It is the time of the War in Vietnam, and Captain Henry Morris (David Warbeck) is hoping for tonight to be a restful one as he enjoys some R and R with a few of his men. However, as they sit around in a bar, his old friend and fellow soldier Steve is feeling the effects of the pressure and as a Vietnamese woman tries to massage him he bats her hands away, panickily telling her not to touch him. As one of the other recruits makes fun of him, the situation quickly spirals out of control and not only does Steve shoot the taunter, but himself as well. Would that his girlfriend Carol had been there...
In 1979 The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now had been successes, so why not, thought director Antonio Margheriti, never a man to let an opportunity for homage pass by, combine the two for one big Vietnam War film? Well, The Last Hunter was not as big as those two in length, being about half of their respective running times, and frankly it wasn't financially as huge either, but for fans of Italian exploitation movies it was judged not bad at all. Filmed in the Philippines, it offered up a sweaty, bloody and above all nihilistic look at the conflict.
What was it about the Vietnam War that attracted themes of futility in the face of death that didn't arise in films about the Second World War? Was it anything more than the fact that America lost, a superpower brought to its knees, that brought out the cynical side of moviemakers across the world? Certainly there is little lighthearted about this effort, and even heroism is held up to scrutiny although only to the extent that the striving of Morris and his men to succeed in a mission that we are never allowed to care much about is finally judged not worth the bother.
In fact, the ending of this film has the feeling that when fighting in a war as controversial as what is depicted here the best thing to do would be to give up as quickly as possible because you're getting into a whole lot of trouble otherwise. To echo The Deer Hunter, there are flashbacks to Morris's life back in America where he lived well with his pal Steve and Carol (Margit Evelyn Newton) so we can see how much has been lost, though there's another reason for these flashbacks that doesn't become clear until the twist at the end.
Before we get there, Morris has to endure his thorough disillusionment as he embarks on a one-man mission to destroy the radio tower which is pumping out anti-American propaganda, excerpts we hear all through the film whenever anyone turns on a radio (weren't there any other stations?). This entails Morris jumping out of a helicopter and meeting up with a small group of soldiers who take him, after having their numbers depleted in attacks and booby traps, to a network of caves held by the U.S. army in the jungle, a camp that is under seige. Also along for the "ride" is Tisa Farrow's photographer, who provides Morris with someone to save whenever the troops on either side turn on her. It's all very bleak, but somehow too contrived to really hit home, as if such pessimism is taking the easy way out when faced with major problems. Music by Franco Micalizzi.