The Last Tattoo (1994) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's notes in white

The Last Tattoo (1994) is a noir thriller set in New Zealand during WW II, when most of the young local men were away at the front and the nation was filled with American GIs who socialized with the local girls, a situation which often caused resentment. The film opens with a local girl (Katie Wolfe) getting a tattoo while her fiancÚ, a young American soldier, encourages her. As the couple leaves the tattoo parlor, they are accosted by a very unpleasant hood. The creep slaps the woman around but she manages to escape while the hood is in the process of killing the soldier. At that point, everyone wants to find her, including the mob.

A young Marine Captain, investigating the fiancÚ's murder, knows of the relationship of the deceased with the girl, and cleverly reports the missing girl as a VD contact to force an uncooperative local nurse (Kerry Fox) to help in the search, since the nurse's job is to to track down suspected VD carriers and cure them. To add to the urgency, this particular strain of the clap is not treatable by current methods, although a new experimental drug called penicillin may hold the answer.

It turns out that this one murder is just the tip of an iceberg which consists of an elaborate prostitution and black market operation profiting from stolen American supplies. The solution to the mystery managed to catch me by surprise, which is a very good thing. The film is reminiscent of WW II thrillers in mood and photography, and it ends with the hero sailing back to the front, hopefully to victory, much like those films.

A competent noir.


The DVD does include a widescreen version of the film, but is otherwise bare-bones.


  • Kerry Fox shows her breasts in the inevitable sex scene with the young Marine Captain

  • Katie Wolfe shows one breast in a B&W blackmail photo.

Scoop's notes in yellow

Watching The Last Tattoo is one of the most disappointing and frustrating movie-going experiences I have had in the past year.

When the legendary Howard Hawks was directing The Big Sleep, he became very confused about several points in the labyrinthine plot. He figured out most of the important points to his own satisfaction, but was totally stumped about the identity of the person who killed the family chauffeur, Owen Taylor. His screenwriter, the even more legendary William Faulkner, was certainly no stranger to anfractuosity, but could make no more sense of it than Hawks could. The frustrated director finally got desperate enough to wire Raymond Chandler, the author of the novel upon which the film was based. Chandler thought about it, consulted his notes, thought about it some more, and cabled Hawks back to say he had no goddamned idea.

Well, the Last Tattoo is so complicated it makes The Big Sleep seem like an Adam Sandler movie.

Not that it's a bad movie. It's pretty good in some ways, and I think the explanations all make sense to me in a hazy way, but there are so many characters and relationships that keeping track of them requires one of those flow charts that college debaters use. That fact alone was not what bothered me. The real structural problem with the film is that it builds and builds for 100 minutes, spinning its complex web, and then the whole plot is suddenly explained in a long monologue delivered by a character who seems to have figured it all out. Two problems. First problem: I didn't really keep a flow chart, so she explained it too fast for me to keep up with all of it. It was just a flurry of names, mostly minor characters. I'd be thinking, "Now who was that again?", but by the time I figured it out, if ever, she was two plot points down the road.  Second problem: I still didn't "get it" all when the film ended. The hero, who was framed for a crime he did not commit, was set free to go back to the war, but various bad guys remained unpunished, I wasn't sure whether one main character was innocent, and at least one guy was dead for reasons totally unclear to me, at the hands of a character unfamiliar to me.

And I still don't know who killed family chauffeur Owen Taylor.

I was watching The Last Tattoo with Elya, and we both shouted at the TV, "That's it? That's the ending? Maybe there's more." Nope. The credits were rollin'. The sad thing about that is we both kind of liked it while it was developing, and we stopped a film a couple of points to discuss points of interest. It has two very strong positives:

  • The background is fascinating. There's the tension between New Zealand and the USA in the Pacific theater. There's the tension between the various American officers - some warriors, some merely political animals. There is a lot of unfamiliar and interesting material there, and the film was actually lensed in New Zealand.
  • The noir premise is original. An American soldier is killed in New Zealand. He is about to be married to a Kiwi prostitute with a rare strain of venereal disease. The American military investigates the murder. The Kiwi health authorities investigate the V.D. Their lines of authority cross and conflict, but the investigators finally co-operate, and  ... well, one of them is a man, and the other a woman, and ...

One last point. Do you remember those reading interpretation questions on the SATs where the item begins with a literary citation and then quizzes the student with something like, "The best name for this paragraph would be ..."? Here's a hint. If somebody ever recites you the plot of this movie and then asks you the best name for it, the right answer is NOT going to be The Last Tattoo. That title has some vague connection to the plot, so it will be one of the weak choices put in there to distract you.

The Critics Vote ...

  • It won two Kiwi Academy Awards for acting.

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Tuna says, "This film is a C, a competent noir thriller." Scoop says, "C-. It has some positives, and I enjoyed many things about it, but it is deeply flawed. It could have been a very good movie if it could have eliminated some minor characters, featured a more charismatic male star, focused better, and delivered a more satisfying ending. But that's a lot of 'ifs.'"

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