Strange as it may seem that old-fashioned World War II flicks were still unspooling in American theaters during the climax of the Vietnam War, the evidence is found in disposable flicks along the lines of Hell Boats, Underground, and this drab thriller starring Stuart Whitman, all of which were released in 1970. Brisk, handsomely produced, and watchable, The Last Escape quickly evaporates from the viewer’s memory. Whitman stars as Mitchell, an American spy who leads a collective of international covert agents during a mission to liberate a rocket scientist being forced to work for the Third Reich. All the usual complications arise. Mitchell’s American comrades die before reaching the mission’s rendezvous point, so Mitchell’s British counterpart challenges him for leadership over the mission. Upon liberating the scientist, the group’s path to freedom is complicated by the difficulty of moving extra people through hostile territory—the scientist demands that Mitchell’s team extract numerous family members and friends, rather than just key personnel—and by such practical issues as diminishing fuel supplies. The plot also includes trite romantic elements, as well as the inevitable barrage of chases, shootouts, and so forth.
Appraised superficially, The Last Escape ticks most of the right boxes, and therefore should make for a satisfying—if undemanding—viewing experience. Alas, that appraisal leaves out the important considerations of depth and originality. The Last Escape has neither. The film’s characterizations are beyond perfunctory, so Whitman’s character is stoic, his love interest detects the sensitivity hiding behind the stoicism, the Nazis are odious, and the scientist represents moral complexity by demanding that Mitchell leaven his determination with compassion. Had this movie been an episode of some World War II-themed TV show or even some 80-minute programmer cranked out by a low-budget studio in the 1950s, the sketchy plotting might have been sufficient. For a proper feature released in 1970, not so much. That said, it’s not as if The Last Escape is intolerable. The picture contains long sequences without dialogue, and there’s something to be said for any movie with elements of pure cinema. Furthermore, once could do worse than hiring next-level scowler Whitman when casting the role of a tight-lipped tough guy.
The Last Escape: FUNKY