When The Going Gets Tough
Having retired as a gunfighter Will Spence (Richard Widmark) and his wife Betty (Barbara Rush) have moved to Coffeyville, Kansas to enjoy the quiet life as the owner of stables to raise their son. But the town of Coffeyville can't wait to remind him of his notoriety when they hear that the Dalton gang lead by Bob Dalton (Robert Conrad) is back in the neighbourhood. It seems that Bob and his gang have a plan to hit Coffeyville on the 5th to not just rob one bank but two, but first they need to get Will out of the picture.
Quick question for you? Do you watch a movie firstly to be entertained or firstly to be educated. There is of course no right or wrong answer but for me my preference is entertainment over education although I don't object to learning a thing or two from watching a movie. But it is an important question when it comes to "The Last Day" a surprisingly ambitious made for TV western from the mid 70s as whilst it is an impressive production with a good cast it tries to achieve being informative and entertaining but ends up coming close to being a documentary in places thanks to the narration work of Harry Morgan to set up the scenario and fill in the gaps.
What that means is that on one hand we learn about Bob Dalton and his desire to do something greater than Jesse James and that is to rob two banks in Coffeyville. We also learn that Bob has history with Will as Will killed his kin, one of the Youngers. And on top of that we learn that Will hasn't worn a gun in 4 years whilst Marshall Ransom Payne has been on the Dalton trail for two years. And we learn a lot more but it is a mix of fact and fiction as to my knowledge there was no Will Spence when it comes to the true story.
Now I said that "The Last Day" was ambitious and that partly comes from the impressive cast lead by veteran western star Richard Widmark but also because of a surprisingly charismatic performance from Robert Conrad as Bob Dalton. But it is also because this movie doesn't rush things as we get to see why Bob wants to rob two banks in one day whilst we also explore the conflict between Will and his wife as she wants him to leave but he feels a duty to stay. It is not often I say this but "The Last Day" has a lot of character depth more than you tend to find in westerns especially those which came from the 70s and were made for TV. But it isn't all talk as there is action as well, not a huge amount but a nice balance with the story exploration going on.
What this all boils down to is that "The Last Days" is very ambitious considering we are talking a 70s made for TV western. But it pulls it off with this character driven retelling of the Dalton's raid on Coffeyville helped by what is still an impressive cast lead by Richard Widmark. But because of its character driven nature I wouldn't say it is the most entertaining western if what you want is action.