Tuesday, 12 February 2008

L' Ultima chance / Last Chance / Last Chance for a Born Loser / Motel of Fear / Stateline Motel

Having just been released from a Canadian prison after serving a six-month sentence for stealing a car, career criminal Floyd (Fabio Testi) takes advantage of the fact that he has to return to his native USA within 48 hours by teaming up with his old colleague Joe (Eli Wallach) to pull a jewelery store heist. The plan is that Floyd will smuggle the loot across the border and meet up with Joe back stateside the following day, where they will divide it up. As we all know, however, plans have a habit of going awry – especially in the heist movie.

The two men manage to pull off the robbery, albeit with Joe being forced to shoot a man who tries to raise the alarm, Floyd having failed to take control of the situation. The younger man does, however, prove his mettle in the car chase that ensues, as they successfully evade the police and make it out of the city.

Driving along a snow-covered backroad, Floyd unwisely starts veering from side to side and winds up going off the road. Though he is unhurt, the car needs repairs. And these repairs as mechanic Jack (Howard Ross) explains require a part – a part which will have to be brought in from out of town, meaning that Floyd isn't going to get across the border as planned.

Floyd goes to the motel next to the garage, and phones Joe to try to explain, but fails to his colleage's suspicious that he is trying to pull a fast one.

His frantic need to get out of town, railing at the gas station attendant who cannot – he believes will not – rent him a car, soon arouses suspicion, all the more so when the news broadcasts footage taken by a hidden camera inside the jewelers and notes that it is likely the American robbers may well be heading for the border.

While Floyd and Joe men were wearing masks, the descriptions of them are accurate, noting in particular that the younger man unusually wore his watch on the right rather than left wrist.
Floyd manages to remove the offending item before it can incriminate him, but by now the motel owner's wife, Michelle Norton (Ursula Andress) is convinced that something about the stranger is not as it seems. She's unstable and, keen to get out of her stultifying relationship with her older husband (Massimo Girotti), has already been carrying on with Jack, who also quickly puts two and two together...

Worse, the other inhabitant of the Last Chance Motel, the chambermaid Emily (Barbara Bach) just happens to be the girlfriend of one of the town policemen (Carlo De Mejo)...

Based on a novel of the same name by Franco Enna (whose work also provided the source for Omicidio per appuntamento a few years earlier), Maurizio Lucidi's L'Ultima chance is unusual among Italian crime thrillers of the early 1970s for its setting, which is also made a relatively important part of the whole.

While I didn't really get whether the story was supposed to be taking place in Francophone or Anglophone Canada – the advertisement hoardings are all in English, but the Montreal Star seems to be the newspaper of choice – the story probably wouldn't work in most European border locales with, say, two robbers trying to cross from Austria into Italy or from Belgium into France. It needs the scale and anonymity which the US-Canada border can provide, along with a harsher winter.

Though first in the credits, Wallach's role is largely limited to the opening and closing moments – albeit with his work there having that intensity which just about warrants his prominence in terms other than box-office recognition.

The rest of the film is pretty much the Testi and Andress show. Both do what they need to, with Andress taking the honours as far as the more complex performance goes, leaving us unsure as to her true feelings until the last – although it is also harder to fairly judge Testi's performance insofar as unlike Andress he does not do his own English dubbing – and are capably supported by Ross, Bach and Girotti.

The plotting and direction don't immediately come across as equally successful, however.
Part of this could be down to the English version apparently being cut compared to the Italian, but the rhythm and tone do seem a bit off at times. In particular, the opening robbery and chase set you up for a different kind of film than what the rest delivers, while the challenge of conveying a state of stasis without also boring the viewer is not quite met.

There are also some possible inconsistencies of character, such as Joe's trusting Floyd with the loot and Floyd's behind the wheel antics (as the sort of thing likely to attract the attention of the police or lead to some sort of (un)foreseen mishap) though more charitably it could be said that these reflects the basic inadequacies of the two men as (un)professional criminals.

Much the same might be said of place the loot ends up being hidden. Anyone who has seen Night of the Hunter or Wait Until Dark will probably be ahead of Floyd here, but perhaps thereby also forget to pay as much attention as might otherwise be the case to certain other curious details that emerge along the way to the final resolution...

While it may be a consequence of poor video mastering or similar, the visuals are a bit murky at times, with some scenes being so dark that it is difficult to anything out or else featuring the kind of contrast where there is black, white and little else.


The Vicar of VHS said...

Great review. My first exposure to Fabio Testi's work came earlier this year when I watched Trauma (aka Enigma Rosso, Rings of Fear), which I see you reviewed last year. It made me want to check out the rest of that trilogy, along with What Have You Done with Solange? and What Have They Done with Your Daughts? Unfortunately, though, I've not yet tracked those two films down.

Love your site! I'm giving you a link on mine.

K H Brown said...

Thanks - pretty cool blog you have as well :-)

Other Testi films I'd recommend are Revolver, Contraband and The Garden of the Finzi Continis.