"I take orders from the Octoboss."

The Last Boy Scout (revisited)

I reviewed THE LAST BOY SCOUT (1991) once already, 15 years ago. Though I think I described some things about it pretty well, I was at somewhat of a snooty wiseass stage in my critic’s journey, and I was more dismissive of it than I should’ve been. Despite that I remembered it being a pretty good movie, and I’d been wanting to rewatch it for a while, so this last November, when BWolfe asked in the comments, “Can you re-review this? I feel like you’d give it a much better shake now,” I knew he was right.


This Joel Silver production is a collaboration/clash between director Tony Scott (coming off of DAYS OF THUNDER) and screenwriter Shane Black (after being replaced on LETHAL WEAPON 2). Those guys making a Bruce Willis movie is about as all-star action as it got in 1991, and had Bruce and Silver known how the release of HUDSON HAWK was gonna go earlier in that year they would’ve been even more eager to sow they could still blow people through the back walls of theaters.

But by all accounts the production was a miserable and combative experience, with producer, star, director and writer all butting heads, the stars not getting along, Black constantly being made to rewrite it to be bigger or more different from DIE HARD or whatever someone wanted on a particular day. Editors Mark Goldblatt (director of THE PUNISHER) and Mark Helfrich (director of GOOD LUCK CHUCK), plus additional editors Conrad Buff (T2), Chris Lebenzon (TOP GUN), Michael Tronick (STREETS OF FIRE) and Christian Wagner (TRUE ROMANCE) had a torturous time trying to figure out how the fuck to make heads or tails of Scott’s why-not-shoot-everything-from-five-different-angles pile of raw footage, eventually requiring Stuart Baird (director of EXECUTIVE DECISION) to come in and recut the whole thing, as he had done with TANGO & CASH. Willis and Silver never worked together again, and Black, Scott and Willis all later said that the finished movie wasn’t as good as the original script.

But you know what? It’s not as messy as I remembered it, and whether or not it’s cohesive it certainly exhibits the Shane Black wit, the slick Tony Scott visual style and the Joel Silver over-the-topness, and those are all things I feel are worth exulting. It gives us plenty to enjoy. I don’t know what my problem was.

The opening scene is absolutely not fucking around. It’s set at a pro football game during a torrential downpour that would clearly cancel almost any sporting event. Luckily the L.A. Stallions play in the TSSL (Tony Scott Sports League), who require extreme weather for cinematographic reasons. (The TSSL is a multiple-sports league; The San Francisco Giants were briefly in it at the time of THE FAN.) Stallions running back Billy Cole (Billy Blanks, who had already appeared in BLOODFIST, THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS, CHINA O’BRIEN II and LIONHEART) gets a threatening phone call before the game, so he takes some PCP and then, when he has the ball, pulls out a gun and shoots three other players (which is against the rules even in this league), then himself.

The scene introduces (but doesn’t exactly explain) the villains: sleazy Stallions owner Shelly Marcone (Noble Willingham, HIT!, BLIND FURY) will become important to the story, and his enforcer Milo (Taylor Negron, BETTER OFF DEAD) is the guy on the phone. But it’s a whole lot of Tony Scott bombast for a scene that not only doesn’t have that much to do with the plot, but kind of throws you off of the actual plot. “Why did this pro football player go on a murder-suicide rampage in the middle of a game?” seems like a mystery the movie would delve into, right? But it’s really not. This is more of a poetic statement that shit is fucked up.

By the way, I would like to honor the stylishness of the opening credits – fat letters with gradient and white outline that fly in dramatically, followed by the logo with “BOYSCOUT” (one word?) in green paintbrush font, then actor credits incorporated into the football broadcast on a 4.3 TV screen within the frame. In that other review I made fun of the football theme song, “Friday Night’s A Great Night For Football” by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers, but of course it’s absolutely perfect fanfare for this horror show of Black athletes destroying their bodies and minds for cheap entertainment and the enrichment of corrupt white team owners. “Ain’t life a bitch?”

Into this living nightmare world awakens Bruce as Joe Hallenbeck, a private eye so garishly washed up he makes hung over John McClane at the beginning of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE seem pretty pleasant. I’m not 100% sure this is Bruce’s only character introduced passed out in his car, but I’m confident he’s the only one who wakes up when neighborhood kids decide it would be funny to put a dead squirrel on top of him. Most movies don’t take it to the dead squirrel level.

Black supposedly wrote the script after two years brooding over a breakup, and he seems to have channeled all his feelings of bitterness and failure into this character. Hallenbeck doesn’t get along with his wife Sarah (Chelsea Field, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN, EXTREME JUSTICE), and his daughter Darian (Danielle Harris, who was about 13 or 14 but had already been in HALLOWEEN 4 and 5 and MARKED FOR DEATH) openly despises him for it. Additionally, when he comes home and his detective skills tell him his wife is hiding a dude somewhere (toilet seat is up) so he threatens to fire a gun into the closet until the dude comes out, said dude is his best friend/agency partner Mike. And worse than that, Mike is played by Bruce McGill (INTO THE NIGHT, A PERFECT WORLD, MATCHSTICK MEN).

To Mike’s shock, Hallenbeck still takes that job they’d been talking about, to protect a dancer named Cory (Halle Berry, who had only done JUNGLE FEVER and STRICTLY BUSINESS, both released that same year) who’s being threatened. (Also Mike’s car blows up – an enormous explosion, thank you Joel Silver – but when Sarah runs out she’s calling Joe’s name. True love.)

I should mention that Hallenbeck is a disgraced former Secret Service agent – the honorable kind of disgraced where he got fired for punching a senator (Chelcie Ross, ABOVE THE LAW, RICHIE RICH) he witnessed torturing a woman. Coincidentally (and this is a pretty big coincidentally) Cory’s threats come from her possession of an incriminating tape of that same senator, in relation to bribes from Stallions owner Marcone and legalizing sports gambling. So there’s a whole detective novel style conspiracy there.

This is, of course, a buddy movie. The buddy is Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans at pretty much his peak, since he was in the midst of In Living Color), who is a disgraced former pro football player. He was the quarterback for the Stallions until he got banned from the league for gambling and drugs, but his entrance into the movie is kind of like Hallenbeck’s reason for getting fired: seeing a current player assaulting a woman in a hot tub, Jimmy nails him with a perfectly thrown football. Still got it.

Jimmy is also Cory’s boyfriend, and gets jealous when Hallenbeck shows up to talk to her at the strip club, but (SPOILER) Cory gets killed, so they start working together to go after the culprits. That lasts until Hallenbeck catches Jimmy doing drugs in his house and throws him out. Only then does Jimmy learn from little Darian that Hallenbeck was his biggest fan and was so disillusioned by his downfall that he stopped watching football entirely.

With the star and producer of DIE HARD and the writer of LETHAL WEAPON and the director of TOP GUN (or BEVERLY HILLS COP II), obviously there were expectations of a HUGE. FUCKING. ACTION MOVIE!!!, and they definitely make some attempts to fulfill that (apparently leading to some of those rewrites). But it’s clear that Black is more interested in a neo-noir sort of feel, with this hard boiled, hard drinking, fucked up private eye with the marriage problems, getting to the bottom of a convoluted mystery with blackmail and corruption and sexual deviancy and a scary guy with henchmen (including Kim Coates – INNOCENT BLOOD, SINNERS & SAINTS, THE LAND) that keep coming after him, and confrontations in mansions. At the time Black was just the LETHAL WEAPON guy – it makes much more sense now that we know he’s the KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE NICE GUYS guy.

And neo-noir means if not an anti-hero you’re at least looking at a flawed character as the protagonist. And I gotta be honest, this guy has some very serious issues that make it hard to get behind him at first. How can I put this in a way so as not to offend or unnerve? The man says he doesn’t like funk, claims that the way to make him scream in pain is to “play some rap music,” and complains that his daughter likes Prince. You might as well have him blow up St. Jude’s in the opening scene – what kind of a monster hates Prince?

The “funk” he refers to is also Prince – he doesn’t like that the strip club DJ (movie debut of Eddie Griffin, URBAN JUSTICE) is playing “Gett Off” by Prince and the NPG, from Diamonds and Pearls. That song makes me laugh because of how Tony M. (the corny rapper guy) keeps saying “23 positions in a one night stand.” Maybe I’m telling on myself, as they say, but I don’t think I could come up with 23 distinct positions if my life depended on it. I’d have to be like, okay, for this one I’m holding up a peace sign with my right hand, so that counts as a different position. Okay, that’s four. But the thing is, I know Prince wouldn’t cheat like that. Prince definitely really knew 23. He’s Prince.

I like the odd, sometimes random quirks that Black gives his characters, but I guess I’ll never wrap my head around that particular one. Is it to imply he’s got, you know, economic anxiety, so there’s more tension around teaming up with Jimmy? It doesn’t really seem like it.

Oh well. Otherwise, I enjoy all of Hallenbeck’s dirtbaggitude – normal stuff like being told he “looks like he just slept in his clothes,” but also I-can’t-believe-they-did-that touches like the mid-movie reveal that he has been making obscene phone calls. It’s also kind of similar to THE GAUNTLET in how it has a man and woman talking hatefully to each other to mask what we understand to be actual love underneath. Part of me is creeped out by it and part accepts it as a pulp novel subversion of romantic happy endings.

One part that definitely hasn’t aged well (or, actually, was bad in the first place) is the use of a homophobic slur. I think we’ve seen Black grow past that, but man… I really wish there was an E.T.-with-walkie-talkies version of MONSTER SQUAD just to take out those slurs because I have had so many conversations with parents looking for less obvious things to show their kids and I want to tell them that one but it’s too much disclaimer to get into.

It’s definitely the Shane Blackness that most excels in this movie – though I don’t disagree with some of my complaints in the old review about specific jokes, more often I find the back-and-forth witticisms laugh-out-loud funny. I don’t know why. Gilmore Girls and shit always annoyed me with everybody always having a snappy comeback for everything, but Black mostly makes it work for me.

I must also hand it to Silver or Scott or whoever is responsible for the Big Action Shit. There’s a part where a guy gets his legs smooshed between two cars and keeps firing his machine gun. A car flies off a ledge into a swimming pool, then explodes, then Hallenbeck fires into it and then takes a briefcase of money out. There is a great villain death where Hallenbeck punches him off of the stands at the stadium (we go full circle and end at another game) and the fall might be enough to take him out, but then the police shoot him a hole bunch of times in mid-air, and then also he gets chopped up in the blades of a low flying helicopter. Gotta respect that! (Though it speaks poorly of football fans that they don’t freak out too bad after seeing all this.) Also you gotta respect, obvious as it is, that Jimmy’s football throwing accuracy figures into the climax. Sometimes a movie has something like that loaded up and doesn’t fire it. This one gets the job done.

Note: The climax reminds me of things in both THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT and KISS KISS BANG BANG, so it’s not necessarily something that was forced on Black.

I also think that now that the movie is about twice as old as it was when I first reviewed it I have way more of an appreciation for that Tony Scott visual style. I think back then I associated it with some specific type of shiny commercial filmmaking that I didn’t like, but now I just enjoy its beauty. If a guy is gonna spend the time to get the exact right red or blue gel or reflection of sparks on wet concrete or sunlight shining through vertical blinds and bending across crumpled sheets draped over his wife Donna’s butt, then who am I to minimize that effort? Cinematographer: Ward Russell, DAYS OF THUNDER, LAWNMOWER MAN 2: JOBE’S WAR.

(You know what’s weird? Russell also shot UNSTOPPABLE, but not the Tony Scott one. The Wesley Snipes one.)

In the tradition of such classic Joel Silver productions as COMMANDO, ACTION JACKSON, ROAD HOUSE, RICOCHET and DEMOLITION MAN, it’s hard to tell when THE LAST BOY SCOUT is exemplifying the cinematic excesses of its era, and when it’s winking at us about them. It can be best appreciated as an enjoyable collection of well-worn action and pulp novel conventions dosed with extra lunacy. It doesn’t really matter if it’s trying to subvert the genre or just do it with more gusto than is normally considered reasonable. It works as both.


Note: Somewhere I heard this was a Christmas movie, and since it’s Shane Black it seemed to make sense, I figured I just forgot. It was released in the Christmas season, and the Michael Kamen score makes it feel more DIE HARD, but the only indication I noticed that it could take place near the holidays was that his daughter is in trouble at school for drawing a picture that says “Satan Claus.” I didn’t notice any decorations or anything like that.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 12th, 2021 at 11:58 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Bruce, Mystery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

50 Responses to “The Last Boy Scout (revisited)”

  1. One of my favorites. I keep bugging the Alamo Denver to play it but they don’t listen to me.

  2. Glad you finally came around, Vern. This is a all-time top-tenner for me. I love every single thing about it. The tough guy talk, the vulgar pulp romance, the flashy look, the bruised idealism, the over-the-top action. The “Touch me again I’ll kill you” scene alone is enough to get it in the Badass Hall of Fame. If aliens came to earth and they were like “Hey, Majestyk, what’s a movie?” I’d be like “That’s easy: THE LAST BOY SCOUT. That’s what a movie is.” And they’d be like, “Oh, cool, we get it now. Movies are awesome. We’re gonna take it back to our home planet and reform our culture in its image.”

    While the world of TLBS might seem gritty and cynical and hopeless, I postulate that it is actually a better world than our own, because it’s a world where professional football is unpopular. Combined with every single inhabitant being smart enough to have a witty comeback ready for every occasion, this makes a good case for the Last Boyscoutiverse being some kind of utopia.

    “Maybe I’m telling on myself, as they say, but I don’t think I could come up with 23 distinct positions if my life depended on it.”

    I’m sure the inventor of Mississippi Guard Dog Style has nothing to be ashamed of in that department.

  3. I remember reading the original draft. It’s really long for a film scrip, about 160 pages, and the most notable changes are that Milo is introduced making a snuff film, there is a boat involving the assassination attempt on the senator, and that Joe Hallenback has to save his wife from Milo, who is trying to put her in his next snuff film. I can see why they change it to more of an action-ending. It was mostly the third act that was changed to be more action-heavy. I think it was enough to just save the senator, and there was no need to have his wife kidnapped.

    I love The Last Boy Scout, and I’m not sure the original script would be a better film. A lot of the stuff I love about this film is in the second half, where most of the changes appeared. The script used to be easy to find, when screenplay download sites were something I used to use. Haven’t used one in years.

  4. “It’s nothing personal, just business.” “That’s what you think, let night I fucked your wife.” “How’d you know it was my wife?” “She said her husband was a big pimp looking motherfucker with a hat.” Classic.

    Also, yes, great villain demises with Milo and Shelly.

  5. “Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose. Smile, you fuck.”

    This movie is a masterpiece above all other masterpieces.

  6. A bleak, cynical classic.

    When I was a kid, the old uppercutting someone in the nose was expressly forbidden by adults because it caused immediate death, a hilarious myth perpetuated I’m sure by this (and other films). In fact, I’m sure there are other films where nose punching was like a dim mak attack used by other bastards. Can anyone remember any other specific instances?


  7. Well, Vern, one of my many permanent Vern-associations is now the excellent song Gett Off. You will have a place of honor next time I get stoned and stare at the Diamonds and Pearls cassette with the hologram for a long time.

    Thank you and here’s hopin for tomorrow. FUCK SPOOKY ELECTRIC.

  8. I must have seen this movie a dozen times. Bruce Willis was at his peak (maybe not as an actor but certainly as a movie star) and Damon Wayans had not become a parody of himself yet. When you catch it on TV, you just can’t turn it off because you always know that the next scene – nah, the next line of dialogue – is great.

  9. While I’m a long way from being into Pat Boone and The Four Tops, Joe Hallenbeck’s attitude towards music is his most sympathetic side.

  10. I didn’t know this movie had a Struzan or Struzan-esque poster like that; the UK VHS and DVD had photo-captures of Willis and Wayans in the same poses, unless I’m misremembering.

    I always assumed that Bill Medley song was the theme song from actual US Broadcasts of American football at the time, but I guess not.

  11. This may sound petty ― okay, fine, it is petty ― but every time I think of rewatching this, I remember that goddamn obnoxious football song at the beginning, and then I generally watch something else. Though from what I recall it’s all right after that.

  12. This is one of the Tony Scott joints I’ve always liked. Although, as noted above, that’s mainly because it’s really a Shane Black joint. That said, I have to agree with Muh who said elsewhere:

    “I liked it when Shane Black decided to start directing his own shit so he could show people what Last Boy Scout could actually have been.”

    Indeed, if the screenplay needed tightening up so much, one of the first things to go should’ve been Jimmy Dix’s need to explain what was happening to the audience. Maybe they just thought Wayans talking was funny and he should do more.

    I’m sure there’s a lot of the ROAD TO… movies in Shane Black’s work anyway, particularly his delight in pulling the rug out from under genre conventions, but if you look past the explosions and the editing, this one seems to get closest to what a profane Hope and Crosby movie might’ve been like.

  13. “Nobody likes you. Everybody hates you. You’re gonna lose. Smile, you fuck.”

  14. I first saw THE LAST BOY SCOUT with 2 roomies in Australia.

    Popped in the VHS and an hour later ROOMIE 1 turns to me and says “Not quite DIE HARD IS IT?”

    Roomie 2: “Boring man! Lotsa talking and people saying Fuck all the time”

    Me: Loving it and then realizing the phenomenal success of DIE HARD AND DIE HARD 2 also became a lodestone around many of the Willis movies around that time that didn’t get enough love because it wasn’t DIE HARD.

    I remember many of my friends hating HUDSON HAWK (tongue in cheek heist movie) because it wasn’t DIE HARD

    I remember complaints about STRIKING DISTANCE (suspense drama about police corruption) because it wasn’t quite….DIE HARD

    So I can’t blame those who saw the writer of LETHAL WEAPON, star of DIE HARD, director of BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 and and the hottest action movie producer then on the planet in the credits and expected, you know…..

    I loved it then and still love it. Once you understand Black was going for an uber-violent, ultra profane Chandler-esque detective story wrapped within a Buddy Cop genre, then this is just oodles of fun. With so many quotable lines that wouldn’t make the first cut of an action movie script today:

    Hallenbeck to alley thug on how fat the latter’s wife is:

    She’s so fat I had to roll her in flour and look for the wet spot. Motherfucker, if you wanna fuck her you gotta slap her thigh and ride the wave in. Now I’m not saying she’s fat, her high school picture was an aerial photograph.

    And absolutely no question: Hallenbeck’s coup-de-grace on Kim Coates’ asshole is a Hall Of Fame Moment of Complete Bad-Assery.

  15. Gilmore Girls and shit always annoyed me with everybody always having a snappy comeback for everything, but Black mostly makes it work for me.

    Annnnnnnddd, therein lies the problem with me and seemingly everybody’s fave monsieur Noir. He quite certainly does not make it work for me.

    Look, post 12th grade I have taken exactly two writing classes. In the FIRST, the professor strongly warned us off of what he called “curvy writing”. In that, you are unable to have a character say “Get the phone”, you have to find the wittiest, most absolutely clever manner for the character to say “get the phone”. Why? Because 99% of the time it’s not to demonstrate how witty and absolutely clever the character is, you’re trying to demonstrate how witty and absolutely clever YOU are. It’s not funny. It’s you pulling out your pud in a dick measuring contest, it’s sad.

    Believe me, I’ve sat down in front of every Black effort attempting to keep a completely open mind. And after 15-20 minutes of each, I hear that professor SCREAMING in my head. Hell, during “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” I thought he was going to tear through the screen like the fucking Kool-Aid man

  16. I feel bad for you that you had such a shitty writing teacher. lol

  17. I feel dialogue is one of the least understood aspects of film craft, because people have an expectation that it’s only good when it’s realistic. THE LAST BOY SCOUT was a really big movie for me when I was in eighth grade. I’ve probably seen it more times than any other Tony Scott film, and that’s largely due to its stylized approach to language, bringing nearly Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker degree wisecracks to a more serious action-thriller realm. Granted, this movie probably made me insufferable as I was discovering how to be sarcastic, but it was nice to come of age at a time before DARIA’s influence started to show up places, where you could instead trace your roots to THE LAST BOY SCOUT.

  18. I’ve never* had that problem with Black, but similar issues have always kept me at a distance from Joss Whedon’s work

    *Well, I will say the BAYWATCH NIGHTS dig in LONG KISS GOODNIGHT always made me cringe, but I guess something had to preserve BAYWATCH NIGHTS for posterity.

  19. “I feel dialogue is one of the least understood aspects of film craft, because people have an expectation that it’s only good when it’s realistic.”

    People also don’t really want realistic dialogue. Realistic dialogue would be full of starts and stops, awkward pauses, fumbled syllables, mispronounced words, weird inside jokes and references, tons of ums and uhs and likes, incomplete thoughts, overlapping lines, mumbling, meandering, repetition, trailing off… You know, like an Altman movie: borderline unwatchable. Every scene would take ten times as long and accomplish ten times as little. I wouldn’t be against this if done well: There’s a real art to capturing the actual rhythms of speech in written form. Most audiences would fuckin’ revolt, though. So when people say they want “realistic” dialogue, what they mean is they want dialogue that has been stylized in the traditional manner, as opposed to
    “unrealistic” dialogue, which is dialogue that has been stylized in a different way.

  20. No way, Majestyk, Altman is the best – he is probably my favorite director in terms of watching his movies frequently, and what you’ve criticized about his work is one of the many reasons that I love him. Otherwise, I’m in agreement with you.

    Speaking of stylized comedic dialogue in non-traditional action movies that create their own tone through total immersion, I sure am fucking ready for Real Life Batman Returns to be over with already, though maybe we’ll manage to avoid the Demolition Man timeline somehow.

    I am positive this is at least somewhat true of Waters, but has anyone ever heard anything about Shane Black trying to be Preston Sturges or George Axelrod?

    Did anybody else play the Ewok song for the third time in twelve months?

    Let me reiterate one of my thoughts from above: FUCK SPOOKY ELECTRIC. I am thankful for the votes of ten Republicans who must have had some sort of exorcism in the past few days.

    “And we will smoke them all/
    With an intellect and a savoir faire”

  21. Majestyk: How do you feel about Altman’s adaptation of THE LONG GOODBYE?

  22. I feel bad for you that you had such a shitty writing teacher. lol

    Yeah, laughing would be the last thing you’d being doing if you had to sit through that fucking class. Even with his constant ravings, a good 90% of the class were convinced they were the reincarnation of Oscar Wilde, and goddamnit, they were gonna prove it…

  23. I second that request Mr. M.

    But I’ll pre-empt it by giving my opinion of Altman. I forget which French director had to correct an interviewer who had asked about directors he admired saying “No, Robert ALDRICH, not Altman”, but I stand with him. Maybe the story is apocryphal. But it’s funny, because Altman’s desperate need to be recognised as an auteur is what ruins most of his work. I can’t argue with his technical abilities or his way with actors, but as his auteurist vision seems never to’ve gotten much further than “There are no heroes, only assholes” that gets to be a problem for me.

    To give him his due, he was thorough:
    The military – full of assholes
    The old west – full of assholes
    Weddings – full of assholes
    Noir mysteries – full of assholes
    Country house mysteries – full of assholes
    Country music – full of assholes
    Hollywood – full of assholes
    Fashion – full of assholes
    And so on.

    Compare the sincere ending of Ray Lawrence’s verison of Raymond Carver’s story So Much Water So Close To Home in JYNDABYNE with the ending of SHORT CUTS, which sees essentially the same characters laughing and drinking in a hot tub. Well, of course, they’re in hot tub, the dead girl they found and the consequent marital despair forgotten, they’re assholes.

    And the much vaunted use of dialogue and sound only really serves to say that nothing anyone says is that important and has the effect of homogenising the world.

    In THE PLAYER it turns out that people who like Bruce Willis movies are assholes. Yet somehow I’d rather watch something like 16 BLOCKS than pretty much anything Altman ever made.

    Sorry A.L.F., mileage may vary, and I respect that, but Altman can’t even jump start my car.

  24. A.L.F.: I respect what Altman brought to the table. It’s just not normally my cup of tea. The sound design tends to turn everything into white noise and I just drift off. But every now and then it works for me. I came around on POPEYE and always thought THE LONG GOODBYE was great. Maybe his style just needs to be cut with another genre to make it palatable to me.

  25. I don’t know if I can support the notion that Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, John McCabe, Philip Marlowe, Tom Frank and Earl and Doreen Piggot are all assholes…

  26. I don’t know how its asshole content measures up — probably fairly high — but McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a fucking miracle that belongs high on lists of great westerns, if not great movies.

    I fear that it may be more or less forgotten outside of the more esoteric corners of the internet that draw some of your more deep cut movie folks — like Vern’s corner right here, thankfully. (Having said that, it bums me out that Vern’s McCabe review received no comments, not even from me.)

  27. To be clear, I’m not sure I would support the notion that all the characters in Altman’s movies are assholes, it’s just that it feels like that’s what Altman thinks.

    I kinda like Elliot Gould as Marlowe, even though Altman clearly thinks he’s an idiot.

    That said, Hawkeye and Trapper John are just not the whacky, fun-lovin’ rebels they think they are. They are as narrow and bullying in their own ways as the system that offends them so much, just not as lethal. I think Altman wants us to like them though.

  28. Or “it’s a shit world, we might as well enjoy it while it lasts”

  29. Majestyk, I really did appreciate that you mentioned Altman’s sense of reality, even if it didn’t work for you. I like a lot of music that sounds like Altman sound design, and I can understand not like either that sort of music or the audio in much of Altman, whether it overlaps or not.

    I think one of my favorite reoccurring themes in Robert Altman movies is that sometimes smart people have stupid looks on their faces.

    And Keechie from THIEVES LIKE US ain’t no asshole.

    Anybody else feeling the urge to bust out SECRET HONOR tonight? I think a rewatch is gonna be tonight’s viewing – I had to revisit TO BE OR NOT TO BE and DO THE RIGHT THING yesterday, you know.

    I just wanted to thank you all for providing a forum of actual civility, true decency, real conversation and fostering an enviornement where there is a priority placed on progressive-minded thinking. Also, thank you all for tolerating my current obsession with the idea of a MA franchise. (Seriously, I can’t stop thinking about it. How about these movie ideas: I, MA and MA VS JASON.)

    The other online forum that I post to (under my real name, which I would do here had Vern not dubbed me with the best moniker ever, as a part of his amazingly getting a joke I was making that I didn’t think anyone would understand) is currently devolving into a snakepit of racism, “LOL I didn’t really mean it!” 4channery and deeply-hateful trolling (along with a troubling aversion to reader/poster criticism) which is making me feel deeply upset about the artform of which I am a practitioner and which I have devoted my life to learning about.

    It was such a relief to check in with this “sight” and this thread today, where I found this balanced and sensible approach to disagreement. I feel all the more grateful for (and connected to) you all, and I thank you all for that.

    And Majestyk, I’ve said this before, but I am pretty sure we’ve met in person. I’m not gonna say what store, but you mentioned some years back that you were a customer at a New York movie-and-music-oriented store that I worked at for three years, and at two separate locations. (I was the nice one.) It really means a lot to me to think about our having walked the same streets, even if I am no longer in that city, and from what I remember reading, neither are you? (Also, I would never have gotten that job were it not for an early and longtime fandom of Vern.)

    “This will be our year, took a long time to come.”

    Thanks buds.

  30. I’m assuming you worked at Kim’s? I remember everybody who worked there was an asshole except one guy who was nice to me the time I asked for an application. He didn’t have one to give me but he didn’t treat me like the scum of the earth for enjoying his establishment so maybe that was you?

    I am about five seven. Shaggy brown hair. Likely wearing a tie for no good reason. Would stand in the cult director section for hours weighing my options. Ring any bells?

  31. Speaking of Kim’s, the first scene of my latest, way-too-fucking-long novel takes place in front of an ersatz version of the original three-story location on St. Mark’s. The draft is currently in flux and lot of this material has already been cut (particularly the paragraph waxing cynical about Faux Kim’s for no viable story reason) but I don’t know. Maybe you’ll get a kick out of it, being the only non-salamander person who worked there:


    “That’s sexual harassment, pure and simple,” says the man with no pants. “And I’ll have you know that I am not afraid to press charges.”
    He speaks to no one in particular, his tone level, his phrasing precise. One could argue, perhaps, that his choice of wardrobe—tightie whities long since gone to gray, revealing pale, skinny, goose-fleshed thighs in scandalous quantities—invites whatever harassment he may receive, but that’s slut-shaming at its worst. His jacket and tie, as moth-bitten and puke-encrusted as they are, lend him a certain decorum. I’m inclined to take his allegations seriously, until he pivots on one scuffed loafer and starts aiming them at me.
    “You, sir!” he exclaims with all the gravitas of a vainglorious Southern defense attorney. “Have you no shame? I am no mere sex object! I was anointed by President Reagan himself to lead this commission, and by God, I will do so without your unwanted advances!”
    “Hold on a second, Mom,” I say into my cellphone, moving out of range of the man’s tirade. “There’s some kind of disturbance out here on the street.”
    They say that New York City has been sanitized, that all the nooks and crannies where the crazies used to collect like quarters between couch cushions have been vacuumed clean and sealed up behind a layer of protective plastic. That may be true, but nobody told the crazies that.
    Luckily, the man with no pants doesn’t follow me. He stays right in his spot in front of Psycho A Go Go’s, the legendary three-floor video/music store where I had been perusing the used CD rack for old school hip-hop when my mother called. The atonal guitar drudgery spun by the pasty-skinned, salamander-like employees over the Cold War-era P.A. system made it hard enough to hear your own internal monologue, let alone a tinny 3G signal beamed into space and back again from the quaint suburban shithole of Powdertown in the wilds of northern Connecticut, where I’d allegedly grown up. So I abandoned my search and headed out to the sidewalk, where I barely had the chance to say hello before my very propriety was called into question.
    Which is absurd. I’m no saint, but in matters of the heart, I am nothing if not a gentleman.

  32. Yeah, I should say they want “the movie version of realistic dialogue.” Audiences are becoming a bit more accepting of stylized camera work and dissonant music, but we’re not quite at this level of leeway with language yet. I was on Letterboxd discussing the mid aughts teen dialogue in a pretty brutal found footage movie. Many of the reviews complained how unreal it was, but it’s one of the things I thought it got right. Their version of realism is tainted by the standard of how they’re used to seeing teens in movies, so the more awkward reality reads as fake.

  33. It’s a fair cop, guv’. THIEVES LIKE US is certainly my favourite Altman and I skipped it earlier because it doesn’t neatly fit my argument. But even then there’s that ironic detachment which knows they’re doomed, as do we. I miss the romanticism of Nicholas Ray’s THEY LIVE BY NIGHT. Again, Altman has no time for the heroism of Depression era robbers.

  34. Majestyk – I hope you take this with the deeply implied level of respect that there is to it: I’ve always thought you were the second best writer on this site (after Vern himself, “natch”*), and it was moving and interesting to see an example of that in another format. I would love to read more and wish you the best of luck and happiest of times with the writing process. You are talented and yet you still strive, which I really appreciate and feel is very “Vern”.

    You are a few inches shorter than me and if we encountered each other in the 00s I was probably wearing a tie too. One time I met Richard Lloyd from Television at a Rocket From the Tombs concert. I asked him to sign my copy of Little Johnny Jewel and apologized for the request, and he said something like “I don’t mind at all, you’re so polite!” Then he gave my hot-pink powerpop-guy tie two quick tugs and said playfully “honk honk”. Did anything like that ever happen to you?

    Kim’s was sure a weird place, but some people really tried to do good during their tenures there. Um, I spent a lot of time there, in both the rental and sales departments. (And a fair amount of time in the front room video-check in booth, dollar CD and record section and Seinfeld and BEAN postcard sales room that they tore down in 2008 to extend the music section for like a week before they closed the good version of Kim’s.) That cult section was cool, I particularly liked the section “Rodney Goes Ape!”, a combined mix of monkey movies and Rodney Dangerfield vehicles, for which a very talented and handsome young cartoonist (who was 5’10 at the time [and still is], liked to wear flashy thifrt-store shit and at various times had Dee Dee Ramone, Dave Davies and Frank Black [later solo years] hairstyles and kind of looks like Ed O’Neill) had drawn very funny pictures of Rodney Dangerfield and an ape and cut them out and taped them to little pieces of cardboard that were always falling off the shelf and getting stepped on. That guy rules and can draw like a son of a gun, whoever he is.

    Also, salamander is one of my favorite insults of all time and it was very, very eerie to me (for reasons of personal resonance) that you chose to use that word.

    I don’t think they ever had applications, they just asked for people to bring in resumes. Does that sound familiar?

    Borg9 – Wow, I am kind of proud that I figured out the one you like! That movie is so good. As far as I am concerned, Altman is awesome, Nick Ray is awesome, Majestyk is awesome, Borg9 is awesome, MaggieMayPie is awesome, my #1 dude CJ is awesome, Nabroleon Dynamite is awesome, Pacman and Pegsman and Matthew and CrustaceanLove – there are a lot of awesome people out to there be discovered and enjoyed and I am really grateful to this sight for it being a consistent reminder of that.

    Also Borg9, even if you’re not a fan you get fifty billion A.L.F. points for referencing my main movie, Prêt-à-porter. HERE COMES THE HOT STEPPER!!!!! What an awesome song that makes me think of BOTH Robert Altman AND Robin Harris, perhaps my main two Robs of all time.

    Man, I sure wish Altman got to make that live-action HANDS ON A HARD BODY starring Hilary Swank, The Rock, Salma Hayek, anti-buffoonery activist Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Black AND Jack White. That would have been so good.

    *I did not understand that this meant “naturally” until a year or two ago, and I always found it to be such an annoying word.

  35. Two more sympathetic Altman characters: Swee’Pea, King Sunny Ade

  36. Altman is one of the best, I say that under the framed posters I have of Nashville, The Long Goodbye and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The best way I can describe his movies with a word is: invigorating.

  37. It’s early, early morning here now, but I have already been called awsome. Thank you A.L.F. This will make staying here at work for the next 7.5 hours a lot easier.

  38. Pegsman, you working as a Troll Hunter now? That is awesome.

  39. A.L.F., I’ve not seen O.C. AND STIGGS and I am fairly sure it never got a theatrical release anyway near me. But I have seen King Sunny Ade – in London in the ’80s – and I am happy to believe that Altman could do nothing to take the shine off his brilliance.

  40. I’m assuming you worked at Kim’s? I remember everybody who worked there was an asshole except one guy who was nice to me the time I asked for an application.

    I worked upstairs at Kim’s for a minute (offices), and the majority of the downstairs workers would even be surly towards us. I tend to think that was entirely on purpose as Yongman knew they’d be having to deal with small-time crooks and crazies all day, so an easy-going attitude wasn’t going to cut it.

  41. Dang, jojo, what eras? My apologies for leaving you out of my list of awesome folks, I always enjoy your comments and contributions as well.

    I was, uh, a “fixture” there in ’07, ’08, ’13 and ’14. Do we know each other?! Does your first name start with an I or an M by chance? If so, I was always so happy when you would walk downstairs with the cart.

    P.S. I hope my “flowery” writing isn’t too “Wilde” for you. :-)

  42. Oh, I was there for about 6 months in like ’99-’00 (??-Maybe shift that to ’98-’99…), so if there were any remnants of me, they were way, way aired out by the time you got there.

  43. borg9 – Wow, I am extremely jealous in the friendliest way possible. Big fan of King Sunny here. I would ask what year, what venue and for any other memories you may have, but eh, I can always just call up 365 and ask the King, providing that’s still his number.

    OC and Stiggs is a very, very strange movie. Were it not for the deep, loving and human tenderness of surreal-ass Popeye it would probably be my favorite Altman, though it has a difficult approach to satire and a hard-headed, brash, exaggerated, I-hate-everyone/I-hate-systematic-bullshit tone/I-can’t-even-express-myself tone, and a few exaggerated stereotypes that would not fly at all in this day and age (homosexual, homeless person and veteran) It speaks of disgusting social issues with sarcasm, exaggeration and a false sense of agreement with negative ideas. I met someone a while ago and somehow Altman was brought up instantly in the conversation. The person I was talking to sort of brought up OC and Stiggs as this ludicrous concept, like “What ones do you like, OC and Stiggs?” and I sort of sincerely and plainly said “That’s one of my favorite movies ever”. A few weeks later the friend that introduced me to this person asked if they could put them in contact with me because they were requesting a conversation about the movie, and when they texted me they basically said they wanted to yell at me about it over Zoom, because they found it offensive. I kind of understand – it was sort of like someone was like, “What about rap music, you know this album Straight Outta Compton” or “What about punk, you ever heard of the first Ramones record?” and I was like “I TOTALLY LOVE THAT!” and kind didn’t acknowledge that these works were loaded with strange, offensive sarcasm and bleak satire that doesn’t translate too well in this day and age.

    I can understand not being the target audience for the ludicrous, over-exaggerated narrative of “Gangsta Gangsta” or a movie in which a character says “If we could combine really loud noise with the ugliness of poverty, we’d have the ideal car.”, but I also can’t see the need to take something like that seriously. But at the same time, I want to be more like Vern is with MONSTER SQUAD – thoughtful about the actualities of content.

    Despite the extremely weird form of Reagan-era satire, I actually find OC AND STIGGS to be one of Altman’s most subtly-tender works. The scenes in which we learn of Out of Control and Stiggs’ home lives are so very accurate to the sorta contexts that can lead to one feeling isolated, angry with society, empathetic with other people who are stuck in their societally-forced circumstances and suspicious. Although we are only given glimpses of their souls (and while they are among Altman’s cartooniest characters this side of Sweet Sweethaven), the Cynthia Nixon and Ray Walston characters are deeply likable and empathetic, and in turn, they allow OC and Stiggs to be not-entierly-assholes as well. Ray Walston rules so much, by the way. I like the leaf not liquor, but a good “drinking game” would be to take a shot every time he says “Haul ass” in Popeye, or more appropriately, a good Altmanesque toke.

    King Sunny doesn’t get to do a lot in the movie, but I do find it very moving and powerful that a movie full of distanced sarcasm takes a long, loving time to pay attention of a band of African musicians, the beauty of their music and the beauty of their selves as people. It’s like Altman is saying to us all “Shut the fuck up for a second, we’ll be back to the bullshit in a moment. THIS is what actually matters in life, and in the world.” A friend of mine from Arizona has had interesting things to say about OC AND as a reflection of the socioeconomic/racist bullshit there is to Arizona, and I’d like to hear what other folks from that state would think about it.

    Great summer movie, too – I try to only watch it during miserably Arizonian summer days, with a joint and a nice frosty Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey ‘Zona.

    Also, I like that it is a stupid teen party movie with only homoerotic sexuality to it, and a total absence of horniness to the characters.

    To try to make things on-topic, OC AND STIGGS is also a part of the Preston Sturges/George Axelrod/Daniel Waters/Shane Black/Gilmore Girls/Diablo Cody tradition, and I wonder what people would think of it that either enjoy or dislike that approach to writing.

    SECRET HONOR (which Altman had also made around that time) is probably the most intense portrait of an unlikable character ever committed to film, primarily because he was real and the disgust for the type of person that was so loathsome you couldn’t ever invent him; if fictional he would be too unbelievable, even for Altman’s worlds. The “study of the asshole” that Altman so often focused on finds it’s greatest strengths in a film in which there is literally nothing besides that, the worst person.

    jojo: Ah, yeah, a bit before my time – though if it’s anything, you may have been in the building the first time I ever visited Kim’s, which was also my second time ever in New York. You were a part of something that blew my little mind into, uh, like, Mondo smithereens and put me on the path to destitution and ruin. Hahaha, jkjk. Well, at the very least we surely rode in the same elevators, dealt with some of the same people (on all sides) and passed by the same BEAN postcard and section specifically for REBOOT videotapes. Did you know Brad T from the music floor? He was there during your time and I spoke to him a few months ago, a great guy and I am so happy for his successes in music. Dude knew Bert Jansch!!!!!

    In conclusion, Cynthia Nixon is better than Richard Nixon. Thank you.

  44. Oh yeah, jojo, P.S. – Did you ever have a chance sing karaoke in the old rentals section since its transmogrification into “St. Marks Karaoke” (previously [and hilariously] “U2 Karaoke”)? If so, what songs did you sing?

    Please tell me you sang Colors of the Wind.

  45. Did you know Brad T from the music floor?

    Uhhh… maybe?

    Really, the only person from Kim’s that I could confidently pick out of a line-up would be Yongman himself. Not just because he’s a memorable guy, but because he was my direct boss and his office was next to mine (and he’s a memorable guy). Really, the only time I would even see downstairs people, were when they got called up to get chewed out by Yongman. So understandably, they were less than chatty.

  46. Right, so, King Sunny Ade. I saw him on London’s Southbank in, I guess, about ’85. He’d been around a while in Europe at this point, and I think it was dawning on Island Records that he was not in fact the new Bob Marley, but the venue was grand all the same. I wouldn’t claim to be a real fan – then or now – but I had heard Juju Music, and a friend, who’d seen him at a festival the previous summer, convinced me to go. I was at that time boring anyone who’d listen with how great Kid Creole and the Coconuts were live – massively theatrical, big band, multiple costume changes, hilarious interplay between the Kid and Andy Hernandez’s Coati Mundi, and a sackful of great songs – and this friend was sure I’d appreciate King Sunny Ade. And so I did. Part of the reason, I think, King Sunny never really crossed over is that the songs aren’t there, but the performance sure as hell was. To state the bloody obvious, he’s a genius guitarist, and if his band were not at the top of their game, they must’ve been damn close. To my shame, he’s been on at a couple of festivals I’ve been at in the intervening 30+ years, and I’ve managed to miss him both times.

    For what it’s worth, I do believe Fela Kuti could’ve been the “new Bob Marley” record companies were looking for, but Fela wasn’t prepared to play the game. I get that, but part of me thinks it’s a shame, as it would’ve completely changed popular music as we know it.

  47. I remember when I first saw this, I thought the way he figured out his wife had another guy over from the shower and toilet seat was like a magic trick. Now I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, let alone being a perceptive adult, and I seem to have inherited some of Joe Hallenback’s powers of deduction. Now I sort of wonder why everyone can’t put two and two together sometimes…

  48. Fred: Totally agree, always thought Hallenbeck’s deductive process to arrive at the conclusion his wife has “stashed her lover in the closet when he heard his key in the lock a day early” was some awesome Holmes-ian shit!

  49. Nice to see Vern turn around on this after all these years. It’s been one of my favorite Bruce joints since I saw it in theaters as a kid. I hadn’t seen it again now in about 15 yrs or so. Been catching up with the sight and this review influenced me to start it up on Hulu. It really does get better with age.

    Taylor Negron was such a gem of a person. Stole everything he was in. One of the best unconventional castings ever. I wonder what the modern day equivalent would be? Bill Burr as the baddie in a Statham joint?

  50. I just rewatched this. Still despise the Bill Medley song, but everything that comes after is pure gold. Anyhow, I figure somebody here has gotta be able to answer my question:

    What’s up with Billy Blanks’ rampage at the start of the movie? It’s near-completely unconnected to anything that follows, and the later dialogue about it is ADR. Was that opening sequence added in a reshoot? Did Shane Black write it? If so, was it in his original draught?

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