The Last Movie


1h 50m 1971

Brief Synopsis

A film shoot in Peru goes badly wrong when an actor is killed in a stunt, and the unit wrangler, Kansas, decides to give up film-making and stay on in the village, shacking up with local prostitute Maria. But his dreams of an unspoiled existence are interrupted when the local priest asks him to help stop the villagers killing each other by re-enacting scenes from the film for real because they don't understand movie fakery...

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 1971
Premiere Information
World premiere at Venice Film Festival: 29 Aug 1971; New York opening: 29 Sep 1971; Los Angeles opening: 27 Oct 1971
Production Company
Alta-Light, Inc.; Universal Pictures
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Chinchero,Peru; Cusco,Peru; Cuzco,Peru; Cuzco,Peru; Puno,Peru; Peru

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

In a remote, mountain village in Peru, the natives watch with fascination as an American movie company shoots a violent Western about the life and death of Billy the Kid. Not understanding that the fistfights, gun battles, explosions and deaths are fake, the Peruvians become obsessed with the movie, much to the chagrin of the local priest, who bemoans that his flock no longer follows the word of God. Idealistic, melancholy stuntman Kansas falls in love with the region and a prostitute, Maria, and decides to stay after the filmmakers leave. Because the sets have been left standing, Kansas hopes to attract other American production companies, but despite his appeals, receives only rejection letters. Kansas also dreams of building a mountaintop ski resort until the pragmatic, materialistic Maria points out that no snow falls in the area. The priest begs Kansas to help him persuade the locals to abandon their attempts to simulate the process of filmmaking, in order to recreate the American movie using cameras, microphones and other equipment constructed from junk metal and wooden frames. Observing the Peruvian director, who styles himself after the American director, Sam, by wearing Sam's abandoned Confederate hat, direct a fight in which the participants are actually hitting each other, Kansas demonstrates how to pull punches. Ridiculing Kansas for his cowardice and fakery, the men push him away and continue "filming" their desperate struggle. Despite his lack of business, over time Kansas builds a nice home for Maria, complete with a swimming pool and refrigerator. When their finances begin to suffer, however, and Kansas asks Maria to economize, she retorts that she could support him by returning to work. One afternoon, Kansas hangs out at a hotel bar with his American friend, Neville Robey, who also worked on the movie, and Neville discusses his need for $500, with which he intends to prospect for gold. The two men flirt with Mrs. Anderson and her daughter Cress, rich, bored American tourists who invite them to dinner. There, Mrs. Anderson's husband Harry, a vulgar businessman, tells dirty jokes that Kansas and Neville pretend to enjoy, although Maria is uncomfortable in the sophisticates' company. Neville tells Harry about his gold mine and need for financial backing, but Harry evades him by asking Kansas to organize some entertainment. Kansas takes the Americans to the brothel despite Maria's pleas that she does not want them to know that she once worked there. Kansas angrily orders her to arrange with the madam for a show, and even though she is jealous of the attention Kansas pays to Mrs. Anderson, Maria complies. The American tourists watch enraptured as two prostitutes stage a lesbian sex show for them, with Mrs. Anderson becoming highly aroused. When Maria's former pimp storms in, the drunken Kansas challenges him, and in order to protect Kansas, Maria leaves with the man. Mr. Anderson urges Kansas to forget her and enjoy the show, but when the jealous Kansas returns home, he beats Maria. The next day, a badly bruised Maria demands that Kansas give her Mrs. Anderson's fur coat as an apology. When Kansas goes to the Andersons' home to ask for the coat, they laughingly agree to give him Cress's mink stole. When they are alone, however, Mrs. Anderson sadistically makes Kansas kneel in front of her and, striking him, tells him that he is her whore now. Soon after, Kansas returns with the stole, delighting Maria, although he tells her that they must move out of their home and live with her mother. Selling the house, Kansas uses the money to go prospecting with Neville, although during their journey, Neville confesses that all he knows about gold comes from watching movies, especially The Treasure of the Sierra Madre . Despite their ignorance, the pair stake out a mine, but when they invite Harry to become their partner, he replies that the mine is too far from a road and would cost too much to develop. He offers to buy their claim outright, infuriating Neville until Kansas must usher Harry out of Neville's apartment. Kansas attempts to calm the drunken Neville, telling him that at least they did find gold, and that they are already rich because of their friendship. As Kansas waits in the living room, however, Neville goes into the next room and commits suicide by shooting himself. Later, the villagers have captured Kansas and are forcing him to participate in their continued filming. Bullied, exhausted and often drunk, Kansas stumbles around in the setups ordered by the Peruvian director as he recreates the American movie. When he attempts to escape, Kansas is shot in the shoulder but succeeds in riding away. He then goes to the brothel to find Maria but is beaten and ejected by the bouncers. Delirious and in pain, Kansas wanders until he collapses in a deserted building, where he is cared for by Maria and others for a week. Upon regaining consciousness, Kansas is told by a scornful Maria that she is attending the fiesta celebrating the movie. The director again gets hold of Kansas, and continuing to ply him with liquor, forces him to participate in the elaborate, semi-religious parade. That night, Kansas is locked in the movie set jail, in which the actor playing Billy the Kid had been held, and pleads with Maria to release him, as he believes that the villagers intend to shoot him for real during the recreation of Billy's death scene. Maria refuses, insisting that the filming is merely a game, and so Kansas begs her to summon the priest. The priest, realizing that the only way to win back his parishioners is to play along with them, also tells Kansas that nothing bad will happen and gets drunk with him. Kansas, seeking to "confess," laments that the movies have ruined the villagers and destroyed their innocence. In the morning, Kansas is half-dragged to the set by the director and the priest, and the priest comments that they need real blood so that it will show up better. Desperate and weary, wanting his ordeal to end, Kansas tells them to begin, and as filming commences, he runs through town, falling perfectly on the "mark" where Billy dies.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Oct 1971
Premiere Information
World premiere at Venice Film Festival: 29 Aug 1971; New York opening: 29 Sep 1971; Los Angeles opening: 27 Oct 1971
Production Company
Alta-Light, Inc.; Universal Pictures
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Chinchero,Peru; Cusco,Peru; Cuzco,Peru; Cuzco,Peru; Puno,Peru; Peru

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 50m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Approximately twelve minutes into the film, a title card appears that reads "A film by Dennis Hopper." The film's title appears approximately twenty-five minutes into the picture, with all of the other credits appearing at the end. The Last Movie features a loose narrative style with choppy editing, flashbacks, flashforwards and random images, sequences shown out of order without explanation and images such as a blank screen with the words "missing scene" scratched onto the film stock. A small portion of dialogue in Spanish and Quechuan is not translated and does not appear with subtitles. Several song snippets other than the ones listed above were heard in the viewed print, although their titles and composers have not been determined. The film begins with the fiesta and parade sequence, in which the villagers celebrate their movie-making, and "Kansas" stumbles around, disoriented and drunk. Without explanation, the scene cuts to the American film company shooting their movie about Billy the Kid, and the picture's main story begins.
       At the end of the film, it is unclear if the villagers actually kill Kansas while making him re-enact the death of Billy the Kid. Kansas runs through the street and collapses on the "mark" where Billy is to die, but then Hopper breaks out of character, getting up and walking toward the camera. The scene is repeated several times, once with Hopper sticking his tongue out. More "behind the scenes" outtakes exposing the process of filmmaking are shown, followed by a straight narrative sequence in which Kansas and "Neville Robey" discuss how to search for gold. The last images are of a native family in the village with a man's voice saying "God is everywhere," followed by the word "END!" scratched onto the film stock. A May 10, 1970 New York Times article reported that Hopper, unsure of how to end the film, had shot an alternate ending in which his character did die.
       As reported on extensively by contemporary trade papers, newspapers and magazines, the film had a complicated production history. According to interviews with Hopper, he was inspired to write a story about the travails of a Hollywood movie company in a foreign country during the production of The Sons of Katie Elder (see below), which was filmed in Mexico in 1965. Directed by Henry Hathaway and starring John Wayne, Hopper appeared in that film as an actor. According to contemporary sources, Hopper, with Stewart Stern, wrote the screenplay for The Last Movie in 1965 and intended to produce it with Bert Schneider for Columbia Pictures. Schneider had served as the executive producer on Easy Rider, the hit 1969 film that marked Hopper's directorial debut. In numerous interviews, Hopper related that he had hoped to make his directorial debut with The Last Movie but could not obtain financing for it until after the success of Easy Rider.
       On October 1, 1969, Daily Variety announced that Universal would be distributing The Last Movie, which would be "independently produced by Hopper's Alta-Light Prods." MCA vice-president Ned Tanen, who had organized the production of a number of pictures helmed by Easy Rider participants and other young directors, including Peter Fonda's The Hired Hand and Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (see below), was responsible for bringing the project to Universal, according to contemporary sources. Modern sources note that Tanen's innovative production unit at Universal gave total autonomy to its directors as long as they kept their budgets under $1,000,000 and the running times of the release prints under two hours. Army Archerd reported in his Daily Variety column on November 6, 1969 that the budget of The Last Movie was $600,000, and that Hopper and Universal each owned 50% of the property, with Hopper guaranteed control over all aspects of it, including the advertising.
       A December 19, 1969 Daily Variety news item noted that producer Paul Lewis was attempting to reassemble as many crew members from Easy Rider as possible, and so had hired Laszlo Kovacs as the director of photography. The September 1969 Daily Variety news item reported that Hopper hoped to star John Wayne and Henry Hathaway in the picture, and find "an unknown" for the lead, although a December 1969 Variety article stated that while Hathaway had agreed to play the director of the film-within-the-film, Hopper was at that time seeking a "top male star" for the leading actor. According to a March 1, 1970 New York Times article, Hopper offered the role to Jack Nicholson, but Nicholson stated that he turned it down because he knew that Hopper wanted to play it himself. In a July 1970 interview for Seventeen magazine, Hopper noted that after testing a number of actors for the role of Kansas, he decided to play it himself because so much of the film's dialogue and action were to be improvised.
       According to an April 1970 Rolling Stone article, director Samuel Fuller, who plays the American director "Sam," actually directed some of the sequences of the film-within-the-film about Billy the Kid. News items include Chill Wills and Diane Varsi in the cast, but their appearance in the completed picture is highly unlikely. Associate producer David Hopper is the brother of Dennis Hopper. David Hopper is also credited onscreen as "Post-production associate," along with Todd Colombo and Rol Murrow. According to contemporary source, the three of them helped Dennis Hopper with the editing of the film. Michelle Phillips, who makes a brief appearance in the picture, was married to Dennis Hopper for eight days in late 1970. Although Phillips had appeared in the 1969 concert film Monterey Pop (see below) as a member of the singing group The Mamas and the Papas, The Last Movie marked her feature-film acting debut. Singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson also made his acting debut in The Last Movie.
       In an October 1969 New York Times article, Hopper stated that he originally wanted to shoot the film in Mexico but could not, as Mexican authorities were "concerned about our showing the poverty in their villages." As noted in the onscreen credits, the picture was shot entirely on location in Peru. Contemporary sources reported that the majority of filming was done in and around the village of Chinchero, near Cuzco in the southern Andes, in approximately eight weeks, although news items conflict as to the exact dates of filming. The area of Puno was listed as another location site by the Seventeen article. Numerous contemporary sources reported on the filmmakers' alleged involvement with drugs, and that there were several protests by villagers who felt that the Americans were not respectful of their customs.
       The film's lengthy editing process was highly publicized and became the target of jibes at Hopper by industry insiders. A February 1971 entry in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column noted that Universal had planned on releasing the film in March 1971 but could not because Hopper had not finished editing it, and that the studio was contemplating assigning the editing chores to someone else. A March 1971 Los Angeles Times article stated that Hopper had been editing the film for seven months at his ranch in Taos, NM and was five months behind schedule. The article quoted Hopper as stating that, at that point, he had edited the picture down from forty hours to five-and-a-half hours.
       September 1971 news items reported that prior to The Last Movie's U.S. release, it won a special prize of Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. According to a September 1971 Daily Variety news item, the version shown at Venice was "the unscissored, or what would be the X version" of the film, with a more explicit sex sequence featuring Poupée Bocar and the other prostitute in the brothel exhibition. The item reported that Hopper was contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated version to Universal, and the sequence was trimmed, resulting in the running time being reduced from 110 minutes to 108 minutes. In a September 1971 report on the festival, a Variety article related that the final budget for the picture was $950,000, and that contrary to earlier reports, Universal, rather than Hopper, had final control over the picture's "handling, publicity and releases."
       Despite the accolade from Venice, the film received mostly negative reviews upon its U.S. release, with critics such as Charles Champlin of Los Angeles Times lambasting the picture as "a precious waste not only of money but, more importantly, of a significant and conspicuous opportunity." In condemning Hopper's "failure," the LAHExam critic expressed a fear that because the director had been given "a virtual artistic blank check" by Universal, future independent and avant garde filmmakers would be limited in their opportunities. Some critics, while disliking the film, grudgingly applauded Hopper's audacity, and many praised Kovacs' cinematography.
       A documentary about Hopper and his editing of The Last Movie, entitled The American Dreamer, was produced by Lawrence Schiller and L. M. Kit Carson in early 1971, largely at Hopper's Taos retreat. The documentary, which did not receive wide distribution, showed several lengthy excerpts from The Last Movie and featured Hopper discussing how to publicize the film with Universal officials.
       The Last Movie was pulled from distribution very shortly after its release and rarely has been seen in theaters since 1971. According to an October 1974 Daily Variety article, Universal was "exploring [the] possibility of doctoring" the film and re-releasing it, although the re-release did not occur. The article further stated that the box-office "failure of The Last Movie led to scuttling of [Hopper's] other directorial projects and helped put a skid to the `youth boom' then underway in Hollywood." In June 1985, a Hollywood Reporter article stated that in the film had never been released theatrically in Europe and in 1971, "was only shown for two weeks in Los Angeles and New York City, and three days in San Francisco." In October 1987, Daily Variety reported that Universal's rights to the property expired in 1985, at which point they were acquired by Hopper and Goldfarb Distribution, Inc.
       In July 2000, LA Weekly noted that the film had been recently restored. In a December 2004 EW article about the difficulty of finding The Last Movie on videotape, Hopper commented that Universal had wanted him to re-edit the film but he refused, and that the ensuing debacle over the film's failure "took out a big chunk of my life." Hopper did not direct another film until the 1980 Canadian picture Out of the Blue. His next American-financed directorial effort was the 1988 release Colors.

Miscellaneous Notes

Limited Release in United States September 28, 1971

Limited re-release in United States August 3, 2018

Released in United States 1996

Second feature directorial effort for Dennis Hopper who debuted with "Easy Rider" (USA/1969).

Kris Kristofferson has a bit part in the film.

Limited Release in United States September 28, 1971 (New York)

Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Out of the Seventies: Hollywood's New Wave 1969-1975" May 31 - July 25, 1996.)

Limited re-release in United States August 3, 2018 (New York)