Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Cable Catch-Up: Last Embrace (1979)

For years I’ve been trying to track down a copy of this Jonathan Demme thriller, which Leonard Maltin describes as one of the better faux Hitchcock films. It was worth the effort.

Roy Scheider stars as an intelligence agent who suffers a nervous breakdown after his wife is killed. He’s released from a psychiatric hospital to resume his normal life, only to become convinced that someone is after him.

The is-he-or-isn’t-he-crazy gambit works phenomenally well here, thanks in large part to Demme’s use of subjective camerawork. Many of the actors address Scheider (and us) directly. When Demme cuts to the opposite angle, Scheider is always slightly off-center in the frame. It’s a subtle but powerful effect that ratchets up the tension. And unlike many thrillers of this stripe, the revelation of the truth makes the proceedings even more disturbing.

There’s a lot of talent on both sides of the camera. At this time in his career Demme was bringing his finely-honed B-movie chops to bear on all kinds of material. Screenwriter David Shaber, adapting Murray Teigh Bloom’s novel THE TENTH MAN, was also responsible for THE WARRIORS and NIGHTHAWKS. Janet Margolin, who didn’t appear in nearly enough films, registers strongly in a tricky part.

Then there’s Scheider, always a dependable presence. He’s a key part of so many signature films of the 1970s (KLUTE, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) who would come into his own by the decade’s end with JAWS and ALL THAT JAZZ. But his career declined with the start of the ‘80s. When he turned up as the nefarious head of the insurance company in 1997’s THE RAINMAKER, it seemed like ages since I’d seen him. His performance here is among his best.

TV: The Miss USA Pageant

My streak continues. Once again I picked the winner – the lovely Chelsea Cooley, Miss North Carolina – from the opening line-up. Rosemarie was more impressed with this feat than usual, because the intros were shot outdoors in variable lighting. I don’t know why I have been given this gift. I only know that I must use it for good and not for evil.

Another thing I don’t know: why were the contestants told to pose as if they were Jennifer Garner in ELEKTRA?

Magazine: Bostonia

I get this rag for free as an alumnus of Boston University. I usually don’t read it, because I don’t want to feel guilty for ignoring the solicitations that come with it.

But the latest issue includes profiles of the many crime novelists who matriculated at B.U., including Robert B. Parker, Linda Barnes and April Henry. It’s definitely worth a look.

But I’m still not sending them any money.