When a Las Vegas performer-turned-snitch named Buddy Israel decides to turn state's evidence and testify against the mob, it seems that a whole lot of people would like to make sure he's no longer breathing.
John Smith is an amoral gunslinger in the days of Prohibition. On the lam from his latest (unspecified) exploits, he happens upon the town of Jericho, Texas. Actually, calling Jericho a town would be too generous--it has become more like a ghost town, since two warring gangs have 'driven off all the decent folk.' Smith sees this as an opportunity to play both sides off against each other, earning himself a nice piece of change as a hired gun. Despite his strictly avowed mercenary intentions, he finds himself risking his life for his, albeit skewed, sense of honor.... Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
When Jacko slams the double doors shut on the room where the captured and beaten John Smith is being held the locks are visible on the John Smith side of the doors. Later the locks are shown, properly, on the opposite side. See more »
It's a funny thing. No matter how low you sink there's still a right and wrong. You always end up choosing. You go one way so you can try to live with yourself. You go the other, you'd still be walkin' around, but you're dead and you don't even know it.
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They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - When the Last Man standing first came out, it was hard not to make the connection between that film and Yojimbo (since Yojimbo's script was credited -although not the original source for Yojimbo, an American crime novel, red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammet - Yojimbo's Kurosawa also forgot to credit in his film). But even a critic as astute as Roger Ebert only thought the film was only 'similar' to "Fistful of Dollars" even though the plots of the two films have more in common than that of this film and Yojimbo.
Since then, I have watched all the films several times. Now is as good a time as any to reflect on the matter again.
The Last Man Standing does not hold up as well as I had hoped; the saturated sepia tones of the film now appear to be a mannerist affectation. It was certainly a transitional film for Willis - the role is pretty heavy - but the Sixth Sense rewrote the book on Willis far better than any of his other off-cast roles could, since (unlike the others) it never made any pretense at being an action film. The voice over is a little pretentious. And its clear that Hill let the Gothic tone of the film overwhelm his efforts at black comedy. And oddly enough, despite its violence the film could use more action.
Yet the film remains historically important, if nothing else, because it now appears to have been the last of a cycle. Although even Jean-Claude Van Damme actually appeared in a "Yojumbo" clone - "Desert Heat" - and there have been other attempts to revive Hammett's essential narrative (e.g. the "Doom" robot film by Albert Pyun) the fact remains that the nameless outsider quick on the draw is fast slipping into the realm of pure 20th century myth. He doesn't really belong in the era of Computer graphics, invasions of Iraq, wars against non-existent terrorism. His blood is part whiskey, but it's human blood; and he may be a killer, but he won't be a party to genocide. He's too real, and yet too good, for the 21st century rushing in on us.
I take the darkly sepia-toned Last Man Standing as a final farewell to a hero of the previous century, just as Hitchcock's 39 Steps effectively said farewell to the romantic adventurer of the 19th century. Every era has its heroes; and it is sad that Sanjuro/John Smith/the Man with No Name can no longer be one of ours. It's probably too much to ask, but hopefully someone better - or at least as good - will come along.
-E. J. Winner.
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