Last Embrace (1979): Jonathan Demme’s Neo-Noir Thriller, Starring Roy Scheider

Jonathan Demme directed Last Embrace, a neo-noir thriller, based on on the novel The 13th Man by Murray Teigh Bloom.

Last Embrace
Last embrace.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Starring Roy Scheider and Janet Margolin, it tells the story of a woman who takes the role of a biblical avenger Goel, killing the descendants of the Zwi Migdal who enslaved her grandmother.

The Premise:

The tale begins in a Mexican cantina across the border from El Paso, Texas, when government agent Harry Hannan (Scheider) observes an informant. Realizing an attack is coming, he starts shooting at the informant’s companions. His wife Dorothy is killed in the attack, and after suffering nervous breakdown, he spends months in a Connecticut sanitarium.

When Harry returns to his apartment, he finds it is occupied by a doctoral student named Ellie Fabian. She explains that she had a sublet arranged while she was in the last semester at Princeton University. She gives Harry a note that was slipped under the door, but it contains a few Hebrew characters that he cannot read.

Paranoid that he is being targeted by his own agency, Harry visits his supervisor Eckart, who insists that Harry is not ready to return to the field, but that he is safe.

This semi-Hitchcockian noir thriller, which is sharply uneven in execution, is a late entry to the cycle of conspiracy-paranoia movies that prevailed in the 1970s.

Roy Scheider as Harry Hannan
Janet Margolin as Ellie Fabian
John Glover as Richard Peabody
Sam Levene as Sam Urdell
Charles Napier as Dave Quittle
Christopher Walken as Eckart
Jacqueline Brookes as Dr. Coopersmith
Andrew Duncan as Bernie Meckler
David Margulies as Rabbi Drexel
Marcia Rodd as Adrian
Gary Goetzman as Tour Guide
Lou Gilbert as Rabbi Jacobs
Mandy Patinkin as the First Commuter
Max Wright as the Second Commuter
Sandy McLeod as Dorothy Hannan


Directed by Jonathan Demme
Produced by Michael Taylor, Dan Wigutow
Screenplay by David Shaber
Based on The 13th Man (novel) by Murray Teigh Bloom
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Tak Fujimoto
Edited by Barry Malkin
Distributed by United Artists

Release date: May 4, 1979

Running time: 102 minutes