By Richard Swainson
Sep 07, 2018

The Finesse of Final Films

Auteur House

Auteur House has recently acquired The Flintstones. Not the 1960s animated television series, but the 1994 live action film. 

Why? Well, aside from whatever ironic pleasures might otherwise be extracted from such a poorly conceived, badly executed adaptation, The Flintstones was the last theatrically released movie to feature Elizabeth Taylor. For that alone, it’s a footnote in cinema history.

Taylor isn’t all that bad in it, either, embracing the “nagging mother-in-law” cliche in such an over the top manner that it brings to mind her most celebrated part, that of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).

The last films of golden age movie stars always have a certain poignancy about them. Here are some other examples.

The Good

1. John Wayne in The Shootist (1976): playing a veteran gunslinger dying of cancer, the Duke’s final role was also his most autobiographical, even using clips from the actor’s own cinematic past to represent the character’s backstory. 

2. Randolph Scott in Ride the High Country (1962): the concluding decade of Scott’s long career was one fascinating farewell, his seven films with director Budd Boetticher culminating in this magnificent collaboration with the young Sam Peckinpah. Acting against type, as a man planning to double-cross an old friend, he’s simply superb.

The Bad

4. Joan Crawford in Trog (1970) & Bette Davis in Wicked Stepmother (1989): both actresses enjoyed career revivals co-starring in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) but the many of the horror parts they were typecast in thereafter were beneath their talents. At least Crawford was still acting on all cylinders.

5. Errol Flynn in Cuban Rebel Girls (1959): bloated almost beyond recognition, clawing at yet another teenage girlfriend, Flynn’s bizarrely personal swansong sees him assist Fidel Castro during Cuba’s communist revolution. Shot on location, against a backdrop of actual events.  Castro cameos as himself; Che Guevara was otherwise occupied.

The Fleeting

8. James Cagney in Ragtime (1981): emerging from a two-decade retirement, Cagney was naturally top-billed in Milos Forman’s adaptation of the celebrated E. L. Doctorow. He makes his few scenes count, still a study in concentrated energy, fifty years after becoming a star in The Public Enemy (1931).

9. Katharine Hepburn in Love Affair (1994): a glorious cameo in an unnecessary film. The great Kate’s mind was starting to slip when Warren Beatty sweet-talked her into playing his grandmother. She rises to the occasion one last time. A heartbreaker.

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