Last Embrace goes a long way in showing what’s wrong with Hitchcock homages. Most of Last Embrace isn’t even a real Hitchcock homage–it’s a Niagara homage and Niagara was Henry Hathaway–but Embrace is supposed to be Hitchcock, down to Miklos Rozsa’s score (but he never did any Hitchcock). So it’s kind of a second-hand Hitchcock homage, a homage to Hitchcock homages, only without being funny about it. Last Embrace shows why location shooting and accurate film stock (versus Technicolor) miss the majority of the point to the Hitchcock film. Oh, geez, I just remembered the last two references (I forgot the earlier ones, because the Niagara realization threw me). Psycho and Suspicion.
The problem with the bad Hitchcock homage is Demme, but the problem with the film overall is the screenplay. The film’s missing its denouement, sure, but it fails to tell its two stories–one, of a secret agent who has a breakdown and, two, of a man who’s on a mysterious hit list for something he doesn’t know he did. Last Embrace is from a novel and I’m sure the novel went deeper in to some of the particulars, but for the film to ignore the first plot once the second one takes over (much more entertaining, thanks to a wonderful Sam Levene). It’s a pointless ninety-seven minutes and not even an amusing experience.
Some of the acting is fantastic. Since Roy Scheider doesn’t have much to do–and he’s Cary Grant from Suspicion for the last fifteen minutes–his performance is best in pieces. Demme shoots New York beautifully and Scheider works great in New York, so it works out more often than not. Like I said above, Levene is a wonderful presence in the film and it’s impossible to imagine it without him. Janet Margolin, who I remember from nothing, is absolutely fantastic in the film. She really holds it together until Levene shows up. John Glover is–strangely–bad and annoying as an annoying professor, which is too bad.
The film runs ninety-seven minutes, but I doubt there’s a superior hundred and ten minute version out there. Demme tries to go for style above substance (or story) and when the best thing about your style is transitional shots of New York City… well, the movie’s in definite trouble. But most of the fault–there not being a main character, just someone who has different reactions to different people and different situations–falls on the script (and seeing screenwriter Shaber’s credits, Last Embrace is a singular achievement).
Directed by Jonathan Demme; screenplay by David Shaber, based on a novel by Murray Teigh Bloom; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barry Malkin; music by Miklos Rosza; produced by Michael Taylor and Dan Wigutow; released by United Artists.
Starring Roy Scheider (Harry Hannan), Janet Margolin (Ellie Fabian), John Glover (Richard Peabody), Sam Levene (Sam Urdell), Charles Napier (Dave Quittle), Christopher Walken (Eckart), Jacqueline Brookes (Dr. Coopersmith), David Margulies (Rabbi Josh Drexel), Andrew Duncan (Bernie Meckler) and Marcia Rodd (Adrian).