The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Last Rebel

Michael Jordan, Pele, Shaquille O'Neal, all superstar athletes who took a turn at the movie business, some with better results than others.  Kazaam comes to mind as a not so quality venture.  It's the rare athlete who has the same talent on-screen that they had playing on their court, diamond, field, whatever.  In the 1960s and 1970s one of the biggest stars both on and off the field was AFL/NFL quarterback Joe Namath, also known as Broadway Joe for his ability to dominate the spotlight.  Like so many stars, he gave movies and television a shot, including an appropriately forgotten spaghetti western, 1971's The Last Rebel.

In most variations of athlete turned movie star, the athlete plays a variation of himself/herself, if not just actually playing themselves.  MJ played MJ in Space Jam, Pele played a soccer star, Shaq was a genie (check that one), but Broadway Joe doesn't go that route, instead playing a Confederate soldier turned gunfighter in the days and months following the Civil War.  I've been watching spaghetti westerns for years, and I can almost always find something to recommend about them.  They're often enough so bad they're good.  But The Last Rebel?  Possibly the worst movie I've ever seen.  And I've seen a fair share of stinkers, but this may take the cake.

When news reaches Missouri that the Union has won the Civil War, Confederate soldiers Hollis (Namath) and Matt (Jack Elam) light out for the west rather than be thrown in some prison camp while everything cools down.  Heading west, the unlikely duo becomes a trio when Hollis rescues a black man, Duncan (Woody Strode) from a lynch mob.  Looking for a way to earn some money, the trio rides into a not so friendly town with a not so friendly sheriff (scruffy looking Ty Hardin) who doesn't take kindly to strangers in his town.  Honestly, some more stuff happens, backstabbing, betrayal, a fair share of sex, then a showdown and credits roll.  End of movie.  Good enough plot description for you?

I honestly try and keep an open mind whenever I start a new movie, no matter what I've heard going in.  That plot description isn't leaving anything out at all.  That's it.  To say this awful spaghetti western even has a plot is a stretch.  In a 90-minute movie, I'd wager half of it is long, unedited shots of two or three of our characters riding through the countryside with a truly out of place soundtrack playing over the visual.  Trying to show a passage of time is one thing, but this was just bizarre.  A 30-second uncut scene of Namath and Elam has the duo ride across a ridge or over a hill, but instead of proceeding to them riding into a town, we get another shot of them riding across a ridge or over another hill.  Truly embarrassing stuff almost right from the get-go.

At a certain point, I almost felt bad for Namath.  His part isn't so much acting as reciting lines and squinting, shrugging and generally looking uncomfortable no matter what he's doing.  But Namath was a sex symbol in his playing days so he does bed down a handful of women in the movie, including saloon girl Pearl (Victoria George, a bright spot for her appearance and general lack of clothes). There's also the bizarre scene where Hollis -- acquiring the rank 'Captain' out of nowhere -- rides onto a Spanish hacienda and sleeps with two different Mexican sisters in the same night, just a room apart.  Then, oh yeah, gotta go back to new love of your life Pearl.  It's probably not fair to call this acting to begin with, but Namath should have stuck with that football thing.  I hear he was halfway decent.

Heading into the movie, I thought a saving grace might be the trio of actors in support of Namath in the lead, Elam, Strode and Hardin.  Well, thanks to a complete lack of any sort of script or story to move things along, the three are beyond wasted.  Elam has the most screentime, but that doesn't mean much.  He growls a lot and looks at the camera with that shifty look of his.  Other than a weird monologue he has with a random black boy (honestly, the kid's credited as 'The Black Boy'), Strode has about 18 words of dialogue.  Not lines, just words.  As for Hardin, it's just bad news.  He's the bad guy I guess, but we're never told why.  He's a sheriff, of course he wants to protect his town.  But he has a gnarly looking beard so he must be the bad guy.  Hardin disappears for about 40 minutes, only to reappear when Namath needs to kill someone.

Director Denys McCoy understandably didn't get another movie to direct after this gem.  A star-driven vehicle is one thing, but at least give Namath something to do other than sleep with random women.  It is one of the most random, truly pointless movies I've ever seen.  Nothing can really save this one.  No script, no plots, no interesting characters other than the mostly nude Victoria George, and a soundtrack that features 70s rock and ballads all add up to a sorry excuse for a movie.  I'll give anything a try, but this was a painful experience, and that's from someone who loves spaghetti westerns.  Steer clear.

The Last Rebel <---TCM clip (1971): 1/2 /****  

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