Friday, April 1, 2011

For the White Elephant Blogomania: Mi Casa Es Tu Cassavetes

For this April Fool’s White Elephant Blogorama, sponsored by Paul at Silly Hats Only, The United Provinces of Ivanlandia has been assigned John Cassavetes’ final directorial effort: Big Trouble, released in 1986—after sitting on the shelf for two years.
Big Trouble isn’t bad per se. It’s just overwhelmingly mediocre—especially when you consider the talent in front of and behind the camera. And unlike a genuinely “bad” film, it inspires neither hatred or amazement or even food for thought. Big Trouble is a sad exit for Cassavetes: It’s a film that stinks of desperation—a man scrambling to make a movie that fits someone else’s gameplan. Clunky and obvious, Big Trouble seems more like something Dennis Dugan or Steven Brill would have directed—but not nearly as crowd-pleasing. A riff/twist/train wreck/rip-off of Billy Wilder’s fantastic noir Double Indemnity, Big Trouble features Alan Arkin in full zombie mode (how Arkin gets, in my opinion, when the material he’s trapped in is sub-par) and Peter Falk doing his autopilot kooky-old-man shtick (which worked in Walter Hill’s underrated Undisputed because the kooky old man had a vicious gang backing him up). But at least Beverly D’Angelo is game, energetic and sexy—until her character essentially disappears. Meanwhile the rest of the cast is either wasted or allowed/encouraged to overact and mug, with Valerie Curtin, playing Arkin’s wife, being the worst culprit. Jeez, she was worse than nails on a blackboard! Produced and released by Columbia Pictures (BTW, the flick never lists a producer in the credits…), Big Trouble is a flick with a very troubled history:

It seems like the money people wanted a sequel to 1979’s excellent The In-Laws, a flick I saw in the theater when I was a kid (at the Kings Plaza duplex!) and loved at the time (and watching the film a few years ago on DVD, it still made me laugh).

From what I’ve figured out (from a variety of on-line sources, etc.)— At first Arthur Hiller and Andrew Bergman, director and writer, respectively, of The In-Laws, were hired (along with stars Arkin and Falk) to repeat their duties.

Then somebody (blame the producers!) pissed off director Hiller, so he split.

Bergman was then hired to direct the flick. But somebody (let’s blame the producers!) pissed him off so much that not only did he quit, but had his name replaced in the credits with a pseudonym.

At this point, star Peter Falk threw his weight around/pulled some strings and had John Cassavetes hired as director. (Blame the star!) According to Wikipoopia: “Cassavetes came to refer to the film as ‘the aptly titled Big Trouble,’ since the studio vetoed many of his decisions for the film and eventually edited most of the film in a way which Cassavetes disagreed with.”

The fillim was completed, but according to Ray Carney's massive Cassavetes site, “Columbia [was] unhappy with the final product.”

Here’s some sad irony from David Sterritt’s Cassavetes webpage:

Scorsese showed a rough cut of his early feature Boxcar Bertha (1972) to Cassavetes and listened breathlessly as the master unexpectedly said, ‘Marty, you've just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit.’

Then [Cassavetes] added, ‘It's a good movie, but don't get hooked into that [commercial] stuff—just try to do something personal.’

Well it’s sad that Scorsese has completely taken a hot shit on that suggestion with his last five to ten films, but more so that Cassavetes broke that rule on his last film. So what is the White Elephant Blogathon?

I’ll let the excellent Michael May explain:

It’s based on the concept of the White Elephant gift exchange where everyone brings a (usually crappy) gift and hijinks ensue as people open them and fight over who goes home with what. The Blogathon does the same thing, but for movies. You submit a movie to be reviewed, and then write about another blogger’s submission.

Mr. May (who has a very fun blog that y’all should check out) was assigned/drew the short straw on The Legend of Boggy Creek.

Out there somewhere, someone is reviewing/critiquing/puking over Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal. That flick was my suggestion! [Cue snickering a la Mutley…] Above: Cassavetes earning a few bucks playing a biker in AIP’s Devils Angels, produced by Roger Corman

P.S. Blogger's functions are incredibly FUCKED today, and are trying to drive me crazier than I am. Stupid bastards....


  1. Not sure what's going on with the scantily clad women on the blog, since they don't look to be of mid-80s vintage. Maybe that's the messed-up Blogger functions you mention.

    Good review. Thanks again for participating.

  2. "Big Trouble" was my submission -- thanks for reviewing it! I spent a long time trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the producers of that film and never DID untangle it. What a mess.

  3. Paul's comment was funny. Listen, don't fix those functions Ivan. More perfection from United Provinces. Speaking of art and perfection, there is something strikingly perfect in that first image on your post. My God, he's done some fine work. : )

  4. Paul: Thanks for including me! And the pix are my sub/un-conscious attempt at illustrating "Big Trouble."

    Stacia: No problemo--at least you didn't assign and I didn't get "Patch Adams." (And you run a swell site, as well!)

    S-FF: Heh-heh... Honestly, that first pic has nothing to do with Mr. Cassavetes. She's Misumi Max and used to (or still does) run a website called "I Am Trouble." I'll bet!

    Thanks for the comments/keep visiting Ivanlandia!