The Last Challenge (1967)
“Killer Vs. Killer”
Director: Richard Thorpe
Cast: Glenn Ford, Angie Dickinson, Chad Everett
Synopsis: Hotshot gunfighter Lot McGuire intends to make a name for himself by out-duelling legendary bandit-turned-lawman Marshal Dan Blaine.
WARNING – This review contains SPOILERS!
Glenn Ford (Human Desire, 3:10 to Yuma) plays Dan Blaine in Richard Thorpe’s The Last Challenge. Blaine is the unassuming sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border who only wears his badge when he has some official duty — like offing a rowdy pistolero — to perform. He used to be one of the bad guys, but has seen the error of his ways and, with the company of accommodating saloon madame Angie Dickinson (Dressed to Kill, Duets), lives a life of quiet contentment. But all that changes when cocksure gunslinger Lot McGuire (Chad Everett — Made in Paris) rides into town intent on making a name for himself by challenging Blaine to a gunfight.
The Last Challenge is an unusual, introspective western, more interested in getting under the skins of its main protagonists than showing a lot of action. Although Blaine appears to be a simple man – he enjoys booze, women and fishing in equal measure — there’s a complexity beneath the ‘good ol’ boy’ surface that is more hinted at than revealed. In Chad Everett’s character he sees a younger version of himself, and therefore a youth capable of redemption, which is why he is so reluctant to shoot him down. Neither man is ever in any doubt that they are the faster draw, but it’s this reluctance on Blaine’s part that convinces you that he’s the handier with a gun. While Everett presents a threatening presence, he’s no more of a bad guy than Ford which makes the inevitable climax all the more depressing.
The film is filled with small, telling moments. On the eve of the gunfight, Ford enjoys a night in the boudoir of Ms Dickinson while Everett sits alone in a Mexican tavern. A young prostitute approaches him and he wordlessly leads her to his room without touching her. Because it is a character study, the gunfight isn’t over-dramatised and is almost just another incident. Blaine’s regret is evident, but it’s as much because he knows the life he has led is over whatever the outcome of the shootout. It’s unlikely you’ll see a more downbeat ending from a mainstream studio than the one in The Last Challenge.
(Reviewed 18th October 2011)