Q: The Winged Serpent

Q1-poster

Q: The Winged Serpent

Release Date: October 29, 1982

Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree,  James Dixon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We have reached the half way point in our Larry Cohen Tribute Month. Thank you to everyone who has been sticking with the special since the first movie. Still plenty more to come. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as ‘King Kong.’ It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!”

As the title suggests, ‘Q’ is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food.  No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.

Q-The-Winged-Serpent-Beast-5

Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called ‘I, The Jury’ until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for ‘Q’. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.

When I first watched ‘Q’, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.

‘Q’ has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grows a brain and develops a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.

picture-51

Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.

Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.

Q-the-winged-serpent-carradine-1024x678

There’s not much more I can say about ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as my second favorite Larry Cohen movie only to the one movie which I will be reviewing next week. If you want to find out what movie I’m talking about then stay tuned next week! You may be surprised (or may not be surprised)!

 

 

 

TRIVIA

  • A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
  • Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
  • In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
  • The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
  • The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
  • David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
  • The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
  • Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Back Again Creep

You’re Not The Only Action In Town

Jimmy Plays The Piano

Equal Share Equal Chance

I’ve Been Afraid Of Everything

Who’s Got My Lunch Pail?

Evil Dreams

The Feathered Flying Serpent

I Better Take My Birth Control Pill

Eat Him

Being Civilized

Drag Me Here So You Could Do Pushups

Becoming Quite A Bird Watcher

If You Know Something

Nixon Like Pardon

Get Rupert Down Here

Fry Up 500 lbs of Bacon

Stick It Up Your Small Brain

Advertisements

God Told Me To

 

God Told Me To (1976) aka Demon Directed by Larry Cohen Shown: Poster Art

God Told Me To

Release Date: October 22, 1976

Genre: Crime, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sam Levene, Mike Kellin, Richard Lynch

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re now on to the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. For this review, we’re going to be looking at a social commentary quasi science fiction movie about religion. It looks at how religion can influence the minds of those who believe in the scriptures. It influences them so much that they go out and do horrible things. It’s a movie that was not a success when it first came out, but over the years grew into an important film tackling this kind of subject. This review we will be looking at 1976’s ‘God Told Me To!’

The movie begins with a man on top of a water tower who opens fire on people walking the street with a .22 caliber rifle. His actions result in the death of fifteen people. Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) is called in to stop the sniper. He climbs the water tower and talks to the sniper about why he is doing what he is doing. The sniper responds by telling Peter, “God told me to!” before jumping off the water tower to his death. The incident would be the first of many random murders to come throughout the movie all with the suspects seemingly implying that they were told by God to kill. As Peter investigates these strange acts, his clues lead him to a man named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) who is the leader of a religious cult who according to the members has psychic powers and is controlling the minds of people to commit murder. Peter pursues Phillips through various avenues where he will be shocked about what he has discovered not only about Phillips, but about himself.

got-told-me-to-1

This is perhaps Larry Cohen’s most bizarre and controversial movie as it deals with religion and religious extremism. Cohen deals with the rationalization believers go to in order to follow “the word of God.” There is extremism in every religion. You have people killing each other in the name of religion. Everyone believes their religion is one true religion and that those who practice something else is a heathen, infidel, unbeliever, etc. The movie also deals with cultism as the antagonist is the leader of a cult who is controlling the minds of others to kill people to spread his message. It’s relatable to this day with all the numerous cults that are out today. You could compare this film today to the rhetoric of Scientology.

Cohen brings in a cast of well-respected veteran working actors to assist with his vision with Tony Lo Bianco playing the lead as Detective Peter Nicholas. Lo Bianco doesn’t look like a lead actor, but he is the meat and potatoes of the story. In addition to dealing with these crimes and looking at the religious aspect, he is also dealing with his own beliefs. Peter Nicholas is shown throughout the movie as a devout Catholic. You see shots of him in a Church praying, talking to his wife about going to confession and begins to question his faith as these random murders continue. He’s also conflicted in his ranks as he feels that he is on his own with the investigation, not receiving support from his fellow police officers. The supporting cast features Deborah Raffin as Casey Forster who is Peter’s mistress, Sandy Dennis as Peter’s wife Martha whom is on the verge of divorcing him, Sylvia Sidney as Elizabeth Mullin who becomes a central figure in the film and has a connection to Bernard Phillips and Mike Kellin of ‘Midnight Express and ‘Sleepaway Camp’ fame as the Deputy Commissioner who is desperately trying to get the situation under control. Finally, you have the antagonist Bernard Phillips in a chilling performance by Richard Lynch. He appears in all gold and glowing, kind of like Jesus (which is what Cohen based Phillips on). Everything he does in the movie is to get Nicholas to come to him for which he makes a shocking revelation to Nicholas and unveils his master plan.

GodTold6

As is customary in a Larry Cohen movie, Cohen fills the scenes with stolen shots and unplanned sequences which gives the movie a realistic tone. Cameras are placed all over the city to get many intriguing shots of the city and the everyday people who walk and commute in it. The most iconic scene in the movie is Cohen shoots the St. Patrick’s Day Parade filled with thousands of New York City Police Officers and features a cameo from comedian Andy Kauffman dressed up as an officer. Again, they didn’t have permission to shoot the parade so there are many shots of the police overhead, the Mayor and city officials and of course Kauffman. It’s great to see the unscripted reactions of fellow officers when they recognize Kauffman. They though Kauffman was doing another one of his typical jokes.

While Cohen was unable to return legendary film composer Bernard Hermann to score this movie after previous scoring ‘It’s Alive’ due to his untimely death, Cohen brings in Frank Cordell to the music. Cordell provides booming biblical tones which adds another dimension to the movie. The music is placed appropriately through tension scenes and plot reveals.

The pacing of the movie starts out quick and gutsy. By the time the second and third act come around things start to slow down creating a feeling of unbalance. The events and situations seem to jump around. I think this is in part to the condensed schedule that Cohen had when making this film.

Gtmt_3

‘God Told Me To’ was not well received when it first opened. Critics including Roger Ebert vivisected this film. However, as time went by, critics revisited this movie and like its premise, it’s become a cult film. Rolling Stone listed it as one of “20 Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen!” [1] If you’re a fan of movies with crazy and weird plots, this movie is for you. You could even joke with people that ‘God told me to watch this movie!’

That concludes the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Next week we continue the special with another film of his that has had widespread acclaim and legacy. Don’t miss out!

TRIVIA

  • Composer Bernard Herrmann, Larry Cohen’s first choice to score the film, died that night after seeing the film without music. The film is dedicated to Hermann in his honor.
  • Larry Cohen did not have a permit to film the scene at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but he did it anyway.
  • According to Larry Cohen, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade scene, he was organizing the crew, only to see Andy Kaufman, dressed in his policeman’s uniform, antagonizing and making faces at the crowd. Some of the crowd members then attempted to jump the barricades and beat Kaufman, and Cohen had to hold them back.
  • Tony Lo Bianco accidentally broke actor William Roerick’s rib performing CPR in the heart attack scene.
  • Many years after the film’s release, a 70-something year old Larry Cohen stated in an interview that a young French filmmaker had asked him if he could remake the film. He couldn’t remember who this guy was, but he had left some of his films for Cohen to see, and when he took them out, that young French filmmaker turned out to be no other than Gaspar Noé.
  • When Larry Cohen asked composer Miklós Rózsa to score this picture, Rozsa replied, “God told me not to.”
  • Tony Lo Bianco replaced Robert Forster.

AUDIO CLIPS

Police Debrief

God Told Me To

How Would You Like To Be Mugged By A Detective?

You Confess Everything To The Priest

The Irish Have Waited All Year For This Day

People Like That Got No Business

Say It

You Have No Pity

Come On That’s Crap

Discipline Through Fear

Religious Editor Is On The Second Floor

He Truly Believes

Fight Him

Women Claim That They Were Laid By The Almighty

He Can Make Us Know What He Wishes

All My Life I Felt So Close To God

You’ve Tested Yourself

The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover

51ODvKrgBEL._SY445_

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Release Date: December 1977

Genre: Biography, Drama

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Broderick Crawford, James Wainwright, Michael Parks, Dan Dailey, Jose Ferrer, Celese Holm

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Recently, the film world lost an original and innovative auteur. Larry Cohen was known in the industry as a guerrilla filmmaker. He made his movies outside of Hollywood with no permits, no permission and no rules. His films tackled many issues from African Americans in society, to marketing and consumerism, from hidden agendas, to the effects chemicals and pollution have on human beings. He was a pioneer in the Independent film industry. You can easily tell a Larry Cohen movie by the style and substance. His movies have lived on to this day with legions of fans continuing to watch them.

For the month of May, ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ will be looking at five of Larry Cohen’s movies. Some may be familiar to fans of certain genres. Others are overlooked gems that don’t get much attention in his filmography. Although Larry Cohen is most famous in the world of horror, I did my best to not make all five movies horror based. The first movie I will review is one that doesn’t get much attention in the discussion of Cohen movies. It’s a semi-biographical film about the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover and how he molded and shaped the United States Government’s biggest investigative agency that is effective yet controversial. The first film in the Larry Cohen Tribute Month is 1977’s ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover.’

‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’ is a well-crafted semi-documentary style drama about the United States’ top chief law enforcement. For his nearly fifty-year career, Hoover was the top cop in Washington. He served under eight United States Presidents starting with Calvin Coolidge and ending with Richard Nixon.  He became the nation’s ‘Top Cop’ at the age of 29. The film shows him taking on mobsters, communists and people within his own government. His brash and unorthodox style of tackling crime earns him a reputation that is feared not only by criminals, but people within the government. Anyone that would dare test his power would be subjected to wiretaps and blackmail. With the power came suspicions and paranoia which is shown through several scenes throughout the movie, especially when he is a room alone with a woman.

093011-Hoover2-Post

The title of the movie comes from the files that Hoover was known to have kept regarding his adversaries. He was known to have information on everyone from his subordinates to Presidents. Larry Cohen depicts how Hoover deciphered the information he had on people and used it to discredit them or ensure that his power remained unchecked. The best example of this is a scene involving Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Raymond St. Jacques). Hoover is determined to unmask Dr. King as a fraud which creates a tension filled moment when the two confront each other in the offices of the FBI.

Academy Award Winner Broderick Crawford stars as the titular icon that is Hoover. Crawford is the spitting image of Hoover on screen. He is stoic, and stone faced throughout the movie as you follow along with him as he goes deep into his head thinking, planning and executing his strategies. Everything he does from his tone of dialogue to mannerisms are all associated with the real J. Edgar Hoover. Crawford nails Hoover’s slumped forward posture and authoritative voice. It’s an incredible work of method acting I haven’t seen since Peter Weller’s performance in ‘Robocop’ or Michael Moriarty’s portrayal of Jimmy Quinn in another Larry Cohen film, ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!’ James Wainwright plays Hoover in his early years in the department and he is as exceptionally good. Wainwright’s Hoover deals with taking on the mafia, mainly pursuing John Dillinger and engaging in a popularity struggle with Melvin Purvis, the man who would take Dillinger down.

In addition to Crawford, there are some great supporting performances most notably from Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s right-hand man and most trusted confidant. They are joined at the hip and seem inseparable which sparks the rumors from the press about their relationship being more than professional. Jose Ferrer plays Lionel McCoy another trusted liaison in Hoover’s inner circle is the quiet one of the bunch, but carries out the rules and regulations of the department as Hoover demands and Celeste Holm has a small performance as Florence Hollister, the wife of an ambassador whom tries to seduce Hoover which backfires as Hoover will not do anything that could leak to the press nor destroy his reputation at the bureau.

crawford-as-hoover

If you read my review of ‘Black Caesar’ (another great Larry Cohen film), I mentioned that on of the things that makes Cohen stand out from the rest of filmmakers is his ability to ‘steal shots’. Cohen shoots his movies on location and without permission. To avoid getting caught by authorities, he would place cameras out of plain sight and shoot what was there. When the movie first began production, Cohen shot in the streets of Washington. They wanted to shoot inside several government buildings including the FBI. They were easily rejected when the request to shoot came up. However, first lady Betty Ford intervened when she found out who was in the movie. Mrs. Ford was a former dancer and was a huge fan of actor Dan Dailey, who plays Hoover’s eventual successor Clyde Tolson in the movie and invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch. At the luncheon Dailey and Crawford explained how they were here to make a movie. When they told her some of the places they would like to shoot, President Gerald Ford gave Cohen permission to shoot inside the FBI. With that permission, Cohen was able to shoot scenes inside the FBI (including Hoover’s office and offices of others) as well as the FBI Outdoor Training Grounds. What you saw in the movie was the real deal. No sets, no shooting in other locations, nothing.

The only thing that stood out to me in terms of the negatives of the movie is the casting. Most of the actors cast in the movie didn’t look or act like the character they were playing. Michael Parks plays Robert Kennedy who doesn’t look anything like him however he did give considerable effort getting that thick New England accent down. Howard Da Silva as FDR, William Jordan as JFK, Andrew Duggan as LBJ and Richard Dixon as Nixon (Funny right?). None of those men had the look or personality of the president they were portraying. If Jon Voight as FDR, Martin Sheen as JFK, Bryan Cranston as LBJ and Frank Langella as Nixon are considered the Coca-Cola of presidential portrayals, these guys in this movie would be the Diet Rite version.

hqdefault

If you’re looking to start watching Larry Cohen movies, you may want to watch this after you’ve seen some of his more popular work. When you get to ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’, you may look at biopic films in a new light. I personally believe this is a better representation of Hoover than Clint Eastwood’s movie ‘J. Edgar’. Crawford’s performance keeps your attention focused at everything he does and how he became the most powerful person in government. With that power comes corruption and there’s plenty of things that show it in the film. It may change your opinion on Hoover depending on how you feel about him today.

With that the first review in the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’ is now complete. I will be posting a new review each week until the end of the month. For updates on postings, please be sure to follow my page here on WordPress or you can follow me on Twitter @GPCRMovies. I’ll see you soon with the second review in our special.

 

TRIVIA

  • Director Larry Cohen wanted to film at various authentic locations but was repeatedly turned down for permission. However, when First Lady Betty Ford – a former dancer – found out that Dan Dailey was in Washington to make a film, she invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch, as she had always liked Dailey’s films and work. Larry Cohen then started calling locations such as the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia, and said that he wanted to film there but couldn’t do so the next day because the cast was having lunch at the White House; likely supposing that the film had official backing, every location soon made themselves available.
  • Several people who were real-life acquaintances of J. Edgar Hoover are featured in the film, including the barber who regularly cut his hair and his regular waiter at the Mayflower Hotel.
  • This was Jack Cassidy’s final film, issued one year after his death at age 49.
  • The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Broderick Crawford’, Celeste Holm and José Ferrer; and three Oscar nominees: Rip Torn, John Marley and Ronee Blakley.
  • The film had a formal screening at the Kennedy Center, but members of both parties in the largely political audience were irritated by the film’s unflattering depiction of not only Republicans such as Richard Nixon, but also Democrats such as the Kennedys and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Going To Miss Having My Room Searched

Hoover’s Entry Into The FBI

The Boy Scout

Just A Clerk

Top Cop

There’s No Romance In A Dead Rat

I’ve Always Kinda Liked Post Toasties

You’re Always There

Why Don’t You Come In And Ask Her To Dance?

You’re His Boss

I Needed The Exercise

His Time Has Passed

Got A Lot Of Important People To Spy On

Now They Call Me A Senile Old Man

They Haven’t Got Us Out Yet

Couple Old Ferries

We’re Spying On Everyone

The Last Boy Scout

The Last Boy Scout

Release Date: Decemeber 13, 1991

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Director: Tony Scott

Writers: Shane Black (Story & Screenplay), Greg Hicks (Story)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Chelsea Field, Noble Willingham, Danielle Harris, Halle Berry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an action movie. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a buddy movie. For the next edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I decided to review an action/buddy movie. I was reading up on Shane Black, who has been a long time writer and has now gone into film-making with his last release being the 2018 summer film “The Predator” (Black was in the original film as Hawkins). He sold his first script to Hollywood while he was finishing up college at UCLA. That film became “Lethal Weapon.” The success of “Lethal Weapon” opened the door for Black and was soon writing scripts and they were being turned into movies left and right. One of his scripts would become an underrated action buddy film that has the spirit of “Lethal Weapon.” That movie was 1991’s “The Last Boy Scout.” I happened to check it out on Hulu in its remaining days before it expired. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw the movie, but since I wanted to do an action oriented movie review I felt this was the perfect choice. For those who haven’t seen it before, let me give you a brief synopsis.

“The Last Boy Scout” stars Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. Willis is a chain smoking private detective named Joe Hollenbeck. Fed up with the way his life is going and is estranged from his wife Sarah (Chelsea Field and daughter Darian (Danielle Harris) he takes a job off a friend of guarding a stripper/prostitute named Cory (Halle Berry). Despite not knowing the full context as to why he needs to be a bodyguard, he takes the job and watches her. During the night, he comes across Cory’s boyfriend Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), a former professional football player who was kicked out of the league for gambling and allegations of drug abuse. After a brief conflict Jimmy and Cory head back to his place, but Cory is involved in a fender bender as she pulls over, she is gunned down by a series of men. Joe and Jimmy team up to find out who is behind her murder and uncover a plot involving a corrupt politician (Chelcie Ross) and a crooked football owner (Noble Willingham). They have to figure out the connection between the two and what is the intended goal.

MV5BYzFlMTRhNTgtYzlmNS00M2MwLTlhZmYtN2U0YzNlOTE2MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTg3OTkzNDY@._V1_

“The Last Boy Scout” was directed by esteemed movie director Tony Scott who is known for directing blockbuster action movies such as “Top Gun,” “Days of Thunder” and “Crimson Tide.” If you’re familiar with his work, you’ll find his style and taste of shootouts, big explosions and constant ball busting humor all throughout this movie. A lot of people refer to this movie as a “Lethal Weapon” clone. I can’t argue with their analogy. It has all the familiar elements of “Lethal Weapon” especially since they were both written by Shane Black, but don’t let that premises keep you from enjoying this movie.

The title of the movie comes from a scene where Jimmy Dix signs an autograph for Joe’s daughter Darian. On the signature he inscribes the message, “To the daughter of the last boy scout.” Jimmy calls Joe a boy scout after seeing a picture of him with the President of the United States and finding out that Joe used to be a Secret Service agent. That part of Joe’s career plays an integral part in the story.

Bruce Willis plays Joe Hollenbeck in a similar fashion to his most famous character, John McClain.  He delivers wise crack after wise crack throughout the movie and doesn’t seem to mind the hostile reactions from those he is talking to. When he gets deep into the investigation and realizes the politician involved it becomes a personal vendetta for him since it was the particular politician that got himself fired from his previous job. Damon Wayans is on equal sitting of Willis as Jimmy Dix. He has plenty of quips of his own, but Wayans plays the role in a more serious tone. Jimmy feels a sense of responsibility for what happens to Cory and tries to help Joe track down the people responsible. Sometimes he gets in the way or does something he’s told not to do, but he redeems himself later in the movie when he has to start thinking like a detective.

MV5BMWI5YWY1ZWYtZGU1YS00N2VlLWFmNWItZmZlNTVlNDk5ZTVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTg2OTA4OQ@@._V1_

The supporting cast is good in their respective roles. Chelsea Field plays the distant yet concerned wife of Joe’s Sarah. Scream queen Danielle Harris plays Darian as a bratty teenager who despises her father. She plays a significant role near the climax of the movie. Halle Berry’s early performance as Cory is feisty. Other notable actors include Noble Willingham as Sheldon Marcone, owner of the Los Angeles Stallions which is the central team focused in the movie as well as the team Jimmy used to play for and Chelcie Ross as Senator Baynard, the politician involved in the plot. There’s some small appearances from Bruce McGill as Joe’s friend and partner Mike, Joe Santos as a police lieutenant who happens to get involved indirectly with Joe and trying to find out what Joe is doing and Kim Coates and Taylor Negron who play henchmen.

Halle-Berry-Cory-Last-Boy-Scout-1991_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqJI8IQ9zNFHlX4m6wWDBpee2aqlQyud6FiMMIjkaPQC0

While “The Last Boy Scout” is a fun little action flick with plenty of shootouts and explosions, it does have its flaws (like the majority of action movies). The script is borderline ludicrous which stretches to beyond believability. How the script would stack up if it were made today could be debatable, but for this time it’s not plausible. With action movies come typical clichés. You have Joe’s wife who is cheating on him and giving the old “You’re never around” speech and you have his daughter whose profanity laced tirades are instigated by just the mere sight of him. It gets old very quickly. And you have this sub plot of a police lieutenant and his subordinate starting their own investigation into Joe and Jimmy trying to find out what they’re up to and perhaps be the ones to crack the case. Finally, I did not like the climatic ending as it felt like something out of a cartoon. I think they could’ve done something better than what was shown on screen. I could go on, but if you can overlook these things and see the film for what it is you’ll enjoy it better.

Overall “The Last Boy Scout” is a funny and fun action movie. It’s a film that holds up by its sheer weight to be enjoyable. It’s not the most memorable film of Tony Scott’s films nor Shane Black’s scripts. It’s an artifact that is buried deep within the grounds of countless action movies. It’s worth watching once to see what Scott and Black were attempting to do. Unfortunately, the movie was not a success to green light a series like what they’ve done with “Lethal Weapon”. Ironically, Wayans plays Murtaugh in the aforementioned television series. I’m sure it had something to do with his role as Dix. Everything always comes full circle.

TRIVIA

  • Although they play buddies in the film, Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans hated working with each other.
  • Composer Michael Kamen hated the film when he first saw it. The only reason he provided the score was out of his personal friendships with Bruce Willis and producer Joel Silver.
  • The conversation between Joe and Jimmy about the 650 dollar pants was taken from a deleted scene in Lethal Weapon (1987). Murtaugh’s daughter is wearing an expensive dress for a New Year’s Eve party and he asks, “It doesn’t have a little television in it?” She says, “No”, and Murtaugh mutters, “I am very old.”
  • A riot nearly occurred during filming at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Hundreds of extras were recalled for a second day of shooting, but a last minute decision was made to cancel the recall. The extras were not informed of the decision and arrived expecting a day of work. They were refused pay by the production, and as discontent grew, they began to surge against the barrier that surrounded the set. Riot police were called in to disperse the crowd.
  • Jack Nicholson was the first choice for the part of Joe Hallenbeck.
  • Mel Gibson was considered for the role of Jimmy Dix.
  • Billy Cole’s last words “Ain’t life a bitch?”, before committing suicide, was originally “I’m going to Disneyland.”, a common phrase among Super Bowl winners.
  • Joe (Bruce Willis) mentions “reindeer goat cheese pizza”, which Willis also mentioned in Hudson Hawk (1991).
  • Released in U.S. theaters the day before the one-year anniversary of the day that Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) was released in U.S. theaters. This film also starred Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans as buddies, although they simply provided the voices of two characters.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Witnessing The Death of Football

Pretty Good Cigarettes

Remember That

She’ll Be Screwing Them By The Time She’s Fourteen

I’m Not The One That Hates You

Go Stick Your Head In The Speaker

Filling In

Ask Your Wife

Leather Pants

New Invention Called A Razor

Circumvent

The Man Who Invented Scrabble

Goat Cheese Pizza

What Happened To Your Face?

Billions, That’s Nine Zeroes

You Couldn’t Nail A Two Dollar Whore

Think Jimmy

I Want To Know What’s Going On

 

 

Black Caesar

image1 (1)

Black Caesar

Release Date: February 7, 1973

Genre: Action, Drama, Crime

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Fred Williamson, Gloria Hendry, Art Lund, D’Urville Martin

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Perhaps the most underrated and underappreciated filmmaker in cinema is Larry Cohen. He started out his career as a writer for studio-based television show to getting his opportunity to write and direct his own movies.  He was a pioneer of the independent film industry by creating the most innovating low budget movies of our time that dealt with social issues and commentary on American culture. His well-known films include “It’s Alive” which is about a mutant baby being born and “The Stuff” which is an intergalactic organism with the taste and texture of yogurt that gets the consuming public addicted.  Those films have become a staple in the horror community. Nowadays Cohen focuses more of screenplay writing and has written many scripts for some blockbuster movies (ironic since he’s always had a disdain for Hollywood).  After recently watching a documentary on Cohen’s career, there was one film that stood out as I was watching it that peaked my interest. It was a film from 1973 that is regarding by many as one of the best movies you’ve never seen before. The movie I’m referring to is called “Black Caesar!”

“Black Caesar” (or “Godfather of Harlem” as it was called in the United Kingdom) is a crime drama that tells the story of Tommy Gibbs (Fred Williamson). Tommy is raised in Harlem, New York city during the 50s. As a boy, he would be beaten by a cop named McKinney who would also throw racial slurs at him. The stigmatization of these incidents leads him to a path of crime. When Tommy becomes an adult in the 60s, he joins the mafia and becomes head of the black crime syndicate in Harlem. As his power and influence grows, Tommy splinters from the mafia starting his own empire and eliminating the competition. Like most crime films, as soon as Tommy reaches his peak, he starts to decline as numerous people are out to get him.

blackcaesar2_width-400

“Black Caesar” was hailed as a critically acclaimed masterpiece for a low budget independent movie. The response from the viewing audience led Cohen to make a follow up film called “Hell Up In Harlem,” which would be released the same year in December.  The godfather of soul James Brown composed the music for the film which became a hit soundtrack and many musical pieces would be sampled by prominent hip hop musicians in the 90s. On average, the movie ranks in the Top 3 among Larry Cohen’s best films trailing behind the aforementioned horror flicks.

The film is garnered as a blaxploitation film which if you aren’t familiar with the term it means an ethnic sub-genre of exploitation movies in which African American characters and communities are the subject and are portrayed as the heroes rather than victims of brutality and segregation. The term was coined by Junius Griffin who was the head of the Los Angeles National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during this period. (1)  While technically a blaxploitation movie, I didn’t see it this way. I found “Black Caesar” to be an original crime film with flair and style. There is so much to enjoy from this movie. Everything works clockwork from the characters to the story to the action to the music. Being a fan of crime movies, I’m surprised it took me this long to discover this film.

There’s enough going on in this movie to please fans of gangster movies. There’s action, violence, colorful characters. It follows the same character arc as in the first two “Godfather” movies and “Scarface.” You have someone climbing the ladder and reaching the top of power only to slowly start falling down the mountain and crashing into the ravine.

Fred Williamson who plays Tommy owns the film throughout its duration. Much like Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson (in his early years of course) Williamson was a professional football player who played in the American Football League during the 60s and transitioned into acting after his playing days were over. He is strong, confident and handsome and he oozes of machismo all throughout this film. Through his brutal forceful tactics, he earns the respect of his fellow henchmen and the ire of the crime syndicates in New York. Always carrying his Mauser C96 “Red 9” pistol, Williamson dominates the screen as he sets out on his plan to create his own criminal empire and seek revenge on those who may have wronged him in the past. How Williamson turns out could have been overplayed or underplayed by an actor with more ego, but he brushes that aside and creates a magnifying character with a similar arc to Michael Corleone or Tony Montana. Williamson proves he can be a leading actor on many scales.

black caesar 002

The rest of the supporting cast is small but fit into the plot. You have Gloria Hendry who plays Helen, a singer that Tommy falls in love with and marries. As Tommy is building his gang, she becomes unhappy and tries her best to get him to stop while he can much to no avail. You also have D’Urville Martin who plays Reverend Rufus, a preacher who grew up with Tommy in the same building who gets some involvement with Tommy’s group but keeps his distance due to his oath to God and the Church. Then you have Art Lind who plays the bigoted cop McKinney. He is as dirty as they come, and Lind shows that throughout his scenes. He continues to berate and slander Tommy even during his ascension into the crime world. Tommy has the stomach to handle McKinney until the time comes to take him out once and for all.

The film is primarily shot in New York City and Harlem with one scene being shot in California at Larry Cohen’s house (which you will see appear in many of his films). Cohen, born and raised in New York City gives the audience an intimate look of life in the big city especially in its neighborhoods. Cohen was able to get a lot of scenes done in Harlem due to making deals with the local gangs and from there you see a part of New York City that isn’t shown much in today’s movies and television series. It shows the racial makeup and the tensions going on during the time. Remember, this was before the Civil Rights Act.

I will caution you that ‘Black Caesar’ is as graphic of a movie as it could be. Not so much in terms of violence, but there are suggestive themes and concepts. Obviously, there is a lot of racial slander between the characters, again in part due to the time period that the movie takes place. There is also a rape scene and a domestic violence scene that could make you uneasy. It sure did for me. These things would not pass today in our society and culture. I don’t think this movie would even be released in theaters today unless they cut a bunch of things out and clean up the language.

blackcaeser 2

 

James Brown wrote and compose the music to “Black Caesar.” The Godfather of Soul provides a mix of smoking R&B to the sound of funky disco. The music is appropriately fitted within the movie to give it emotion, character and intensity. Many people consider his soundtrack to be the best album Brown has ever released.

People credit Larry Cohen with the concept of “stealing” scenes. What “stealing” means in this context is the ability to shoot scenes with no permits. There were no permits for this movie, so everything that was shot was by stealth and trickery. For example, the overhead shots in the movie were done by setting cameras up on corner roofs of buildings or on light posts. The car chase sequence was a real car chase where roads weren’t blocked off for shooting and you had bystanders going about their business. The scene where Tommy is shot and is stammering throughout the road and sidewalks, you get a mixed reaction from people. Some in typical New York fashion ignore his cries for help while others express great concern or shock. You see some people reaching out to Tommy to see if he needs assistance. Getting those raw unscripted reactions from ordinary people heightens the quality of the movie.

If I had to rank the Top 10 Gangster Movies, I would put “Black Caesar” easily in the Top 5 or maybe in the Top 3. As stated in the beginning, it’s a movie with a lot of flair, and style. There’s enough going on to satisfy the gangster movie fan. Overall, it’s very underrated and entertaining. It’s a surprise gem that sadly gets overlooked due to the heavyweight titans of “The Godfather Trilogy,” “Scarface,” “Goodfellas,” etc. If you’re able to find this movie at your local movie store, Amazon or other streaming services, you should check this movie out. If you enjoy it, you’ll be ready to move forward in Larry Cohen’s film chronology which only gets better.

 

(1) James, Darius (1995). That’s Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss ‘Tude (Rated X by an All-Whyte Jury). ISBN0-312-13192-5.

 

TRIVIA

  • Originally offered to Sammy Davis Jr., who turned it down.
  • When filming in Harlem, Larry Cohen was accosted by local gangsters who threatened to disrupt the shoot unless they were paid off. Instead, Cohen offered them small roles in the film. They helped so enthusiastically that they attended the premiere to sign autographs.
  • The name Caesar is never spoken in the movie.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Shine Em Up Good

Down And Out In New York City – James Brown Song

You’ve Never Seen Me

You’re The Big Brain

Sammy, Don’t Disfigure The Man

Sauce Needed Some More Meat

The Boss – James Brown Song

Never Fear

We’ll Make Sure The Garbage Is Picked Up

Play A Couple Tunes

Somebody Call Down For A Shine?

I Want Him Nice And Fat

Sleep Well, Mr. Gibbs

Who’s Lincoln?

Been Waiting 25 Years To Kill You

I Miss My Old Bed

Heal Him Lord

Out For Justice

 

 

Out_for_justice

Out For Justice

Release Date: April 12, 1991

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Director: John Flynn

Writer: R. Lance Hill (as David Lee Henry)

Starring: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Jerry Orbach, Jo Champa, Shareen Mitchell

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Whether you like Steven Seagal or your hate him, you can’t deny his accomplishments. He is a seventh degree black belt in Aikido and became the first American to teach the martial art in Japan. He’s been a Deputy Sheriff for Jefferson Parish in New Orleans for more than twenty years.  Lately, he’s been in the press as a Russian liaison to the United States and Japan working on improving relations between the countries. Of course, most of us will know Steven Seagal as an action star. Since he appeared in his first film “Above The Law” in the late 80s, Seagal has become a recognizable face in the action cinema world. He rose to fame in the early to mid-90s as a man who would always be asked who would win in a fight between him and his action peers such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme. I haven’t reviewed an action movie in a while and looking through my movie collection, I noticed a bunch of Steven Seagal movies. I decided to review one but didn’t know which one I should review.  I took up an online poll to see which Steven Seagal movie I should write about. After a 24-hour survey, the overwhelming majority of votes went to his 1991 crime thriller “Out For Justice.” So, with that ladies and gentlemen, here is the review for “Out For Justice”.

Seagal plays Gino Fellino, a NYPD detective from Brooklyn where he has close connections with his neighborhood. After he and his partner Bobby Lupo are involved in a botched drug raid which leads to Gino intervening in an incident across the street where a pimp is assaulting one of his girls, Bobby is gunned down shortly after by Richie Madano, a mobster who grew up with Gino and Bobby. Richie is addicted to crack which has made him psychotic and act out on his homicidal urges which includes killing a woman at a traffic stop all because she asks him to move his car. After receiving clearance from his boss to track down and apprehend Richie, Gino uses his connections within the mob to find out where Gino is. The mob warns Gino not to get in their way, as they plan to take out Richie themselves. Gino is now in a race to find Richie and get to the truth about why he killed his partner before the mob can get his hands on him.

OFJ3

The movie received mixed to negative reviews when it was first released. Despite those reviews, “Out For Justice” debut at Number 1 at the Box office and grossed a little over $40 million. As time has gone by since its initial release “Out For Justice” has developed a cult following.

The film takes place in Brooklyn and there’s plenty of moments in the film where Seagal is cruising around town talking to various citizens. Brooklyn is not like Manhattan with its giant skyscrapers, lights and exciting atmosphere. It’s a quiet and close-knit community. The movie gives it a neighborly feel as everyone seems to know each other by name. It’s a great montage to the ethnic diversity and history of Brooklyn.

Seagal is decent in his lead role as Gino, a cop with connections all over the neighborhood and uses those connections to track down Richie’s whereabouts. He also struggles with the duality of his job and his family. He has numerous “families” throughout the film. First, he has his own family in which he and his wife are going through a divorce and splitting custody of their son. Their relationship is strained in the beginning of the film but as the story progresses, they rekindle that love they have for each other and that whatever problems have been going on they can work it out and come out even stronger. The other family is his mob family. He is well known by the mob family led by Don Vittorio. Gino can easily come to him for information and have a mutual respect. The middle man between Vittorio and Gino is a man named Frank, whom also grew up with Gino in the neighborhood and become close friends. Frank keeps his eye on Gino not because his boss tells him to, but to also save him from making any mistakes that could trigger a retaliatory response.  The last families of Gino include consoling both his partner’s family and Richie’s parents. There is a powerful scene where Gino confronts Richie’s parents trying to squeeze any information they have on their son. His father, played by Dominic Chianese (Junior of “Sopranos” fame) tells the story of how he came to America with nothing and worked to provide for his family and give them a roof over their head and that Richie has been taken away from him by drugs. It gives you sympathy for the parents for what they are going through.

OFJ 1

The award for Best Performance in this movie I give to William Forsythe as Richie Madano. As I mentioned in the synopsis, Richie is a mafia enforcer who has become psychotic due to his addiction to crack. He is paranoid, suspicious of people and reckless. Forsythe portrays Richie as someone who has succumbed to his addictions that he can’t see straight. His crew is trapped with him and no amount of reasoning can convince Richie to control his impulses. People are fearful of Richie that they surrender to his will, especially when he shows up uninvited to the home of a girl who was once his hooker. He kills a woman in broad daylight in front of everyone when she honks the horn at him telling him to move his car and kills a friend of his in a wheelchair when he is questioned why he killed Gino’s partner and believing that he called the cops on him. His own family are fearful for their lives as you see in many instances throughout the movie. Richie Madano is a relentless character who the audience can easily despise and hopes that his day of retribution is coming.

OFJ2

There’s plenty of action and violence to salivate the typical action movie fan. You can’t go wrong with shoot outs and hand to hand combat courtesy of Mr. Seagal. Seagal demonstrates his masterful Aikido skills in perhaps the best scene of the whole movie is when he interrogates Richie’s brother who owns a joint run by Richie, a bartender and its patrons. It’s amazing to see how fast Seagal’s hands move when taking down those who wish to do harm on him. Seagal is also a master sharpshooter in real life and you see that in several instances in the film including when he defends his family when members of Richie’s crew break into Gino’s apartment looking to terrorize his wife and son.

The only gripes I have with the movie is the lack of plot and character development, especially with Seagal’s family. You really don’t know what caused them to start going through divorce proceedings other than Gino’s job on the force has taken away from spending time with them. You don’t know much about Gino’s son except for his name. I also believe the title of the movie is misleading. There are also some small continuity errors due in part to the poor re-editing. Apparently this movie was even longer that dealt more with Richie and how he got into drugs, but Seagal had the Editor take a big chunk out because he felt that Forsythe was “overshadowing his great performance”. That’s why during the music montage you see a scene where Gino is talking to Frank and you don’t know what they’re saying because the audio has been drowned out by the music. The last gripe I have is with the theme of the movie. The title is “Out For Justice” but this is more of a revenge movie. Except for telling Richie’s parents that if they see him, he needs to turn himself in, his goal is to kill him, not arrest him and stand trial for the murder of his partner and other crimes he has committed. Yes, Gino is dealing with a personal tragedy, but in the real world the cops need to ascertain the suspect alive. You only kill the suspect is if he is engaged in attacking the officer.

As Steven Seagal movies go (before they went downhill starting in the late 90s), “Out For Justice” is up there among the best of his movies. This is in my Top Five Favorite Steven Seagal movies. It’s a fast-paced movie with plenty of action, violence, a balanced widescreen framing and a good cast to give it lasting appeal. It’s a movie that is relatable to the audience with its close community feel. This is perhaps the last movie where Steven Seagal is in prime form.

 

TRIVIA

  • Gino fights a character called Sticks in the bar, played by veteran martial artist Dan Inosanto. He was one of Bruce Lee’s best friends and one of the three people Bruce let train others in Jeet Kune Do. He is also a master stick fighter and has studied multiple disciplines like Escrima and Silat and was the person who taught Bruce Lee to use nunchaku.
  • According to William Forsythe, Steven Seagal told Forsythe, “You really need to work on your Brooklyn accent.” Forsythe, a Brooklyn native, replied, “Trust me, YOU do.”
  • The only Steven Seagal movie between 1988 and 1998 to not feature a single explosion.
  • Steven Seagal declared in an interview that the movie’s bar brawl was his personal favorite among all fight scenes he’s done.
  • Whilst on the production set, Steven Seagal claimed that due to his Aikido training, he was ‘immune’ to being choked unconscious. It has been alleged that at some point Gene LeBell (who was a stunt coordinator for the movie) heard about the claim and gave Seagal the opportunity to prove it. LeBell is said to have placed his arms around Seagal’s neck, and once Seagal said “go”, proceeded to choke him unconscious. After refusing to comment for many years, LeBell confirmed the story in 2012 and said that after Seagal fell unconscious, he proceeded to defecate and urinate himself. Whenever Seagal has been asked about the incident, he has constantly denied the allegations.
  • Julianna Marguiles was cast specifically by Steven Seagal for her role in this film, but she didn’t enjoy working with him at all. She later said in an interview that she used to see Seagal working on projects for Warner Brothers while she was a regular on “ER”, and he would always say “Marguiles, come over here and show me some respect”. She bluntly said, “He’s not someone I keep in contact with.”
  • The movie was originally over 30 minutes longer, which included some more plot details and character development. Steven Seagal cut some of William Forsythe’s scenes because he felt that Forsythe was upstaging him. Also, editor Michael Eliot re-edited the original cut of the movie. He did the same job with some other Warner Bros movies. Some scenes were deleted and some others were cut down for pacing. This is why there are two montage scenes with no dialogue in the finished film. Re-editing also caused some minor continuity mistakes.
  • During the filming of the showdown between Gino and Richie, Steven Seagal broke William Forsythe’s front tooth when he shoved his face into a brick wall.
  • To date, this is the only Steven Seagal movie shot in New York.
  • Steven Seagal was difficult to work with during filming. At one point, he was driven to tears on set when a light went out in his trailer. He attempted to blame the mishap on a Teamster and have him fired, but was unsuccessful.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Quick Change

Quick Change

Release Date: July 13, 1990

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Directors: Howard Franklin and Bill Murray

Writers: Jay Cronley (Book), Howard Franklin (Screenplay)

Starring: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Do you ever flip the channels on your television and find a movie you’ve never seen nor heard of, but decide to check it out? I’m sure you have done that as many times as I have, but did you watch it all the way through and at the end you really enjoyed it and wonder why you’ve never heard of it before? That happened to me about fourteen years ago. I came home from school, turned on the television and flipped it to Comedy Central to see what was currently playing. The first image that appeared was Bill Murray dressed up as a clown. “What Bill Murray movie is this?” I asked myself. I’ve seen practically every Bill Murray movie that had been released at the time except for “Lost In Translation”. After the first commercial break, the Comedy Central logo appeared in the corner along with the ‘Now Watching’ header underneath. The name of the movie that appeared next was “Quick Change!”

I watched the movie all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed it. I talked about it the next day with my friends and they were amazed that they never heard of that movie either. Fourteen years had passed, and I completely forgot about seeing the movie until I found it on DVD at the local store I go to where I pick up most of my movies. My eyes were filled with delight as those memories of the first watch through being to fade in and out trying to remember it. I picked it up and watched it again. I forgot how great this movie was from a plot standpoint and an execution standpoint.

Released in 1990 “Quick Change” is based off the 1981 novel of the same name by Jay Cronley. Murray plays a man named Griff who is fed up with his life and the way things are going. Together with his lover Phyllis (Geena Davis) and his dimwitted best friend Loomis (Randy Quaid), they decide to rob a Manhattan bank. Griff, dressed as clown sets up a hostage situation and slips away with $1 million dollars. The robbery is smooth and goes as planned. Next comes the getaway where the plan is to escape to the airport and fly to Fiji where they will live out their days in paradise. However, the getaway becomes a nightmare as the trio get involved in untimely situations that stall their plan. It takes pure luck and convincing from Murray to get out of the jams they find themselves in. In addition, they are being pursued by the New York Police chief Walt Rotzinger (Jason Robards) who is using every resource he can find to capture them before they escape and cause another blemish on the force that is scrutinized by the media and the public. Will Griff and his pals finally reach their destination, or will their luck run out when they are finally captured by Rotzinger and the New York Police?

bill-murray-09_0

Despite not being a commercially successful film in theaters, “Quick Change” received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its cleverness, execution, cast and plot. It’s a film that can be relatable in the real world since there’s robberies that happen almost every day, some with success and some with failure. Like its title, the film changes pace and situation in a seamless transition. Yes, the trio of Murray, Davis and Loomis commit a criminal act, but there is some heart in the movie, especially during some points where Griff decides to put his pals’ feelings over his. It keeps you on the edge and gives the audience the choice of whom they want to see succeed.  Do they want to see the robbers succeed or do they want to see the cops succeed?

This film was Bill Murray’s directorial debut as he co-directed with Howard Franklin, a man whom he would collaborate later in his career. Some people criticized the direction of the film due to the fact there are two directors. Having two directors is quite common in the film world. It’s all about collaboration and that the two directors have an ideal vision of what they want to achieve. With this film, Murray’s directorial involvement is with his character, his friends and the situations they are in, which is fine. Bill Murray knows what Bill Murray wants.

I enjoyed the cast of the movie. I felt the trio of Murray, Davis and Quaid got along great. Murray is his typical smartass self as Griff. He manages to stay cool under enormous pressure during the many u turns they have as they desperately try to get out of the city. Like its title, all three characters go from being ecstatic that they pulled offed a seemingly flawless heist to slowly dissolving in misery, desperation and fear. Their trust in each other melts slowly as they continue to be stuck in the city trying to find their way to the airport to make their escape. Murray’s smartass quips and razor-sharp delivery are a staple of this movie as they’ve been in many of his appearances throughout his career.  Davis, not known as a comedic actress did very well in this. She has some funny moments in the film, but plays it straight laced overall. You feel the love she has for her partner; Griff and their relationship gets put to the test throughout the second half of the movie. And of course, there’s Randy Quaid, who plays the typical goof as you’ve seen him play throughout his career. Loomis reminds me of the character ‘Mugsy’ from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He’s dimwitted and makes tiny mistakes that jeopardize the plan. Quaid becomes the more desperate of the characters as he starts to cry and howl about wanting to get out. There is a great scene involving him and a taxi driver as they try to reach their destination.

20151121-204637

Finally, there’s veteran actor Jason Robards who plays New York Police Chief Rotzinger. Robards provides somewhat of a calm demeanor to the craziness unfolding throughout the movie. He methodically uses his police skills to track where they’re at in the hopes of catching them before they escape. There is one thing Rotzinger has in common with the three runaways. They all have a disdain for New York City. There is a moment in the film where Rotzinger is looking out the window and wonders what he could’ve been or how did he end up in New York City for practically his entire career. It’s a reflective moment indeed.

quick change18

Besides the main cast, look out for some notable faces throughout the film that have small appearances. Those faces include Phil Hartman, Jamey Sheridan, Stanley Tucci, Kurtwood Smith and Tony Shalhoub, who has the longest screen time of the above-mentioned people. He’s quite funny in his performance although I think his screen time could’ve been cut down significantly because the audience gets the point of his character and what he is all about.

The plot is lightweight in comparison to other films of this nature like “Dog Day Afternoon.” Don’t let that take you away from the rest of the movie. This movie works with the limitations it provides in terms of characters and setting. It’s incredible how the characters can dodge bullets when they get trapped in a situation where the audience believes they can’t get out of. Fate and luck work within the characters’ favors. No time is wasted through its 89 minutes in duration of adding plot points and characters that are unnecessary to the overall theme and concept and no joke is overplayed or overused throughout the movie. Credit goes to Howard Franklin for focusing on the source material of Jay Cronley’s book to write the screenplay. He manages to make a heist film “likable”, which is very hard to do.

“Quick Change” is truly an underrated comedy film. To me, it ranks high up there in Bill Murray’s filmography. It’s a movie that doesn’t need the bright light promotions or the mega box office money to be considered a success. It’s a successful film in terms of its smart writing and clever filmmaking. It’s an homage to a lot of cat and mouse movies from earlier film periods. You may have a hard time finding this movie in video stores, but there’s a reason why eBay, and Amazon were created. You need to check this movie and out and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed in this. It’s a break from all the mundane comedies that are currently out today.

 

 

TRIVIA

  • This is the only film directed by Bill Murray
  • Bill Murray once said of this movie in an interview: “Everyone will enjoy this movie. But New Yorkers will enjoy it especially because they know how bad their city really is.” In another later August 2010 interview with Dan Fierman of GQ Magazine, Murray said: “It’s great. It’s a great piece of writing. And how about the cast? You couldn’t get that cast together for all the tea in China right now. I mean, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub…”.
  • When original director Jonathan Demme became unavailable, writer Howard Franklin and producer Bill Murray couldn’t agree on who would be a good director for the project. So, they decided to do the job themselves.
  • The Mexican flower woman at the airport who cries “Flores! Flores para los muertos!” is a tribute to A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) in which a Mexican flower woman cries the same phrase outside Stanley Kowalski’s apartment. It also could be a reference to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), another film about a bickering couple.
  • Ron Howard was approached about directing the film, but he turned it down. Howard declined directing the movie because he felt there was no character to root for.
  • The name “Loomis” would have to be considered unusual, if not rare. It is odd then that Randy Quaid played Loomis in this movie but had previously played a character named Sheriff Loomis in the 1986 movie, “The Wraith”, starring Charlie Sheen.
  • The watch that the bank employee tries to give Grimm (Bill Murray) is “an Audemars Piguet, Moon Phase, 18-karat gold, alligator band” watch. He states the value is $12,000 but appreciates daily. It may be a coincidence, but in Bill Murray’s SCROOGED, he is wearing the same watch, which can be seen when he checks the time in the restaurant (before the waiter lights on fire), expecting to see his first foretold ghost.

AUDIO CLIPS