Last Embrace (Jonathan Demme / U.S., 1979):

At the close of the Decade of Paranoia, the immemorial threat and the dizzy daze. The opening cantina shootout runs the gamut from floating tracking shots to rapid dissolves to slow-motion, and establishes the protagonist's trauma as an oneiric memory. ("Think of the mind as a weave," it is said at the sanitarium, and there's Miklos Rozsa for the Spellbound connection.) Out of the institution and into New York City for the jumpy spy (Roy Scheider), on thin ice with his shadowy firm (presided over by an officious-saturnine Christopher Walken) and with reality itself. The note in Aramaic links synagogues and cathouses, the anthropology graduate in his apartment (Janet Margolin) points up a recent string of deaths. "You have a certain distinction... You're the only one who still seems to be alive." Plenty of Hitchcock jokes for Jonathan Demme—the Dial M for Murder scissors and the Psycho shower turn up as feints—though the dark and romantic impressionism at play belongs unmistakably to the future director of The Silence of the Lambs. The gunman on the trail (Charles Napier) carries his own familial grief, the chase up the Princeton University tower is a bravura cacophony (tolling bells, whizzing bullets, flapping pigeons) capped with a choice burst of Sam Levene kvetching. A cross-generational revenge, a zigzagging camera perpetually at odds with minute constructions, a grave violin one moment and a freewheeling ukelele the next. Traces of Something Wild here and there, a pan from raging waters outside to Margolin applying blood-red lipstick before the mirror, ready to unveil her "quite depraved" side. "You government guys! You think the only causes are on the cover of Time magazine?" The Niagara Falls finale pulls together North by Northwest, Vertigo and Saboteur, a fierce vision of desolation from the most communal of filmmakers. Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. With John Glover, Jacqueline Brooks, David Margulies, Andrew Duncan, Mandy Patinkin, and Jim McBride.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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