Last Embrace (1979)

R | 101 mins | Mystery | 4 May 1979

Director:

Jonathan Demme

Writer:

David Shaber

Cinematographer:

Tak Fujimoto

Editor:

Barry Malkin

Production Designer:

Charles Rosen
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HISTORY

       According to production notes at AMPAS library, the project originated with producers Michael Taylor and Dan Wigutow, executives at United Artists Corp., when they decided to buy the screen rights to a recent novel by journalist Murray Teigh Bloom, titled The 13th Man (1977). An item in the 12 Jun 1978 Publishers Weekly noted that the rights sold for $90,000. Once the producers optioned the property, they left United Artists and formed their own production company, designating Last Embrace as the inaugural project.
       After a year of working on the screenplay with writer David Shaber, the producers approached Jonathan Demme to direct based on his previous films, particularly, Handle With Care (1977, see entry), which had received enthusiastic reviews. Roy Scheider was always the top choice to play “Harry Hannan,” and the producers viewed the project as a chance to introduce Scheider as a vulnerable romantic lead. Janet Margolin won the role of “Ellie Fabian” after auditions that included nearly 100 other actresses.
       The filmmakers began principal photography in New York City during Jun 1978. Locations included Central Park, Grand Central Station, the Museum of Natural History, Macy’s department store and the Lower East Side. Harry’s apartment was located in Greenwich Village. Interiors at Columbia University were used for some of the laboratory and library scenes. The production moved to the campus of Princeton University in NJ for one week. According to a studio press release, the filmmakers shot sequences on Amtrak’s "Rainbow" line during the eight-hour train journey to Niagara Falls, occupying three passenger cars. ... More Less

       According to production notes at AMPAS library, the project originated with producers Michael Taylor and Dan Wigutow, executives at United Artists Corp., when they decided to buy the screen rights to a recent novel by journalist Murray Teigh Bloom, titled The 13th Man (1977). An item in the 12 Jun 1978 Publishers Weekly noted that the rights sold for $90,000. Once the producers optioned the property, they left United Artists and formed their own production company, designating Last Embrace as the inaugural project.
       After a year of working on the screenplay with writer David Shaber, the producers approached Jonathan Demme to direct based on his previous films, particularly, Handle With Care (1977, see entry), which had received enthusiastic reviews. Roy Scheider was always the top choice to play “Harry Hannan,” and the producers viewed the project as a chance to introduce Scheider as a vulnerable romantic lead. Janet Margolin won the role of “Ellie Fabian” after auditions that included nearly 100 other actresses.
       The filmmakers began principal photography in New York City during Jun 1978. Locations included Central Park, Grand Central Station, the Museum of Natural History, Macy’s department store and the Lower East Side. Harry’s apartment was located in Greenwich Village. Interiors at Columbia University were used for some of the laboratory and library scenes. The production moved to the campus of Princeton University in NJ for one week. According to a studio press release, the filmmakers shot sequences on Amtrak’s "Rainbow" line during the eight-hour train journey to Niagara Falls, occupying three passenger cars.
       Location filming at Niagara Falls, on the border between the U.S. and Canada, was scheduled for nine days. In a 4 Aug 1978 column for HR, Wigutow explained that because of complications in obtaining approval from two countries, the production started the permit process during the scriptwriting phase. Wigutow noted other challenges. Canadian authorities restricted the film crew to the hours of 3:00am to 8:30am in the tunnels around the Falls, and the location work unfortunately coincided with the busy tourist season, creating an excess of onlookers around the crew and in front of the camera. To keep the mist of the Falls from coating the camera lens, a “spray deflector” was required.
       After Niagara Falls, the production moved to the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio lot in Culver City, CA, to shoot interiors, including a reproduction of the bell tower at Princeton, as noted in a 16 Aug 1978 HR article. Two endings were shot on stage 19 at MGM. In one version, “Ellie Fabian” lives and in the other, she drowns, which was mentioned in a 22 Aug 1978 DV brief.
       The brief also pointed out that the estimated budget was $4 million, while a 13 May 1979 NYT article stated that the cost was $3.6 million.
       The mixed reviews generally described Last Embrace as either an unimaginative imitation of Alfred Hitchcock’s work or a worthy tribute to the director. The 2 May 1979 Var review highlighted specific Hitchcockian moments in the film that referred to scenes from Foreign Correspondent (1940, see entry) and Psycho (1960, see entry). However, in the 13 May 1979 NYT article, Demme claimed that the film contained no homages.
      The end credits include the written statement: “The Producers would like to acknowledge their appreciation to the following: City of New York; New York State Motion Picture Development Unit; Princeton University; Columbia University; Niagara Falls Parks Commission; Canadian Parks Commission.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
26 Jun 1978.
---
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1978
p. 1, 19.
Los Angeles Times
29 Apr 1979
p. 32.
New York Times
4 May 1979
p. 16.
New York Times
13 May 1979
p. 41.
Publishers Weekly
12 Jun 1978.
---
Variety
16 Aug 1978.
---
Variety
14 Feb 1979.
---
Variety
2 May 1979
p. 27.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Taylor-Wigutow Production
A Jonathan Demme Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Unit mgr
2d unit dir
Asst dir, California crew
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Spec still photog
Gaffer
Key grip
Grip
Gaffer, California crew
Key grip, California crew
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Scenic artist
Carpenter
Const grip
Prop asst
Prop master, California crew
Const coord, California crew
Set const, California crew
Set dec, California crew
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Ward des asst
Ward des asst
Roy Scheider's ward furnished by
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles
Spec eff, California crew
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hair des
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Extras casting
Asst to the prods
Secy to the dir
Unit pub
Transportation
Loc coord
Prod office coord
Loc auditor
Loc auditor
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
D.G.A. trainee
Casting, California crew
Prod accountant
U.A. representative
STAND INS
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The 13th Man by Murray Teigh Bloom (New York, 1977).
MUSIC
"The Forties," music by Miklos Rozsa, arranged by Joe Reisman.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The 13th Man
Release Date:
4 May 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 May 1979
Production Date:
began June 1978
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
21 May 1979
Copyright Number:
PA32960
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Camera and lenses by Panavision®/ Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a dream, Harry Hannan, a covert government agent, relives the final moments with his wife, Dorothy. They are enjoying a romantic dinner at a cantina in Mexico when Harry notices an unexpected group of men arrive and reaches for his gun. In the exchange of bullets, Dorothy is shot dead. As Harry prepares to leave a sanitarium in Connecticut, his psychologist, Dr. Coopersmith, reassures him that the dream is a normal part of the healing process. She reminds him to use his prescribed pills if needed. Arriving in New York City, Harry goes to a department store and buys a tube of lipstick from Adrian, a fellow operative who works at the makeup counter; however, the piece of paper he extracts from the tube is blank. Breaking protocol, Harry asks Adrian why the instructions for his next assignment are missing, but she has no information. When he returns to his apartment, he is surprised to find a Princeton University graduate student named Ellie Fabian living there. Ellie explains that she arranged the sublease through student housing after being told that the Hannans would be away on indefinite leave. Since Harry’s company is responsible for the apartment in his absence, he will notify them about the mix-up. Before Harry leaves, Ellie hands over a message that was left for him. Harry cannot read the note, but Ellie recognizes the letters as Hebrew. At the agency’s clandestine office, Harry tells his boss, Eckart, that he needs an assignment, arguing that he is ready to go back to work. Dubious, Eckart reminds Harry that he spent ... +


In a dream, Harry Hannan, a covert government agent, relives the final moments with his wife, Dorothy. They are enjoying a romantic dinner at a cantina in Mexico when Harry notices an unexpected group of men arrive and reaches for his gun. In the exchange of bullets, Dorothy is shot dead. As Harry prepares to leave a sanitarium in Connecticut, his psychologist, Dr. Coopersmith, reassures him that the dream is a normal part of the healing process. She reminds him to use his prescribed pills if needed. Arriving in New York City, Harry goes to a department store and buys a tube of lipstick from Adrian, a fellow operative who works at the makeup counter; however, the piece of paper he extracts from the tube is blank. Breaking protocol, Harry asks Adrian why the instructions for his next assignment are missing, but she has no information. When he returns to his apartment, he is surprised to find a Princeton University graduate student named Ellie Fabian living there. Ellie explains that she arranged the sublease through student housing after being told that the Hannans would be away on indefinite leave. Since Harry’s company is responsible for the apartment in his absence, he will notify them about the mix-up. Before Harry leaves, Ellie hands over a message that was left for him. Harry cannot read the note, but Ellie recognizes the letters as Hebrew. At the agency’s clandestine office, Harry tells his boss, Eckart, that he needs an assignment, arguing that he is ready to go back to work. Dubious, Eckart reminds Harry that he spent the last three months recovering from a nervous breakdown, and dismisses Harry by saying that they will be in touch soon. Seeking information about the note, Harry consults Rabbi Drexel who translates the Hebrew as “goel hadam” meaning “avenger of blood” and interprets it as a death threat. The note also contains the initials “ZM,” which the Rabbi does not recognize. At a laboratory, Harry tracks down Ellie and instructs her to leave the apartment that evening, explaining that someone is trying to kill him. After picking up his gun at home, Harry takes the subway to the cemetery where his wife and other family members are buried. His brother-in-law, Dave Quittle, who also works for the agency, is following him. In front of Dorothy’s grave, Quittle accuses Harry of unnecessarily putting his sister in harm’s way during the assignment in Mexico. Shaking, Harry pulls out his gun, but Quittle assures him that he is only there to assess whether Harry is stable enough to return to the field. After Quittle departs, Harry notices the letters “ZM” etched on his grandfather’s tombstone. Back at the office, Eckart shreds Harry’s photograph and orders Quittle to kill him. When Harry returns to the apartment that evening, he is upset to find Ellie still there. Concerned, she offers to introduce Harry to Professor Richard Peabody, an expert in Biblical Hebrew at Princeton. Harry questions her intentions, but agrees to let her stay and sleeps on the sofa. During the night, Harry wakes up screaming his wife’s name. To relieve his anxiety, Harry takes a pill from the bottle prescribed by Dr. Coopersmith, but immediately spits it out, and identifies the tablet as cyanide. On the Princeton campus, Peabody tells Harry that he has known of five deaths accompanied by “goel” notes over the last two years. This one is distinctive because Harry is still alive. As written in ancient text, he explains, the killing must be done through a traditional or modern method of fire, sword, stoning or strangulation. Harry is baffled about why he is on the list. Later, Harry attends a cocktail party with Ellie whom he finds particularly attractive that evening. When he notices her jewelry, Ellie proudly remarks that it belonged to her grandmother. During the party, Harry learns that an anonymous caller left a message with Peabody’s secretary requesting Harry to come tomorrow to the University’s tower courtyard. The following day he arrives for the rendezvous, but sees no one. Hearing footsteps, Harry finds Quittle at the top of the bell tower. During the ensuing shootout, Harry switches on the bells. The noise tortures Quittle, and he falls to his death. When Harry descends the stairs, he sees a man by the name of Sam Urdell standing next to Quittle’s body. Sam describes himself as a member of a committee investigating the “goel” deaths, and explains that Rabbi Drexel notified him. After clarifying that Quittle is not involved in the death threats, Sam shows Harry a photograph that was left on the body of a previous “goel” victim. The picture is an image of a luncheonette and on the back of the photograph, Harry’s name is written. Upon returning to New York City, Sam takes Harry to the same spot, located on the Lower East Side. On the outside of the building, Harry uncovers an old plaque containing the now familiar letters, “ZM.” Sam realizes that it stands for the Zwi Migdal, the main brothel of New York’s East Side fifty years ago. After conducting research at a synagogue library, Harry discovers that his grandfather, Max Hannan, was the secretary of the Zwi Migdal. Through Sam, Harry learns that this powerful criminal organization hid its white slavery activities by appearing to be a charitable business. Meanwhile, at a hotel room in Niagara Falls, Ellie has remade herself as a prostitute named Eva and is entertaining a client, Bernie Meckler. As they are having sex in the bathtub, she drowns him. Back in New York City, Harry arrives at the apartment and is excited to see Ellie, who has resumed her identity as a plain graduate student. That evening, they make love. In the middle of the night, Sam calls Harry to inform him that the name of the latest “goel” murder was Meckler. The next morning, Sam reiterates that a descendant from every major family from Zwi Migdal has been killed, except for Hannan. Returning to the synagogue library, Harry and Sam discover that someone at Princeton recently borrowed, The Jews of New England, the volume containing the history of Meckler’s family. Harry and Sam immediately suspect Peabody and proceed to the University’s Firestone Library. After determining the location of the volume, Harry breaks into study room 629 and along with the book and finds an old photograph of three prostitutes. Using a magnifying glass, he notices that one of the prostitutes resembles Ellie and wears the same jewelry. Harry realizes that the prostitute must be her grandmother, Eva. Returning to the apartment, Harry surprises Ellie and tells her to get dressed for a romantic getaway. After a long drive, they approach Niagara Falls. Conflicted, she contemplates murdering him, but then declares her love. After a passionate embrace, Harry shows her the cyanide tablet and accuses her of moving in just to kill him. She relates her grandmother’s tragedy; after arriving on Ellis Island at the age of fifteen, she was forced into prostitution and eventually died from syphilis. Regardless of his ancestors’ crimes, Harry says that he is taking her back to face the consequences of her vengeance. She runs away. Harry chases her and eventually finds her at a scenic overlook, disguised in a yellow raincoat among a group of tourists wearing the same. Ellie flees through the underground tunnels, but Harry corners her at one of the portals overlooking Niagara Falls. As they struggle, Ellie slips on the wet rock and falls through a railing. Harry grabs the hood of her raincoat and tries to pull her back to the ledge. As the raincoat tears, Harry loses his grip and Ellie plunges to her death. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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