Last Embrace (1979) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sexuality, violence and language
Running Time: 102 min.


Cast: Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, John Glover, Sam Levene, Charles Napier, Christopher Walken, Jacqueline Brookes, David Margulies, Mandy Patinkin (cameo), Jonathan Demme (cameo)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Screenplay: David Shaber (based on the novel, "The 13th Man" by Murray Teigh Bloom)
Review published July 4, 2005

Twelve years he would put his own type of influential thriller on the map in The Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Demme (The Truth About Charlie, The Agronomist) made an homage to the master of the contemporary thriller himself, Alfred Hitchcock.  Last Embrace may not have anything that can relate to a Hitchcock film in its subject matter, but you wouldn't know it from the way the film plays out -- a bittersweet romantic thriller in the vein of VertigoMany classic Hitchcock touches about, from nods to the shower scene in Psycho, the finale at a national monument (Niagara Falls here), and even the end shot will have you recalling The Birds, even if they have nothing to do with the story at large. 

Roy Scheider (Jaws, Blue Thunder) stars as Harry Hannan, a spy of sorts working for a secret organization, coming back in from a mandatory vacation after his wife is killed during one of his cases.  As mentally unstable as this makes him, he reports back to duty, only to become suspicious that someone is out to kill him, and that someone may be working for the same organization he works for.  Meanwhile, his home life hasn't improved much either, as he finds a peculiar woman living in his sublet apartment named Ellie (Margolin, Annie Hall) , who helps him try to piece things together.  Weird letters in Aramaic, cyanide capsules in his medicine cabinet, and people following him wherever he goes has Harry determined to get to the bottom of things before he ends up dead.

With nice performances by Scheider and Margolin, Last Embrace proves to be a classy but derivative thriller that piques the interest with an interesting mystery, but ultimately falls a bit short of the heights of the movies that inspired its style.  Margolin shines in particular, with a mix of sweetness and sexiness that has you wondering all along if she might have her hands dirty with all of the hullabaloo, and yet, we also seek a happy ending for her because of what she has meant for Scheider. 

With a nice Hermann-esque score by Miklos Rozsa (he had also worked with Hitch when he scored Spellbound), and fluid cinematography by Tak Fujimoto (Death Race 2000, Melvin and Howard), this is an old fashioned mystery that will most likely please those who reminisce for the older style of suspense vehicles.  Demme can't touch Hitchcock at his own game, but he fares better than most that have followed the same path.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo