EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally appeared in Drive-In Asylum #22 which you can buy here.
Often, I refer to movies as having an all-star cast, which is really a misnomer. After all, what I consider A-list talent certainly does not fit the rest of the world. The Last Match, however, has the very definition of what I consider an all-star cast. Let’s take a look at the lineup:
Ernest Borgnine: Amongst the 211 credits Mr. Borgnine amassed on his IMDB list, none other have him leading a football team against an unnamed Caribbean island to save his assistant coach’s little girl. He was, however, in four Dirty Dozen movies and The Wild Bunch, not to mention playing Coach Vince Lombardi in a TV movie. One assumes that he took this role to get away from his wife Tova and her incessant cosmetics shilling.
Charles Napier: As the American consul in this movie, Napier cuts a familiar path, which he set after appearing in the monster hit Rambo: First Blood Part II. For him, it was either playing bureaucrats or cops, thankless roles that he always brought a little something extra to. The exception is Baxter Wolfe, the man who rocks Susan Lakes’ loins in the beyond essential Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Henry Silva: If you need a dependable jerk and you have the budget of, well, an Italian movie about a football team that also does military operations, call Mr. Silva. He admirably performed the role of the heel — or antihero at other times in movies like Megaforce, Battle of the Godfathers, Cry of a Prostitute (in which he plays the Yojimbo role but in a mafia film; he also pushes Barbara Bouchet’s face inside a dead pig’s carcass while making love to her and he’s the good guy), Escape from the Bronx and so many more movies.
Martin Balsam: Perhaps best known for Psycho, Balsam shows up in all manner of movies that keep me up at 4 AM on nights when I know work will come sooner than I fear. He’s so interested in acting up a storm in this movie that he is visibly reading off cue cards.
They’ve all joined up for a movie that finds the coach’s daughter get Midnight Express-ed as drugs are thrown in her bag at the airport on the way home from a vacation with her hapless jerk of a boyfriend. At least he’s smart enough to call assistant coach Cliff Gaylor (Oliver Tobias), the father of the daughter whose life he has just ruined. And luckily for this film, Tobias was in a movie called Operation Nam nearly a decade before, which meant that they could recycle footage of him in combat. He also was The Stud and serviced Joan Collins, so he has my eternal jealousy going for him, too.
Who could dream up a movie like this? Oh, only Larry Ludman, but we see through that fake name and know that it’s Fabrizio De Angelis steering this ship, the maker of beloved trash such as Killer Crocodile, five Karate Warrior movies and three Thunder movies that star the beloved Mark Gregory as a stiff legged Native American warrior who pretty much cosplays as Rambo. And don’t forget — this is the man who produced Zombi, The House by the Cemetery, The Beyond and New York Ripper!
In this outing, he’s relying on Cannibal Holocaust scribe Gianfranco Clerici and House on the Edge of the Park writer Vincenzo Mannino to get the job done. For some reason, despite this being an Italian exploitation movie, we never see the coach’s daughter in jail. Instead, we’re treated to what seems like Borgnine in a totally different movie than everyone else, barking orders into his headphones as if he was commanding the team in a playoff game.
To make matters even more psychotic, the football players show up in full uniform instead of, you know, commando gear. One wonders, by showing up in such conspicuous costumes, how could they avoid an international incident? This is my lesson to you, if you’re a nascent Italian scumtastic cinema viewer: shut off your brain, because these movies don’t have plot holes. They’d have to have actual plots for that to be possible.
I say this with the fondest of feelings, because you haven’t lived until you witness a football player dropkick a grenade into a helicopter. Supposedly this was written by Gary Kent for Bo Svenson, who sold the script to De Angelis unbeknownst to the stuntman until years later. It was originally about a soccer team!
Former Buffalo Bills QB Jim Kelly* is in this, which amuses me to no end, as does the ending, where — spoiler warning — Borgnine coaches the team from beyond the grave!
You know how conservative folks have quit watching the NFL as of late? This is the movie to bring ‘em back, a film where the offensive line has fully automatic machine guns and refuses to kneel for anything. No matter what your politics, I think we can all agree on one thing: no matter how dumb an idea seems, Italian cinema always tries to pull it off.
*Other pros include Florida State and arena football player Bart Schuchts and USFL player Mark Rush, as well as Dolphins Jim Jensen, Mike Kozlowsky, Elmer Bailey and Jim Kiick. It’s kind of astounding that at one point, these players could just end up in a movie without the NFL knowing. This would never happen today.