' ' Cinema Romantico: The Last Stop in Yuma County

Monday, June 17, 2024

The Last Stop in Yuma County

“The Last Stop in Yuma County” refers to a filling station in the Arizona desert where the gas pumps are dry, and the fuel truck hasn’t shown up, meaning that anyone without a full tank of gas who wants to proceed, can’t, forced to post up at the diner next door to wait. That includes a traveling Knife Salesman (Jim Cummings), his profession betraying the movie’s non-modern setting as much as the lack of smartphones, peddling his wears to the waitress Charlotte (Jocelin Donahue). Not long after, two more dudes needing gas turn up, icy Beau (Richard Brake) and irascible Travis (Nicholas Logan), their green Pinto just happening to match the description of a car responsible for a nearby bank robbery that morning. And that is only the beginning. Like the cups of coffee that Charlotte continually refills, writer/director/editor Francis Galluppi just keeps pouring more complications into his plot, keeps sending more characters walking into the coffee shop, these relentless narrative top-ups cresting with a weapon-drawing impasse in which just when you think one more gun cannot possibly be drawn, it is. “The Last Stop in Yuma County,” in other words, is a piece of pulp that spares nothing of its low budget to keep you entertained, a B movie with an A student’s work ethic.

If there are prominent echoes of Quentin Tarantino, well, that can be attributed to the celebrated writer/director inserting all manner of echoes to other movies in his own. No, “The Last Stop in Yuma County” can be traced at least as far back as 1936 and “The Petrified Forest” which also features a tense standoff in a diner in the Arizona desert. That movie, however, was based on a play by Robert E. Sherwood and whatever its qualities, it tended to feel stagy. Though Galluppi’s film can sometimes feel staged, and staged to its own detriment, like Beau putting a song on the jukebox that turns an otherwise tense moment into one too cool for its own good, it never feels stagy. That is a testament to Galluppi’s writing as much as his directing, baking the story into the action rather than unspooling it through reams and reams of dialogue, ensuring “The Last Stop in Yuma County” remains tightly coiled throughout. And when it does dial up the moviemaking heat, it’s not just for show, as two fluid long takes go to show, one demonstrating Beau’s cool command, the other the Knife Salesman’s desperate improvisation.

The performances are generally good across the board, though the characters can suffer from Galluppi’s plot-forward approach, occasionally too blatant in their existence as pieces on chessboard rather than people who have wound up here on what inadvertently turned out to be the worst day of their lives. (One standout performer is Michael Abbott Jr. as the local sheriff married to Charlotte, his slow drawl belying a quick-thinking savvy when the pressure is on.) If there is an exception, it is the Knife Salesman, played by Cummings with a twitchiness that might suggest an antisocial hero waiting to rise, or a guy sitting on a big secret. It’s neither, exactly. By revealing right away that the fuel truck has crashed, the suspense then derives not from wondering when it will arrive as what is going to happen knowing that it won’t. That’s what the Knife Salesman is waiting on too, and in a way, “The Last Stop in Yuma County” becomes a manifestation of the coin toss in “No Country for Old Men” in which an unsuspecting gas station attendant (Gene Jones who, as it happens, also appears in this movie) is made to pick heads or tails for the right to keep living. “You’ve been putting it up your whole life,” he’s told, “you just didn’t know it.” The Knife Salesman has been putting it up his whole life, he just didn’t know it, and now he must decide just what kind of person he really is. And as Cummings plays it, like a man skittishly coming unplugged from his own conscience, you can detect someone realizing he might not know himself at all. 

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