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Tough Guys Don't Dance (film)

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Title: Tough Guys Don't Dance (film)  
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Language: English
Subject: Isabella Rossellini, Robert Towne, Ryan O'Neal, 2002 in film, 1987 in film, Norman Mailer, American Zoetrope, 10th Golden Raspberry Awards, 8th Golden Raspberry Awards, The Cannon Group
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Tough Guys Don't Dance (film)

Tough Guys Don't Dance
Promotional poster
Directed by Norman Mailer
Produced by Menahem Golan
Yoram Globus
Screenplay by Norman Mailer
Robert Towne (Rewrites)
Based on Tough Guys Don't Dance 
by Norman Mailer
Starring Ryan O'Neal
Isabella Rossellini
Debra Sandlund
Wings Hauser
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Mike Moyer
John Bailey
Editing by Debra McDermott
Studio Zoetrope Studios
Distributed by Cannon Films
Release date(s)
Running time 109 minutes [1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million
Box office $858,250

Tough Guys Don't Dance is a 1987 crime mystery comedy-drama film written and directed by Norman Mailer based on his novel of the same name. It is a murder mystery/film noir piece that was scorned by audiences and critics alike. It was screened out of competition at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

The script had revisions done by Chinatown and Last Woman on Earth scribe/script doctor Robert Towne. The title comes from an anecdote told to Norman Mailer by a prizefighter named Roger Donahue: Frank Costello, the Murder Inc. honcho, and his gorgeous girlfriend greet three champion boxers in the Stork Club. Costello demands that each, in turn, dance with the woman, and each nervously complies. The last, Willie Pep, suggests that Mr. Costello dance. Costello replied, "Tough guys don't dance."


Writer, ex-con and 40-something bottle-baby Tim Madden, who is prone to blackouts, awakens from a two-week bender to discover a pool of blood in his car, a blond woman's severed head in his marijuana stash, and the new Provincetown, Massachusetts police chief, Captain Luther Regency, shacked up with his former girlfriend Madeleine.

As his father Dougy helps try to unravel the mystery, Madden is dogged by the psychotic Capt. Regency, who has it in for him because a car crash that he was involved in with Madeline has left her unable to have children. Flashing back, Madden remembers the time when he encouraged Madeline to swing with a Li'l Abnerish couple from down South, the fundamentalist preacher Big Stoop and his Daisy Mae-ish wife, Patty Lareine, whose ad Tim had come across in Screw magazine. It is on the trip back that the car crash occurs, Madeline incensed along the way that Tim has so enjoyed Patty Lareine's charms.

Except for his father, who is dying of cancer, Tim suspects everyone, including Patty Lareine, multi-millionaire prep-school pal Wardley Meeks III — and even himself — of murder. Patty Lareine had left Big Stoop, married Wardley, left him in a messy divorce which netted her a rich cash settlement, and in turn married Tim, whom she fancied. Patty Lareine disappears, and Tim goes on his fatal bender that has left his memory in shards after receiving a letter from Madeline informing him that her husband is having an affair with his wife.

Tim remembers his assignation in the local tavern's parking lot with the blond porn star Jessica Pond, while her effete husband Lonnie Pangborn watched from the sidelines, distraught. It was Jessica's head in the Hefty bag with his grass, but soon another head turns up in his marijuana stash, that of Patty Lareine.

We eventually learn that she and Wardley, a bisexual skewed towards the gay side, had been involved in a massive cocaine deal, one that also involved Pond and Pangborn, who are also missing. Will Tim be able to get to the bottom of the mystery and save himself from another stretch in stir? As Dougy reminds him, "Tough guys don't dance," and Tim has been doing everything but the Charlston in his attempt to keep ahead of the forces closing in on him.



The critical reception was less than stellar. Hal Hinson of the Washington Post said that the film was "hard to classify; at times you laugh raucously at what's up on the screen; at others you stare dumbly, in stunned amazement." Roger Ebert, in a 2½ star review in the Chicago Sun-Times praised the cinematography, the Provincetown setting, and said that the relationship between Tim and Dougy was the best aspect of the film, but also had to say that "what is strange is that Tough Guys Don't Dance leaves me with such vivid memories of its times and places, its feelings and weathers, and yet leaves me so completely indifferent to its plot. Watching the film, I laughed a good deal."

However, the film had at least two supporters. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, said "Norman Mailer's best film, adapted from his worst novel, shows a surprising amount of cinematic savvy and style." Also, "He translates his high rhetoric and macho preoccupations (existential tests of bravado, good orgasms, murderous women, metaphysical cops) into an odd, campy, raunchy comedy-thriller that remains consistently watchable and unpredictable--as goofy in a way as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Where Russ Meyer featured women with oversize breasts, Mailer features male characters with oversize egos, and thanks to the juicy writing, hallucinatory lines such as "Your knife is in my dog" and "I just deep-sixed two heads" bounce off his cartoonish actors like comic-strip bubbles; even his sexism is somewhat objectified in the process." Vincent Canby of the New York Times said that "Not the high point of the Mailer career, but it's a small, entertaining part of it."

The film did poorly at the box office, making only $858,250,[3] nearly a fifth of its $5 million budget. It (as of May 12, 2011) holds a 39% "rotten" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[4]

In the years since the film's release on video, the film has become a cult classic in bad film circles. Channel 4 Film said "The overkill is strangely compelling and Mailer's disregard for taste and convention ensure his film is a massive but spectacular and unmissable folly." The film apparently got enough of a following for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who owns much of Cannon's film library, to release an anamorphic widescreen DVD of the film on September 16, 2003. The disc contained an interview with Norman Mailer, a tour of Provincetown and the film's trailer.

This film also includes the unofficially-proclaimed "worst line reading ever", wherein O'Neal's character Tim Madden reads a note from his ex-girlfriend Madeline informing him that his wife was having an affair with her husband, whereupon he exclaims "Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God!".[5] This scene has become a popular internet meme. Norman Mailer, in an interview featured on the DVD release of the film, said that he was counseled to cut the ending of the scene due to O'Neal's poor performance, but kept it in because he thought the poor line-reading actually added something to the picture. O'Neal, who had been friendly with Mailer, turned on him as he felt his reputation could be jeopardised by the scene (O'Neal had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor several years previously).


Group Award Result
Independent Spirit Awards 1988
Best Cinematography (John Bailey) Nominated
Best Feature (Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus) Nominated
Best Female Lead (Debra Sandlund) Nominated
Best Supporting Male (Wings Hauser) Nominated

Group Award Result
Golden Raspberry Awards 1988
Worst Director (Norman Mailer) Won, tied with Elaine May for Ishtar
Worst Actor (Ryan O'Neal) Nominated
Worst Actress (Debra Sandlund) Nominated
Worst New Star (Debra Sandlund) Nominated
Worst Picture (Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus) Nominated
Worst Screenplay (Norman Mailer) Nominated
Worst Supporting Actress (Isabella Rossellini, also for Siesta) Nominated


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Box Office Mojo
  • Rotten Tomatoes
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