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Last Embrace


‘…an extremely kooky slice of occult melodrama…’

Jonathan Demme’s neo-noir thriller has been somewhat off the grid for decades; it resurfaces some years past its prime, but it’s an extremely kooky slice of occult melodrama that provides an entertaining night-in. Roy Scheider was something of a go-to guy for action in the 70’s, via The French Connection, The 7 Ups, Jaws, Marathon Man and Sorcerer and even if Last Embrace was at the tail end of that hot streak, he serves up yet another of his signature ‘taciturn hero’ roles. Last Embrace is based on the novel The 13th Man by Murray Teigh Bloom, and even if it wasn’t as widely seen as Scheider’s other hits, there’s a growing cult following to consider…

But what is Last Embrace about? According to Wikipedia, it’s ‘the story of a woman who takes the role similar to the biblical avenger Goel and kills the descendants of the Zwi Migdal, who enslaved her grandmother.’ Even after the credits roll, it’s tricky to make that synopsis stick. Back in the actual film, Scheider plays a government agent (of course he does) named Harry Hannan, we see Hannan unsuccessfully defend his wife from some assassins in the opening sequence. Now widowed, Hannan spends some time in a sanatorium before returning to his New York City home. Hannan’s supervisor Echkart (Chris Walken, turned up to 11) cautions him against an early return to the field, but Hannan has no choice. His residence is now occupied by Ellie Fabian (Janet Margolin) who  shows him some weird Hebrew notes which have been stuck under his door during his absence. Hannan decides to turn the tables on his hunter, and the trail leads to a memorable show-down at the Niagara Falls.

With Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot, coming out in 76, the market was still there for someone to turn in a good-old suspense thriller, and Last Embrace ticks most of the boxes, with threats in public places, mysterious enemies, and a hero unsure of his own sanity. The twist is that Ellie is his real tormentor, and although details are sketchy, there’s a whole backstory to unfold about how and why she’s seeking revenge for wrongs done to her ancestors due to slavery. That’s actually a great idea for a 2022 thriller, although some of the cheesy handling here would be better left behind.

With support from John Glover, Joe Spinell, Charles Napier and even a glimpse of Mandy Patinkin, there’s tonnes for retro-cinema fans to lap up, and Demme graduates with aplomb from low-budget Roger Corman fodder to something much fancier. Last Embrace is a rather random movie, aping Hollywood but on a low budget, but the unusual underlying themes are rich enough to make this worth seeking out for jaded cineastes.


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  1. Huge cult hit back in the day as I remember. One of these films with terrific word of mouth. It baffled plenty but created its own iconic signature. Definitely worth a remake.

    • I’ve got little intel about the box office, but it seems to have fallen into obscurity. A remake would be well deserved, the book sounds interesting and still topical.

  2. Ahhhh, an avenger of blood. Wow, that is so misused. That was for murder alone of an immediate family member. But it’s hollywood, so I’m not surprised.

    Does Mandy P wear a mask? I saw him in a tv show, Dead Like Me (I think that was its name) and man, I barely recognized the older version he had become.

    • He’s only in one scene, the bit where Scheider thinks someone is about to kill him on a subway station. He does look different to what he does now.

      How should one correctly avenge blood?

      • Well, like I said above, the avenger of blood was a legal role created because there was no central police force. If a relative of yours was killed, it was your duty to track the killer down and kill him. If he made it to one of the 6 cities of refuge and the elders judged that it was manslaughter and not outright murder, he was allowed to live there and the avenger couldn’t take his life. But if the elders judged that it was murder, he was cast out and it became the avengers duty to execute justice.

        As far as I know, there are no references in the Bible itself to this ever happening. It was just codified in either Leviticus or Deuteronomy.

        And obviously, once Israel went into the Kingdom phase (beginning with Saul), it was no longer applicable because the king became the arbiter and dispenser of justice.

          • Only certain cities are defunding the police and the resulting spikes in crime should be enough to make the voters kick the bastards out who instituted such moves. Or they’ll leave and let the city devour itself.
            In many ways, if there is no justice by the authorities, people are going to find it on their own.
            And that usually doesn’t turn out so well for the good people.

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