Review Date: October 10, 2007
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 6/26/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
One of the oddest things about the mass media during the Vietnam War was that very few films about the conflict were produced while it was still going on, especially when compared to how many war films were produced during World War II and even the Korean War. The immediate aftermath of the war also failed to produce any significant feature films, although the documentary Hearts and Minds
did surface in 1974. American audiences didn’t seem particularly interested in the conflict. The war was over. Nearly 60,000 Americans had perished, North and South Vietnam were re-unified, Lyndon Johnson was dead, Richard Nixon was out of office and Robert McNamara was off hiding at the World Bank.
It wasn’t until the end of the 1970’s that the American film industry produced two significant works – The Deer Hunter
and Apocalypse Now
– that the Vietnam War became an important and profitable subject for American films to explore. The two films were critical and financial successes, and like any other successful film to come out of Hollywood, on the other side of the Atlantic there was immediately an army of Italian filmmakers ready to cash in...
It’s 1973, and the long war in Vietnam is finally starting to wind to a close. At a Saigon brothel we are introduced to Captain Harry Morris (David Warbeck
), a weary U.S. Army officer. As Morris tries to relax, there is a disturbance in the next room as his friend and fellow soldier Steve, grieving for his missing wife, loudly rejects the advances of a Vietnamese prostitute. When another soldier taunts him over the matter, Steve pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. Morris tries to talk Steve into putting down the gun, and almost succeeds when a sudden rocket attack hits the area. Steve kills himself, and Morris barely gets out as the brothel is destroyed in a massive explosion.
We catch up with Morris a little while later as a helicopter ferries him into the jungle for a rendezvous with a team of soldiers who will accompany him on a top secret mission to destroy a radio tower that is broadcasting demoralizing propaganda to American soldiers in the field. After jumping out of the helicopter and having a close call with a poisonous snake, Morris meets Sergeant George Washington (Tony King
), who leads him to the rest of his team. But when Morris arrives, he gets an unexpected surprise – the group contains female reporter Jane Foster (Tisa Farrow
), whom they are escorting to an American base they are supposed to report to. But can this motley group survive long enough to complete the mission, or will they all fall victim to the Viet Cong’s insidious ambushes and booby traps?
The Last Hunter
can be summed up in one sentence – it is Antonio Margheriti’s feeble attempt to cash in on the success of Apocalypse Now
. Although its English and Italian titles reference The Deer Hunter
, in other markets it seems to have been titled specifically to invoke Francis Ford Coppola’s epic (the on-screen title on this print is Heros d’Apocalypse
, which literally translates as Hero of the Apocalypse
). The script is full of attempts to mimic the brutal violence and brilliantly surreal atmosphere that Coppola managed to achieve. Instead of a nutty colonel who sends his troops to surf during a battle, we instead get a nutty major who orders a soldier to run through Viet Cong fire in order to collect coconuts. Instead of an isolated, besieged army outpost by a bridge, we get an isolated, besieged army outpost in a massive cave complex. Instead of a mission to kill a deserting army colonel, we get a mission to silence the treasonous American voice behind the radio broadcasts. In Apocalypse Now
, Martin Sheen’s character is unable to tell the boat crew that they are heading into Cambodia. In The Last Hunter
, David Warbeck’s character is unable to tell his team what the objective of the mission is. It all feels very repetitive and unoriginal. While Coppola almost sank his film by having too many ideas, Margheriti’s film does eventually sink by virtue of its lack of imagination (and yes, there are some parts that also rip off The Deer Hunter
, including a scene where Captain Morris is locked in a water cage full of rats).
Despite having won the admiration of horror fans because of a few well done shockers like Cannibal Apocalypse
, as a director Antonio Margheriti’s films are usually mediocre and uninspiring. He’s one of the weakest of the Italian genre directors working during the 70’s and 80’s. He’s better than Bruno Mattei, Joe D’Amato and (sometimes) Umberto Lenzi, but he is leagues behind the great Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, and even lags noticeably behind medium weight talents like Sergio Martino, Ruggero Deodato and even the erratic Lamberto Bava. He was not a terrible director, but he usually lacked the creative spark that many of his contemporaries were easily able to summon. This is certainly the case with The Last Hunter
. The battle scenes are competently filmed but not particularly exciting or lively. Certain parts of the film are well paced, while other parts drag. There’s occasionally nice camerawork, but it exists sandwiched between a lot of unimaginative footage.
The film’s strongest aspect is the presence of David Warbeck as the lead, yet even this is only of moderate benefit. The film’s producers presumably wanted Captain Morris to sound like a red-blooded American, which leads to Warbeck’s distinctive but accented voice being overdubbed by another actor. Warbeck’s physicality still gives him a powerful screen presence, but the script’s attempts at characterization fail miserably. Near the end of the film we learn that he and his dead friend Steve had both burned their draft cards three years earlier, but then had apparently given in and let themselves be inducted into the military. This is an element of the story that is unlikely from a historical perspective. During the Vietnam War, draftees served a one-year term of enlistment and entered the service as privates, while Morris is a captain, a commissioned rank that usually requires having gone to West Point, having been enrolled in a college ROTC program, or having attended officer candidate school as an enlisted man (something that is only possible after having served a set number of years in the enlisted ranks). In addition, draftees during the Vietnam War were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, yet David Warbeck was almost forty when the film was made, and looks it. Warbeck and the actor who dubs him both give the character the bearing and demeanor of the career military man who Morris would logically be. The historical inaccuracies and the contradiction in the character fail to make Morris believable as a former war resister turned soldier. As a result, his final suicidal gesture at the end of the movie comes across not as an act of repentance for having betrayed his ideals, but simply as a pointless act of stupidity.
The decision to set the film in 1973 was an unusual one, and does little other than set the film up for even more historical inaccuracies. In the world of the movie, American combat forces are waging the war more or less as they always had in years prior. But the reality of the Vietnam War was that the United States had more or less removed itself from the conflict by this point in time. Ground troop levels had been steadily decreasing since 1969. The last American ground combat battalion left the country in September 1972. By the end of that year, there were only about 25,000 U.S. military personnel left in South Vietnam, mostly committed to fighting the air war against the communists that would continue for a while longer. The Paris Peace Accords that ended America’s formal involvement were signed in January 1973, and by the end of May those remaining forces were withdrawn. The war would continue until 1975 and claim a few more American lives along the way, but for all intents and purposes the United States was no longer a combatant by the beginning of 1973. This is a fact that seems to have been lost on Margheriti and his screenwriter, the ever-prolific Dardano Sacchetti, who present a fictionalized portrayal of the war at this point in time, one in which large American ground operations seem to have been continuing.
The irony of this is that the end of the Vietnam War doesn’t even have anything to do with the plot of the movie. The Last Hunter
is simply a story of a special forces operation. The caption at the beginning of the film could have just as easily said 1967 or 1970 and it wouldn’t have made an inch of difference in the storyline.
So if Margheriti and company were not focused on historical accuracy, proper characterization or an original storyline, what were they focused on? The answer is that they were focused on exactly the type of thing that audiences for this kind of movie wanted at the time – violence and gross-out shocks. We get it all – rotting corpses, limbs blown off, brutal Viet Cong booby traps, lots of gratuitous explosions and countless bloody squibs (special effects for creating bullet hits) going off on the bodies of countless actors. It’s all very cheesy and not realistic in the slightest, but for viewers who are looking for a mindless, old school Italian schlockfest, The Last Hunter
will probably do just fine.
The Last Hunter
was first released on DVD in 2002 by the British company Vipco in an uncut but visually compromised version that was presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. Thankfully, this new transfer from Dark Sky presents the movie in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16x9 enhancement. Overall image quality is very good, with some drawbacks. For the most part the picture is extremely sharp and detailed, and while there is hardly a speck, blemish or scratch to be seen on the film elements, colors and flesh tones are uneven. In particular, exterior scenes will vary from pale, almost washed-out colors to fully saturated ones. Shadow detail is also poor in many darker scenes.
The only audio option is the film’s English dub in its original 2.0 Mono mix, and it is an above average presentation. Dialogue is understandable, except for a few awkwardly dubbed lines here and there. There is some minor background noise, but the explosions, gunshots, screams and other sound effects are reproduced with decent fidelity.
Optional English subtitles are included.
The biggest special feature on this release is an excellent and lengthy interview with Antonio Margheriti’s son Edoardo, who served as the film’s second unit director, and who also has a small part as one of the soldiers on Morris’ team. The younger Margheriti outlines how his father (who died in 2002) first started working in the Italian film industry as a director of science fiction space movies, and how his career evolved into working in many different genres. He discusses the difficulties of location shooting in the Philippines, and reveals that the film’s initial Italian title was Cacciatore 2
to make it look like a sequel to The Deer Hunter
, whose Italian title was presumably Cacciatore
. Due to copyright concerns, the Italian title was hastily changed to L’Ultimo Cacciatore
, which The Last Hunter
is a literal translation of.
One interesting point that Edoardo makes is that since Italy was not involved in the Vietnam War, there was not a lot of information on it readily accessible, and they relied upon the limited written material that was easily accessible, as well as other previously made movies.
The only other extras on this release are a theatrical trailer and a still gallery consisting of lobby cards and poster art.
I didn’t enjoy The Last Hunter
nearly as much as I thought I would. It is not Antonio Margheriti’s worst film, but it is thoroughly unexceptional and probably not worth the average viewer’s time. The DVD itself is an above average release, with above average picture and sound quality, and the excellent interview with Margheriti’s son. For those fans who have already seen and enjoyed The Last Hunter
, this DVD is recommended.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B
Sound - B
Supplements – B-
- Running Time – 1 hour 36 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- English subtitles
- Interview with Edoardo Margheriti
- Theatrical trailer
- Still gallery