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This is an engrossing thriller -- clearly in the vein established by Hitchcock -- and very much like Brian De Palma's carefully structured style. This is the first Jonathan Demme film I saw and I expected him to work more in this genre. Fortunately, he directed a cornucopeia of film in various styles that vary between intriguing and amazing: including "Melvin and Howard," "Stop Making Sense," "Philadelphia," and one of the best films for repeat viewing, "The Silence of the Lambs." This film stands out from the standard murder mystery in that it presents a non-standard view of Jews who immigrated to the US. To divulge more would spoil the film. Roy Scheider is perfect and Janet Margolin is beautiful. In addition , now -- nearly 25 years later -- it is fun watching Chris Walken, John Glover and Mandy Patinkin early in their careers. It is funny to realize that Margolin, Walken and Glover were all in "Annie Hall" two years earlier.
I don't know exactly why I find this film interesting. The plot is pretty thick and often hard to follow and sometimes the story moves at a glacial pace. Still, it's rather neat. Roy Scheider always looks kewl when carefully groomed in up to date wardrobes. And the nose, that nose, pointing in half a dozen different directions at the same time. Janet Margolin was so beautiful. It's difficult to take your eyes from her when she in on screen. She projects a sort of pathos, a winsome helplessness, even after is is revealed that she can be a pretty cold-blooded babe underneath all that vulnerability, a primordial fatale monstrum. She has one or two sexy scenes that almost in themselves justify watching the movie. And I've always found John Glover a magnetic actor. He's never quite able to mask that Maryland accent. Here he plays a snobbish Princeton professor in seersucker, jealous of Margolin's attraction to Scheider. And when we first see Sam Levene's face, as a stranger on a train, there is the shock of recognition on our part. What a long absence, Sam! Nice shots of Princeton's campus. There's a shoot-out (the only one) in the empty quad and campanile producing enough ringing bells to drive you mad, which Miklos Roszas score does not to. It's unmistakably his own and evokes other earlier black and white noirs. The climactic scene was shot at Niagara Falls.
A very decent effort from director Jonathan Demme before he went on to
better things,LAST EMBRACE is inevitably compared to the works of
Alfred Hitchcock,with many scenes derivative from many of the master's
most famous works(VERTIGO,THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH,STRANGERS ON A
TRAIN,etc.),but this is actually an effective suspenser in it's own
right,with an intriguing plot,good performances and an exciting
finale.Roy Scheider plays a Secret Agent just released from care after
suffering a breakdown after his wife was killed in a shootout in a
restaurant.After finding a woman(Janet Margolin)who has moved into his
flat,he begins to suspect someone is trying to kill him after sinister
messages in Amharic keep turning up.
The film would've been more superior with more humour and better pacing,but nevertheless this isn't at all a bad Hitch imitation,with the bird imagery(a motif Hitchcock used frequently in his films)and a fine musical score by Miklos Rozsa(who had himself worked with Hitchcock on SPELLBOUND)adding to the atmosphere.The performances are fine,especially Ms Margolin,an undervalued and lovely actress who never quite made it to the top,making her character quite pitiable despite her actions.Her early death at the age of 50 in 1993 was indeed a sad loss for a film performer who deserved better.
LAST EMBRACE was made shortly before Hitchcock's death in 1980;one wonders did he ever see this film? If so,I think he would have quite enjoyed the homage on view,not great,but fairly respectful and entertaining.
Having watched an interesting documentary recently, "Dial H for
Hitchcock", it's clear to see how Jonathan Demme was influenced by the
master himself. His admiration for the master is evident, yet, in spite
of everything, Mr. Demme's "Last Embrace" was a surprise nonetheless.
"Last Embrace" was one of his first films and it sort of showed the
trajectory of Jonathan Demme as a film director would follow. If you
haven't seen the film, please stop reading here.
When Harry Hannan's wife is tragically killed, his life begins to unravel. Harry spends some time in a sanatorium trying to get himself together. Unfortunately, whoever wanted him put away is still much in evidence as his presence is felt right at the station where Harry is trying to board the train back home to Manhattan.
Harry is taken aback to find Ellie living in his apartment, something he had no idea was happening. It's only fitting with films of this genre that Harry will fall for the beautiful young woman who apparently seems to be trying to help him solve the puzzle about a cryptic death threat he has received at home.
Harry with the help of Sam Urdell, starts investigating about the meaning of the strange message he got. Urdell's connection within the Jewish community also unravels another conspiracy that Harry knew nothing about. The final episode involves going through the tunnels where visitors must enter in order to see real close the Falls at Niagara. Even before that there's also a great scene involving Harry's former brother-in-law in a tower at Princeton, which kept reminding us of "Vertigo".
Roy Scheider makes an intense Harry. In fact, Mr. Scheider at the time this film was made, was at the height of his career and he clearly shows why he was an excellent actor. The beautiful Janet Margolin plays Ellie, a woman who is too good to be true when we first meet her, but we have no clue as to what she is capable of doing. The great Sam Levene is seen as Sam Urdell, who befriends Harry and is instrumental in getting to the bottom of this mystery. In supporting roles some familiar faces who went to do much better work later. Christopher Walken, Mandy Patinkin, Jacqueline Brookes, Marcia Rodd, Charles Napier, among others are seen in the film.
Jonathan Demme proved he was a talent that would go to bigger and better things even then.
6 out of 10
A mysterious man, who works for a mysterious organization, is being chased by some mysterious killers, for some unknown and mysterious reason. Has all the trappings of a bubblegum thriller and when you scrape away all the flashiness that is really all you get.
Not that it isn't entertaining. The camera movements and angles are downright dazzling. I especially liked those frantic zoom shots that look like it's shot from a camera put on a roller coaster car. There is also some interesting use of lighting and framing. Not to mention some terrific on location shooting especially the Niagara Falls finale. The story is very fast paced with a new twist coming with literally every scene. There is also a wide assortment of other gimmicks used that on a non-think level can be fun, especially during the first hour. The haunting music score is good too although it gets played a bit too much.
The problem really comes with the fact that all these twists and turns really add up to a lot of nothing. Too much is left unexplained and the final revelation seems far-fetched. There is a wide segment of other loopholes and there is just the plain old fact that you have probably seen a lot of this before. It also becomes very cliched and even kind of annoying at the end. The film expects you to become close to characters that on the whole are very poorly fleshed out.
The movie does offer a great opportunity to see Janet Margolin who is a very uniquely and naturally beautiful woman. Even when she is made to look frumpy she is beautiful. She has a face that looks like it never got past 21. She closely resembles 80's porn stars Kelly Nichols or Jennifer Noxt.
Scheider does not fare as well. He looks alright, but his presence is very transparent. He just doesn't seem to have a strong enough personality or acting ability to really create a memorable or forceful impression. Also that white suit he wears all the time has really got to go.
Overall despite it's best efforts it is still just a poor man's Hitchcock. The real thing is still better.
Although Jonathan Demme's 1992 Oscar-winner THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
was his first major suspense thriller, it wasn't the first film he'd
ever made in that genre. That honor goes to Demme's 1979 thriller LAST
EMBRACE (LE), which I first saw and loved during its original
theatrical run. At the time, LE was touted as a romantic Hitchcockian
thriller. While LE definitely has strong elements of VERTIGO and other
Hitchcock classics, I've always considered it to be more of a paranoia
thriller with film noir touches, which I guess makes LE what might be
called "film shachor." :-) Cool, craggy yet suave Roy Scheider had long
been one of our family's favorite tough-guy actors; to many fans. At
first glance, he might not seem vulnerable enough to be convincing as a
beleaguered paranoia film hero. However, Scheider proved to be perfect
casting as Harry Hannan, a government agent with more baggage than
Louis Vuitton. Harry is still heartbroken and guilt-ridden about his
beloved wife getting killed while she accompanied him as cover on one
of his assignments. After he spends time in a Connecticut sanitarium
recovering from his nervous breakdown, Harry has barely had a chance to
lose his institutional pallor when he's almost shoved in front of an
express train. When he returns to his spy agency in New York City, his
slippery spymaster Eckart (Christopher Walken) keeps him at arm's
length; maybe Eckart thinks Harry's sharp cream-colored suit makes him
too conspicuous for undercover work. Worst of all, Harry discovers he's
one of several Jewish men getting death threats written in Biblical
Hebrew from an unknown "Avenger of Blood"
and so far, he's the only one
Everyone scoffs at poor Harry's jitters. Who can he trust? Certainly not his brother-in-law (Charles Napier), a fellow spook who blames Harry for his sister's violent death ("You're careless with people, Harry"). Our hero eventually joins forces with Ellie Fabian (Janet Margolin), a pretty New York graduate student who sublet his apartment while he was in the sanitarium. But the vulnerable Ellie seems to have her own issues and secrets. Will that spell doom for both Ellie and Harry? And how does a turn-of-the-20th-century Jewish brothel figure in the sinister fix Harry has found himself in? Scheider and Margolin had fine chemistry together; their characters' sensitivity and wariness made me feel for them, and they even had playful moments along the way. Ms. Margolin was at her loveliest, too. (Sadly, she died of ovarian cancer in 1993 at the age of 50. Janet, we hardly knew ye.) Scheider, Margolin, and Walken are aided and abetted by a rogues' gallery of stellar New York character actors, including John Glover as Ellie's insecure professor boyfriend; Marcia Rodd as Harry's nervous agency contact; David Margulies as a rabbi with connections; Joe Spinell and Jim McBride as thugs; Captain Arthur Haggerty as a bouncer waiting to use the phone; Mandy Patinkin and Max Wright in bit parts as commuters who may or may not have some 'splainin' to do; scene-stealer Sam Levene as the crotchety but likable head of a secret Jewish society; and director Demme himself cameo-ing as a stranger on a train.
Some critics complained that despite Demme's obvious affection for the Hitchcockian material, LE could have used more of The Master of Suspense's zest and verve. I won't deny that the pace slows down at times, but with Roy Scheider at his peak and Janet Margolin's touching, multifaceted performance, I was willing to be patient. Demme and screenwriter David Shaber (adapting Murray Teigh Bloom's novel The 13th Man) make up for the film's flaws with plenty of appealingly quirky Demme-style characterization. Judaism's key role in LE's plot was fresh and intriguing, as well as making excellent use of an elaborate, well-crafted red herring. The settings contribute to the film's Demme-ness; his ace Director of Photography Tak Fujimoto really makes the New York City and Princeton, NJ locations integral to the plot and its Hitchcockian motifs, especially the bell tower sequence and an exciting climax at Niagara Falls (I can hear you making lewd jokes :-)). The film brims with only-in-New-York characters and situations; for instance, the competition for living space in Manhattan provides amusing undertones to Harry's first awkward encounters with Ellie. Miklos Rozsa's swooningly romantic yet foreboding score pulls together the film's emotional undercurrents beautifully. Between LAST EMBRACE and STILL OF THE NIGHT, if I'd been Roy Scheider, I'd have stayed out of Central Park and environs for fear of elusive assailants! LAST EMBRACE is also available on DVD: http://www.mgm.com/view/movie/1084/Last-Embrace/
This small pic was a preview of great things to come from Jonathan Demme, who went onto MELVIN & HOWARD, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, STOP MAKING SENSE, to name a few other notable works. This was a decent 100 minute time waster that you either got or you didn't, liked or hated. Roy Scheider turned in his always good performance and I didn't mind looking at Janet Margolin in the bathtub.
I watched "Last Embrace" for the first time late last night, having recorded
it off BBC1 over three (!) years ago.
It was worth the wait. Roy Scheider's character is a simmering, paranoid wreck who is haunted by guilt over his wife's recent and violent death. He feels that he is surplus to requirements in his job (a hitman)and begins to see his wife's brother (Charles Napier) as a deadly enemy. He is half right. A belltower scene blatantly stolen from "Vertigo" helps solve this particular problem but now Scheider has to face up to dark threats posed by a Hebraic note sent to him. And to complicate matters he falls in love with a young woman (the sexy, late Janet Margolin) with whom he is temporarily sharing his apartment.
Two strong and gutsy performances from the two leading characters maintain the suspense levels right to the dramatic climax.
Demme's best '70s effort (slightly shading it over "Fighting Mad" and "Citizen's Band" but miles better than his overrated debut, "Caged Heat")
This film certainly had a memorable scene with a man clinging for his
life with Niagara Falls below! It's always stuck with me, even though
it has been a long time since I've seen the movie. I've been waiting
for this to be released on DVD so I can see it again, but as of now
it's only available in Region 2.
It might be fun again just to see veteran actors Christopher Walken, Mandy Patinkin and John Glover in a film made 30 years ago. Director Jonathan Demme has done some interesting films since then, too.
Most of the story involves "mysterious" people chasing others and if I went into it in any detail it would ruin things for anyone who hasn't seen it. That's especially true because there are so many twists and turns in this story. However, to be frank, I think Hollywood has overdone "conspiracy theory" movies, of which this is one. I also think the profanity could have been lowered in here, especially by Roy Scheider's character "Harry," and the film would still have been just as intense.
What I really appreciated, more than the actors or story, frankly, was the photography and Demme's direction. There were a lot of really interesting camera angles, shots that zoomed in an out and other gimmicks that I usually fall for. There were enough of them to carry the first hour, at least. Living not too far from Niagara Falls, I was glad to see that in the climactic finale.
This is one of Janet Margolin's best performances and I am reminded of how I miss seeing her in films. She certainly plays a complex character here. Her metamorphosis in one scene in particular is dramatic. Reuniting her with John Glover was great too. Even though they shared no real scenes in Annie Hall, I remember them both in that and was pleased to see each in Last Embrace. Glover is still going strong. The plot of this Hitchcockian thriller is multidimensional and fresh. I think Demme ( not one of my favorites) did a great job and the famous finale at Niagara Falls is reminiscent of NIAGARA without really aping it. This is the film that made want to ride the Maid of the Mist. And the one I always remember when I miss Janet Margolin.
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