The Last Challenge (1967)
“A man either get’s smart or get’s dead.”
MGM released this latter day Glenn Ford western and the final film of long time director Richard Thorpe that at times rides much like an episode of any number of westerns that played the airwaves during this era.
Setting the tone of an aging gunslinger turned sheriff, the film begins with Glenn in quiet solitude at the end of a bar when he’s challenged to see just who’s the fastest by a younger hothead just itching to take him out. No such luck as Glenn proves to be a might too quick on the draw. There’s little glory in a killing for Glenn and he’ll spend the night with Angie Dickinson playing his love interest to drown his sorrows. Angie just happens to be the local Madam who runs both the saloon and the upstairs entertainment with a stable full of young fillies.
Taking a breather from the everyday job of town tamer, it’s while Glenn is out fishing that he’ll meet Chad Everett who he welcomes into his camp sharing his catch and his whiskey. It’s obvious to both Glenn and the audience that Chad is a gunfighter. The young man tells Glenn he’s headed to the town up ahead to tangle with a man he hears is the fastest on the draw but, he’s just gotta tempt fate to see if he’s faster. I love how this scene is played out when Glenn let’s Chad know he’s the man he’s come to test himself against.
Chad is going to have to prove his prowess with a six shooter and he gets the chance in Angie’s saloon while playing poker against a few regulars including Gary Merrill. Angie is going to see first hand just how fast the younger man is when he catches Merrill cheating and is drawn into a shootout. When she learns from Glenn that the young man aims to try his luck against her man, she begins to worry that Glenn might not be up to what may become his “last challenge.”
Glenn’s major obstacle is he likes the younger man and takes a fatherly interest in him trying to guide him away from the gunfight he’s wanting so badly. The problem is he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere which leads Angie to secretly hire a man who “sure is a mean looking devil.” That’s not just any man, that’s Jack Elam and the quote can be attributed to the little known at the time Len Lesser who would go on to find fame as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld.
Don’t be surprised to learn that Jack’s screen time will be short once he attempts to bushwhack the young gunslinger. Not having anything to hide Everett reports the killing to Ford and when the two go to check over the body they’ll encounter a band of Indians forcing them to briefly fight alongside each other leading to an overtly embarrassing scene for long time character actor Royal Dano as a stereotypical drunken Indian. Not one of his finest moments and easily the film’s worst.
Now back to that impending gun draw. You’ll not hear anything from me on whether or not it happens or who’s the winner if indeed it does.
Plain and simply if you like Glenn Ford then you’re going to like this western. It’s that easy despite the flaws and low budget feel at times. Glenn play’s it like the old lion who isn’t about to go rest easy with a fishing pole. He’s dead sure he’s faster on the draw and has a quiet laid back confidence to go with it. No secret here at Mike’s Take that I’ve long been a fan of Glenn Ford so please have a look at the other films’ I’ve spotlighted featuring the Canadian born actor…..
Chad Everett would appear in two westerns during the 1967 season. Like this one, his other title, Return of the Gunfighter would also team him with a stalwart veteran of the genre, Robert Taylor. From here onwards, Chad would work mainly in television and be identified with the long running 70’s show Medical Center as Dr. Joe Gannon.
It’s the soundtrack that adds to the TV western feel. Maybe it’s been ported over from series TV and I wouldn’t be surprised considering it’s credited to a Richard Shores. The man worked primarily in television on shows like The Wild Wild West, Rawhide, The Virginian and Wagon Train.
While director Thorpe never seemed to be out of work with an amazing 186 credits to his name it’s rather surprising that this was the only time he worked with Glenn Ford. A good many of his later day titles teamed him with Chad’s other co-star, Robert Taylor. His directorial efforts include 1950’s hits Knights Of the Round Table, Jailhouse Rock and The Prisoner of Zenda. Let’s nor forget Glenn’s leading lady either. Angie was a staple of the western genre going back to the 1950’s learning her craft in titles like Man With The Gun before hitting it bigtime with Rio Bravo.
The relationship in this film reminds me of more than a few other oaters that pair an aging gunman hoping to befriend a younger one as opposed to facing him down in the center of the street. Give this one a look for the Glenn Ford factor. It can be found playing TCM on occasion or if you collect like me grab a copy from the Warner Archive division. This gorgeous oversized foreign release poster I had to call in number one son Ethan to help with ….. not for sale.