Thursday, 10 July 2014


Though Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (1981) and Michael Mann's Thief (1981) kicked off the decade in killer style, the rest of the '80's mostly failed to show up. But along the way Hollywood warhorses Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum went the distance to try and back-fill with a pair of old-school crime dramas.
In 1983, the still-vital Douglas starred in Eddie Macon’s Run as Carl ‘Buster’ Marzak, a New Jersey detective obsessed with chasing down fugitive Eddie Macon, played by television heart-throb John Schneider. Macon had done what he done to get money for treatment for his sick child but the cop doesn’t give a damn. Marzak’s a case-hardened straight-edge for whom the law is the law. He also, as we find out, is dealing with a few ‘issues’ of his own. 

Everyone in Eddie Macon’s Run pulls their weight in the right direction, including Lee Purcell as a spoiled socialite who decides to shelter the hunky Macon just for the thrill of it (as many women might want to). Schneider, who possessed genuine acting chops, is especially good here - though after seven seasons of The Dukes of Hazzard, he’d made the bed he’d have to sleep in for the rest of his career. 

As for Kirk Douglas, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to blow the doors off. His out-sized performance isn’t that far removed from those immortalized in film noir classics such Ace in the Hole (1951), Detective Story (1951) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), even if these earlier titles stand a world apart. Eddie Macon’s Run is a quintessential ‘80’s crime thriller. It’s brash, blunt, melodramatic, stripped clean of remnants of the brooding cool of the previous decade. It looks like it was made for TV but is not at all that bad a film and well-worth watching just to once again see Douglas on a tear.

If Eddie Macon’s Run looks and feels like it was shot for television, Thompson’s Last Run starring Robert Mitchum was just that, a made-for-TV movie which had its broadcast showing on CBS in February of 1986. It’s a lower-key affair than Eddie Macon but then it would be, with featured players Mitchum and Wilfred Brimley in harness as lifelong pals who ended up on different sides of the law - a familiar noir trope.

John Thompson (Mitchum) is a non-violent but still-seven-time-loser who’s facing transfer from an out-of-state prison back to Texas where he’ll serve a life sentence under the state’s habitual offender law. Officer Red Haines (Brimley) asks for old-time’s sake to be assigned to bring Thompson back, even though he's less than a week from retirement. But Thompson’s niece, Louise (Kathleen York) manages to bust Johnny loose during the train transfer. Louise, who’s been turning tricks to support her and young daughter, believes that John has enough money buried away to allow her to leave the life and for all of them together to disappear. At least, that’s what she believes.

Unlike Eddie Macon, Thompson’s Last Run reels out slowly and without a lot of heightened action. Once freed, Thompson isn’t that ready to go on the lam. For one thing, he’s enjoying spending some time with an old girlfriend, Pookie (Susan Terrell), another tart-with-a-heart. Meanwhile Haines begins to put things back together after the escape and to close in. 

It's low-rent fare but Mitchum, being the crusty pro that he was, is wholly present and still looking to be enjoying himself. Brimley, who was seldom cast to look like anyone enjoying himself, whether ‘Sherriff’, ‘Doc’, or ‘Coach’, stays true to form as the curmudgeonly Haines. Thompson’s Last Run offers a workaday, believable story about two old-timers, both long-time friends and unreconstructed adversaries, who’ve managed their way through and around it all without killing one another. This not a movie in which we'd want it any other way. 

(Revised June 2017)

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