Some actors and directors end their fine careers on a sour note. Sometimes the films are awful, but equally disappointing is when the films are – boring. The that comes to me about last films is – sad. The end of a long or briefly successful career should conclude with a meaningful or well-received project.
Here are some last films that give me pause.
Frank Capra – Pocketful of Miracles (1961) A tired Capra was out of sync with popular films. Glenn Ford and Bette Davis were past their prime.
Fred Zinnemann – Five Days One Summer (1982) Zinnemann was livid with the bad reviews and box office failure of his last film. A boring, May-December romance, wasted Sean Connery’s time.
Tony Richardson – Blue Sky (1994) A dour melodrama, hardly box office material even with the talent (Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones) attached. This was not a film to revive Richardson’s career.
Otto Preminger – The Human Factor (1979) Preminger, a director of controversial subject matter, had been without a substantive film for years. Using a Graham Greene spy story here, Preminger fails to provide much life to this story, or even to the film despite a strong cast.
John Ford – Seven Women (1965) An odd film for Ford, whose career was at an end. The story is of women missionaries and a doctor in China in 1935. Fine performances and a gritty subject, but Ford was unable to provide much of his cinematic magic.
William Wyler – The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970) Social commentary and a murder mystery, the film achieves neither. The great Wyler, revered during the Golden Days of Hollywood for his insightful storytelling, failed to deliver an interesting or freshness, just a stereotyped view of Southern culture.
Robin Williams – Absolutely Anything (2015) He worked like crazy in his last years, and the quality of projects greatly varied. This film was directed by Terry Jones of Monty Python. Williams voiced Dennis the Dog, a small part, so the film is not his fault.
Dennis Hopper – The Last Film Festival (2016) A little seen film, an interesting concept and talented cast, maybe at another time this film might have had a chance. Hopper’s career was a rollercoaster; in between peaks were years of independent films, television and voice work.
Leslie Nielson – Stonerville (2011) Nielson, who enjoyed a career turnaround with Airplane!, continued to work until he couldn’t, as long as scripts were offered, he appeared in films of declining quality. Thankfully, this piece of garbage sank without a trace.
Marlon Brando – The Score (2001) Not a bad film by any measure: Brando, De Niro, Edward Norton and Angela Bassett, and directed by Frank Oz. A heist film with lots of flimflam. Brando was such a caricature of himself, a road he traveled from The Missouri Beaks (1976). This guy used to be the actor’s actor.
Gene Kelly – Xanadu (1980) The film got a touch of class, Kelly got a paycheck and a spot on the red carpet. The film had a big selling soundtrack album, otherwise the film didn’t have much to offer. Big, glitzy, a gigantic misfire. Certainly not Kelly’s fault, just a major dud for the world to see.
Raul Julia – Street Fighter (1994) An award-winning actor, Julia was quite I’ll when he appeared in this film. He wanted this film to be something his kids would love, however good his last performance was, the film was a major failure.
John Candy – Canadian Bacon (1995) Candy was in a career slump in the 1990s, with Only the Lonely and Cool Runnings his only successful films of the decade. Canadian Bacon and Wagons East, his last films, weren’t going to reverse his career slump. Sadly, he was in talks for some very interesting films when he suddenly died.
Joan Crawford – Trog (1970) A star of the Golden Era, Crawford was reduced to melodrama, horror and television in her last decade. Trog finds Crawford as an anthropologist tending to a troglodyte in this low budget British film. Not exactly campy, just sad.
Sean Connery – The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) An incomprehensible comic book film. Even Connery was confused by it and walked away from movies after the experience. Sadly miscast, but a great financial payday.
Bette Davis – Wicked Stepmother (1989) A chain-smoking witch, Davis only appeared in part of this low-budget comedy-horror film. A tough way to remember Bette Davis.
Mae West – Sextette (1978) What were they thinking? Ms. West was 85 years old then, and hadn’t appeared in a film since the equally abysmal, Myra Breckenridge (1970). Based on a play Ms. West, she plays a desirable movie star on her honeymoon. A campy, sex-comedy that wasn’t funny and wasted a high-priced supporting cast.
Peter Sellers – The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980) After Being There, Sellers returned to unfunny, zany films allowing him to appear in heavy makeup and accents. An uninspired remake.
Richard Brooks – Fever Pitch (1985) Brooks had a fine track record, particularly as an independent writer/producer/director from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. Unfortunately, later films were huge misfires, including this film about gambling starring Ryan O’Neal that no one wanted to see.
Howard Hawks – Rio Lobo (1970) The least interesting of the Hawks-John Wayne films. Tired and slow-moving, rather generic. Wayne had to pick up the slack. Once Upon a Time in the West and The Wild Bunch had already changed Westerns for good.
Michael Ritchie – A Simple Wish (1997) Ritchie made some striking, quirky films in the 1970s (The Candidate, Bad News Bears), and was hit and miss the rest of his career. He often worked with Chevy Chase (Fletch, Fletch Lives, Cops and Robbersons), as both careers most momentum. A lightweight family film that feels more like a generic Hallmark film.
George Roy Hill – Funny Farm (1988) The guy who directed Butch Cassidy and the and The Sting. His later films were those of a journeyman. Funny Farm is one of Chase’s most unfunny films.
Billy Wilder – Buddy, Buddy (1981) I anticipated this film and was majorly disappointed with this unfunny and boring film. The Apartment, The Lost Weekend and Some Like it Hot were a few of Wilder’s films. Buddy, Buddy was written specifically for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Such a failure.
John Belushi – Neighbors (1981) Belushi’s short film career was hit and miss. Teaming with Dan Aykroyd, and directed by John G. Avildsen (Rocky), with a script by Larry Gelbart (MASH, Tootsie) and rewritten by Aykroyd. An unfunny mess is the result.
Stanley Kramer – The Runner Stumbles (1979) Not a bad film, just a small one that did not find an audience. A small town priest is accused of killing a nun that he secretly loved. One of the most decorated director/producers in Hollywood, a quiet end to a very successful career.