that wanted to die getting ripped apart by animals), and Margolin was one of Woody's girlfriends, the one that wanted him to join the party when all he wanted to do was watch the basketball game on tv!
My Score: I'll give it a 7 out of 10. Nothing about this film is amazing, but it does alright. It could have been sharper, tighter, better. But it's entertaining, and nothing about it angers me, so yeah, good story, if not a little silly, while taking itself very seriously.
Available to Own: Only on VHS! This is yet another of Walken's films that still hasn't made the leap to DVD. If you're curious, I'm keeping track of these as-yet-un-DVDed films through the tag 'VHS only'. I believe there will be about a half dozen of them all-told.

FUN FACT: Walken works with director Jonathan Demme again in 1982 in the short-film 'WHO AM I THIS TIME?' based on a Kurt Vonnegut short-story. A little something that any Walken-ite should definitely check out!

Should You Watch This? Yes, though I have trouble getting excited about it. It's right on the line between 'ooh and ehh.' You should watch it, but walk, don't run towards it. Lower your expectations and it'll be fine.
Walken Content: A single, isolated, two-minute scene. Just a wee little bit o' the Walken.  He plays Eckart, Harry's condescending boss at the Agency. Though it's short, it is a good little scene. Eckart chides Harry for demanding his job back after three months of "vacation". Walken wears these over-sized plastic-framed rounded rectangular '80s glasses in the beginning of the scene. And he sports a thin cop-moustache, looking a lot like he did almost 20 years later in NICK OF TIME (a fantastic film btw, but I'll get to that one later). Unfortunately, that is the last we see of Walken in this film.

Walken in The Last Embrace

Walken Quote: Let me set it up. Okay, so like I said, Harry Hannan goes in to see his old boss about getting some work. Harry keeps trying to smooth over the messy details of his last departure: why he left, how long he's been gone, etc. Finally, Walken can't take anymore of this:

            "Hannon, you had a breakdown. You were in a sanitarium.
                  It wasn't a leave [of absence] it was a breakdown. Why do you
                  force me say these things? Do you honestly think we'd send one
                  of our people up to a railroad station in Connecticut just to push
                  you under a train?"

Then he does this great thing: Walken flares his eyes at him, and then asks, "Okay?" in this I'm-cutting-the-malarkey kind of way. It's subtle, the eye thing, but it adds a nice touch of humanity to their encounter.

General:  This film seems like it wants to be Hitchcock, but it ends up looking more like De Palma trying to be Hitchcock. That is a distinction that doesn't kill it as a good film, it just helps to illustrate why it isn't a great film. I don't hate De Palma's films. He has his moments. I love 'Scarface' (the soundtrack is lame though) and of course 'The Untouchables', and I actually liked 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' even though that seems to be an unpopular opinion. But he's just so mainstream and, I don't know...flashy? Chintzy? Gaudy? None of those are the right word, but you get the idea. And not that I'm a huge fan of Hitchcock either btw. I think 'The Birds' (among others) is highly overrated. Whatever. I digress. It's a bit derivative is all.

But don't let me discourage you. There are a good number of scenes worthy of watching this for. There is a fun quick scene where someone chases Scheider through a park while a chill-looking dude kicks back on a park bench and plays some chase music on his ukulele.
George Hillman ukes it up
There is another scene where Scheider thinks someone is trying to push him under a train, so he almost drives his knife-hand through the jugular of Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), but he is stopped in time by the dad from Alf (Max Wright). Fun stuff.

There is another scene where the bad-guy cowboy from the 'Blues Brothers' movie (Charles Napier) attacks Scheider up in the belltower. Death by bells!!! 'Nuff said.

And then we have Margolin. The female lead. I don't want to ruin any surprises talking about what happens with her, so I'll just say that, like this film, Margolin has her moments where she shines, but she also falls flat at times as well. So. Just saying.

Despite some fun tangents, The Last Embrace mainly takes itself quite seriously, to its own detriment. It gets melodramatic at times, and never recognizes its own absurdity. For example, I thought it was funny that Scheider, the super-capable secret agent, spends the entire film garbed in a very dapper, very conspicuous all-white suit. Quite the urban chameleon, this guy. In fact, he can't enter a room without screaming at someone, manhandling a stranger, crying, or spilling hydrochloric acid on himself.

Excessive tanning may induce paranoia

Oh, and did I mention Scheider is friggin' crazy in this. He's intense all the time and he flips out at the slightest thing. He runs around looking funny, attacking anyone who looks at him funny. And also he's, well... He's a bit of a dick. Really. He's mean to everyone, including his "love" interest, which makes it a little hard to connect to him on an emotional or sympathetic level.

Overall, I think this can be a fun film experience, as long as you don't take it as seriously as they want you to. Twists and turns and colorful characters, oh my! I wouldn't have minded more Walken, big surprise, but the little that was there was solid. Enjoy.

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