The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Last Run

I like crime thrillers. Could you tell? If movies have taught us anything about the criminal underworld in all its glory, it's that it is easy to get into crime but not so easy to get out. You could do a whole sub-genre of films where an aging, veteran crook (a safecracker, a killer, a gun runner) is trying to walk away but someone or something ain't letting him. I stumbled across 1971's The Last Run years ago, and it definitely applies. Kudos to Turner Classic Movies for airing this hard-to-find flick!

Living in a small, quiet fishing village in southern Portugal, Harry Garmes (George C. Scott) leads a day-to-day life that's almost monk-like. He used to be one of the best drivers around, getting the job done no matter what but through some personal and family drama, he ended up in Portugal alone. It's been nine years since he's taken a job...until now. Garmes cuts a deal to be at a certain place at a certain time and drive someone out of harm's way and into France. The plan goes off without a hitch as Garmes picks up young, cocky Rickard (Tony Musante) after a highway prison bus escape, Rickard making him stop in a nearby town for his girlfriend, Claudie (Trish Van Devere). Even though Rickard rubs him the wrong way, Garmes has taken a contract and he intends to keep it, but what exactly is going on? What was Rickard put away for and is someone else on their trail? The border and relative safety can't come quick enough.

I first heard of this 1971 crime story a few years back courtesy of Warner's DVD-on-Demand offer where a disc was burned and sent to you instead of mass-producing it. The price was a little steep so patient movie review guy kicked in, and finally TCM obliged! Reviews were encouraging, a low-key, almost artsy crime drama that seemed to have touches of so many solid French new wave crime movies. Oh, and George C. Scott. That's almost never a bad thing. Well, the movie is okay but nothing special. Filming and production was beset by one thing after another from director John Huston bailing because he fought with Scott non-stop, and also Scott falling in love with Van Devere during filming....and his then-wife was in the movie at the time.

Good formula for success, huh? I don't know how much the production issues came into play, but 'Run' is a tad uneven. Director Richard Fleischer replaced Scott and took the helm, directing a crime drama that is straight forward, underplayed, no-nonsense and boasting all sorts of potential. It does have that Euro-feel of being almost minimalist in its development. The music is kept to a minimum, the focus is kept on the actors, and...well, I don't know. There just isn't much to it. Yeah, there is a sense of impending doom gathering on the horizon, but you've got a pretty good idea of where this is going pretty quick. I was curious to see the twists you know are coming, what exactly Scott's Garmes has gotten himself into, but the twists and payoffs weren't anything special unfortunately. Lots of potential -- but I say it too much -- but you've got to do something with that potential and not stand pat.

Scott was always a huge personality, and as I've learned reading about this production, that wasn't only on-screen but off. He fell in love with Van Devere during filming (and was eventually married) but his then-wife Colleen Dewhurst was actually in the film (playing a prostitute) as well. Fun, huh? Oh, and he chased Huston off apparently. His performance is an interesting one. His Harry Garmes is the definition of a doomed anti-hero. His life has retreated in on itself and thrust back into his past life -- being a hell of a getaway driver -- he sees that what he'd been doing wasn't really living at all. It is a quiet, imposing part with some typical Scott bursts of fire and rage and intimidation. What I'm looking for (usually) in my doomed anti-hero is some sort of sentiment and that wasn't necessarily on display here. I wasn't rooting for him to pull the job off, to get out alive, to get the girl, whatever the case may be. Scott or the script? Your call, but I guess it's both.

Musante and Van Devere are the only other cast members given much screentime. Musante does what he does best as a smooth (probably too smooth) crook who you can never get a read on. Is he telling you the truth or getting ready to stab you in the back? The future Mrs. Scott, Van Devere is okay in a similarly odd part just because it's never quite clear what she's up to. The whole subplot with Garmes and Claudie is forced and doesn't have much chemistry. Along with Dewhurt, look for spaghetti western regular Aldo Sambrell in a quick part.

I wanted to like this one a lot more, but I keep thinking they were trying to be something, trying to do this, trying too hard. When the twist comes as Musante reveals what's up, I had no idea what he was talking about. Then when the chases start and the bullets start to fly....yeah, still no idea. That can be a problem if you like following the story. 'Run' instead seems content to have you know that those guys are bad guys, and that's all. Any back story is unnecessary unfortunately. There are positives, the Spanish/Portuguese/French locations providing a beautiful visual backdrop and a couple car chases dotting the 99-minute running time. A disappointment unfortunately, but man, am I glad I didn't buy it!

The Last Run (1971): **/****

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