Monday, November 3, 2008


Freshman director Denys McCoy's post American Civil War western "The Last Rebel" (* out of ****) with Joe Namath, Jack Elam, Woody Strode, and Ty Hardin amounts to a sorry excuse for a horse opera. Indeed, "Beyond the Law" scenarist Warren Kiefer and co-scripter Rea Redifer have fashioned an entirely believable, hopelessly predictable and happily simple oater about two Confederate soldiers that fall out with each other and shoot up a town in Missouri. The best thing about this amateurishly lensed and edited western is the anachronistic orchestral score that Jon Lord and Tony "Deep Purple" Aston provided. It is easy to understand why Denys McCoy dropped out of sight after "The Last Rebel," since he couldn't stage suspenseful action scenes. The next best thing is the Harper's Weekly wood cuts of the Civil War that appear behind the opening credits.

The setting is southwest Missouri in the spring of 1865. The Federal troops are dug in on one side of the river, while the Confederate troops have fortified themselves on the opposite bank. Matt Graves (Jack Elam of "Kansas City Confidential") spots a duck splashing about in the river. He rouses Burnside Hollis (Joe Namath of "Avalanche Express") and Hollis grabs his rifle. A Union rifleman takes aim at the duck, but Hollis blows the bird out of the water with one shot. The Union sharpshooter grumbles with feeling, "That reb never misses."

Nine minutes into the storyline, a Confederate messenger arrives and informs the lieutenant that Lee has surrendered in Virginia and that they have to lay down their arms. The lieutenant (Herb Andress of "Lady Frankenstein") rides out to meet a Union officer (Sebastian Segriff) in the middle of the river to discuss terms of surrender. The Union officer warns him that he must display a white flag. Before the Confederate lieutenant can pull a white flag to stick on his saber, the Yankees cut him down in a hail of gunfire. Burnside Hollis decides that he doesn't want to wind up in a Federal prison camp so he skedaddles and Matt follows him. They ride off and don't stop until they spot a southern lynch mob about to hang a former Union soldier, Duncan (Woody Strode of "The Professionals"), and Hollis demands his release. He gives Duncan a horse to ride and scatters the southerners.

Later that evening, Matt gets a lot off his chest. He confides in Hollis. "I don't like the way things are going. What I mean is, here we are, two busted rebels out in the middle of nowhere, with a rock (Duncan) in our pocket. The way I see it, we been running so long we don't know how to do nothing else. It's time that we stopped and dug our heels in." Matt is the schemer of the bunch.

Hollis trusts Duncan, but Matt doesn't share Hollis' sentiments toward Duncan. Our heroes find a stagecoach with a dead man in it and a young girl. When they arrive in town with the stagecoach, Hollis and Matt tell the sheriff (a bearded Ty Hardin of "PT-109") about what happened. He wants them to get out of town in an hour. Our heroes cheerfully ignore him and set themselves up over at Pearl's place, a sort of saloon & cathouse. Meanwhile, Matt obtains Hollis a suit of clothes that only a tin-horn would wear. Hollis sucks a pool hustler and takes him for every cent. Basically, he wins about $4-thousand dollars and he entrusts it for safe keeping with Duncan so that he can enjoy himself in the arms of Pearl (Victoria George of "El Dorado") Matt demands his share of the loot. Hollis tells him that he gave it all to Duncan but he doesn't know Duncan's whereabouts. Hollis tracks down Duncan. Duncan, it seems, had taken the cash and hidden it in his double-barreled shotgun. Matt—masquerading as the Klu Klux Klan—sneaks up on them and arrests them. They have Hollis and Duncan dig a deep hole and then toss in knives to see who will survive. Our heroes surprise the bad guys and decimate them with the help of a young African-American youth (Bruce Eweka) who wields a rifle.

Later, Matt teams up with the sheriff, but their alliance is short-lived when Duncan drops the lawman with both barrels of his double-barreled shotgun and Hollis drill him once for good measure. One of Matt's trigger-happy pistoleros shoots Pearl. This is the only surprising thing about "The Last Rebel," since the Pearl character had done nothing wrong. Hollis resolves to kill the assassin. He wants to confront Matt out on main street, but by this time, Matt's men have started a fire. Duncan laments the fire. "It'd be nice to use that front door once." Hollis smashes through a window, lands in the street and starts blasting away, while Duncan joins him. Hollis strikes a heroic pose as the fire consumes Pearl's place in the blazing inferno behind him.

"The Last Rebel" qualifies as an execrable oater. Joe Namath isn't much of an actor. In all fairness to Namath, the role of Burnside Hollis didn't give him much to work with to craft a character. When Hollis decides to ride back to town to save the girl, Duncan observes, "That's playing a damn fool." Hollis replies, "Well, I guess I never was much else." Jack Elam as the principal villain, Woody Strode as the ex-Union soldier, and Ty Hardin as a corrupt sheriff fare better in their respective roles. Ty Hardin has a great death scene in the lobby of the bordello where he gets riddled with bullets. Aside from the knowledge that this movie was shot in Rome, "The Last Rebel" doesn't at all resemble a spaghetti western. Cinematographer Carlo Carlini's work here is pathetic compared with his stupendous work on "Death Rides A Horse." When "The Last Rebel" came out, it was still acceptable to refer to African-Americans by the 'n' word.

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