Dennis Hopper in The Last Movie (1971)


(director: Dennis Hopper; screenwriters: Stewart Stern/story by Dennis Hopper; cinematographer: László Kovács; editors: David Berlatsky/Dennis Hopper/Antranig Makakian; music: Severn Darden/Chabuca Granda/Kris Kristofferson/John Buck Wilkin; cast: Dennis Hopper (Kansas), Stella Garcia (Maria), Julie Adams (Mrs. Anderson), Tomas Milian (Priest), Don Gordon (Neville Robey), Roy Engel (Harry Anderson), Rod Cameron (Pat Garrett), Sam Fuller (Himself), Dean Stockwell (Billy), Michelle Phillips (Banker’s daughter), Kris Kristofferson (Minstrel wrangler), Donna Baccala (Miss Anderson), Peter Fonda (Young sheriff), John Phillip Law (Little Brother); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Paul Lewis/Bob Rafelson; United American Video/Universal; 1971)
“The allegory attempted was so bizarre and unlike any Hollywood venture, that it’s worth checking out for all the potential it had but never realized.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dennis Hopper’s (“Out of the Blue”/”Colors”) follow-up to his surprise cult youth film smash “Easy Rider,” where he got Universal to bank him and give him artistic freedom along with the final cut. The result is this noncommercial ambitious satire on moviemaking, that unfortunately smacks of pretentiousness in its sour grape telling of how America poisons the “water” wherever it goes with its greedy, vulgar and violent nature. The Last Movie tells of a troubled production of an American Western being shot in Peru and has Hopper asking the question: What happens when the movie is over and the locals are left with the Western sets? It was shot on location in a remote village in Chinchero, Peru, though Hopper originally wanted to film it in Mexico and supposedly had a coherent story in mind before changing his tune. Though winning a special prize at the Venice film festival, it never received a wide screening (it opened with great anticipation in NYC to a record first day box office but was universally panned by the critics and removed from theaters after only two weeks) and has since just about disappeared from sight. It’s the kind of sweet train wreck that keeps chugging along on its own volition, seemingly unconcerned with its own hubris, chaotic storytelling and inability to find a way to end the muddled film. While looking over its shoulder at the myth of filmmaking and its international influence, it appears both shamelessly absurd and dazzling in all the ideas it throws against the wall that it never brings to fruition in a cohesive narrative. It leaves a mess, but there’s evidently some fun for the ensemble cast in making such a mess and for the viewer some fun in viewing such a distorted take on the tricks of filmmaking, the Ugly American in a Third World country and the way films confuse the public with their own reality. I believe, but wouldn’t bet on it, the film’s more subtle theme, other than slinging mud at the way Hollywood makes films, was trying to make some kind of statement on the mess left by the 1960’s and that of the aimlessness of the young and impoverished who are tempted by the materialism offered by the haves. The film, to its detriment, becomes sophomoric as it needlessly interrupts its story with flash titles that say “scene missing,” leaving a clapboard in the frame and suddenly ending the film without a resolution by flashing “The End.”

The plot line has no-nonsense real-life director Sam Fuller, wearing a Union cowboy hat, directing a “Billy the Kid” western in the rugged Andes and thanking the crew as he wraps and they return to Hollywood. The ill-fated ‘film-within-a-film’ had the star Billy (Dean Stockwell) accidentally killed in one of its action scenes. A hippie cowboy stuntman named Kansas (Dennis Hopper) stays on with local ex-prostitute Maria (Stella Garcia) for some fun and games; also to explore the possibilities of getting rich with a gold mine he’s a partner to and scheming to exploit the indigenous culture by building a fancy resort hotel for rich tourists on top of the mountain. The local Indians meanwhile recruit Kansas to be the star in their imaginary movie re-staged from Fuller’s abandoned movie sets, where Kansas must die a sacrificial bloody death for the sins of mankind (becoming a Jesus figure). They use bamboo to imitate the real equipment, such as booms and microphones. The local priest (Tomas Milian) blames the American filmmakers for the natives going violent (they insist the movie’s violence be real) and hopes at the movie’s end they will come back to their senses and find reason to go back to being again religiously moral. The more ambitious primitives represented by Maria want such things as a swimming pool, a refrigerator and a fur coat while the Ugly American tourists, represented by the Anderson family, owners of a broom factory back home, want only to live it up on their vacation by privately watching a special performance by the whores in the local cathouse. Kansas’ drifter friend Neville (Don Gordon) plans on prospecting for gold using only The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for his information, and has somehow hooked the always drunk or stoned Kansas on this implausible scheme succeeding.

In the end the only one left standing is the Hopper character, as the many ideas that were flying around seem lost in the rarefied mountain air or in the haze of a hallucinogenic trip to nowhere. When the non-linear narrative vanishes into thin air, so does the film. Nevertheless the allegory attempted was so bizarre and unlike any Hollywood venture, that it’s worth checking out for all the potential it had but never realized.