2016/11/20

Palatable: Last Embrace

Last Embrace (1979)
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Murray Teigh Bloom, David Shaber
Produced by Dan Wigutow, Michael Taylor, John Nicolella
Starring Roy Scheider, Janet Margolin, Sam Levene, John Glover, Charles Napier
His nerves were frayed and instincts addled upon discharge from the sanitarium where a federal agent (Scheider) was committed after his wife was slain by a mafioso, but as the recipient of a Hebraic death threat enscribed in ancient Aramaic, he's constrained to trace a trail of kosher corpses, none of which reflect any immediate connection save for their shared receipt of the literatim death threat. Relieved by a pretty anthropology student (Margolin) quartered in his apartment during his absence and an aging Yiddish investigator (Levene) dispatched by a cabalistic committee, the traumatized widower is too far from his truth and close to the culprit to ascertain either. With an ambitious avidity characteristic of the advancing auteur, Demme flaunted his future hallmarks of convincing red herrings, clever segues and extreme close-ups more skillfully than in his most successful pictures, and they harmonize with the attractive pans, startling perspective shots, cunning prefiguration and famed locations implemented in imitation of Britain's nonpareil of cinematic suspense. Fine pastiches of Hitchcock's corpus abound, but most emulate Hitch's technique in abstention of his pathos; in a celebration of Old Hollywood's romance, Demme boldly embraced that outmoded poignancy in his blighted venture to revive it for the most cynical audiences who ever patronized American theaters. Scheider was always plausible as a pseudo-Jew, and the leathery lead's powerful at his ubiquitous pinnacle: sinew taut and resolve steely as the harrowed G-man, generating a blaze with genuine Ashki Margolin, who's still stunning at the threshold of her middle age and a fit match for her co-star. She radiates as much hammily irrepressible charm in contrast as sensuous vulnerability enfolded to Scheider's straight man; more roles so apropos might have elevated and sustained her career. Levene also renders some solid comic relief by banter with Scheider's foil, and Glover's as perfectly apt as a bookish linguistics professor. A few good cameos complement the cast: Christopher Walken carps creepily as a clandestine section supervisor, Joe Spinell's unmistakably garish as a mobster, and a briefly conspicuous David Margulies appears as an affable rabbi. None of this picture's elements so vividly kindle the heart and soul of its influences as Miklós Rózsa's score, the neo-romantic swells of which recall his music for Spellbound and Hermann's most lachrymose works in collaboration with Hitchcock. This was unfortunately yet another of United Artists' many flops antecedent to the disaster of Heaven's Gate that drove Transamerica from the film industry, but its failure was ineluctable. By adapting Bloom's The 13th Man in emulation of The Master, Demme and Shaber might've remembered that many of his best tragedies were in their day no more appealing to the public.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Body Heat.

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