Leo the Last (1969)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Satire  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Tom Wiener

Director John Boorman's career is marked not only by box-office success (Deliverance), but by several success d'estimes (Hope and Glory, The General), and a few films that have gathered significant cult followings (Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Excalibur). This satire is one of his rare misfires that unaccountably won him the Best Director award at Cannes. On paper, it sounds promising: Marcello Mastroianni plays a faded Italian aristocrat who inherits a London house from his late father, though the elegantly maintained building now sits in the middle of a downwardly mobile neighborhood. Cue the interaction with the poor and dispossessed (many of them black), watch our hero's conscience begin to flower, and voila -- your late-'60s zeitgeist. But the film strikes out on almost every level. As Leo, Mastroianni comes off as too limp to be interesting (the actor's stumbling English doesn't help either); Leo's entourage and society pals are so crudely drawn as to be negligible, even as satirical targets (Billie Whitelaw as the shrewish Margaret is especially embarrassing); Boorman employs an annoying device of murmuring soundtrack voices which are supposed to represent the audience trying to figure out the story and characters (he does drop that after a while); and the soundtrack also contains a numbing series of mediocre songs written by Fred Myrow and sung by Ram John Holder, who also plays the neighborhood preacher. Calvin Lockhart, as the magnetic Roscoe, comes across with some force, but he's still a stereotype: the proud black man who goes to jail for a petty crime while a black pimp operates with impunity (and shanghais Roscoe's girlfriend into "the life"). Boorman explored some of this turf with more wit and fewer stylistic tics in his 1990 comedy Where the Heart Is, but for an even better treatment of nearly the same story, look for Hal Ashby's The Landlord; amazingly, it and Leo the Last opened in New York eight days apart, in May 1970. The film's apocalyptic ending also mirrors that of another 1970 release,Michelangelo Antonioni's Zabriskie Point.