Saturday, May 15, 2010

No Beast So Fierce

Long one of my favorite films of the '70s ever since I saw the big clamshell box, with a picture of Dustin Hoffman's hairy mug, sitting on my video store shelf, Straight Time remains criminally under exposed. This was remedied somewhat by the DVD that was released a few years back, before Warner Bros. abandoned the idea of pressed catalog DVD releases. Based upon on criminal-turned-author Eddie Bunker's semi-autobiographical first novel, No Beast So Fierce, the property is one of the few that I think was actually better served by the film than the book.

Originally slated to direct and star in Straight Time, Hoffman eventually ceded directorial reins to old friend Ulu Grosbard (who directed Hoffman in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?) after determining that the twin stresses of starring in and mounting a production were too much for him to handle on his own. Later, Hoffman sued production company First Artists and distributor Warner Bros. for illegally taking the right of final cut from him. As it stands, Straight Time is pretty damn riveting cinema and it seems that Hoffman has finally come around to this fact, as he participated in an audio commentary on the DVD and, several years earlier, appeared at a screening held by the phantom-like "Movie Club." At that time, Hoffman revealed that a famous scene involving a very public de-pantsing of co-star M. Emmet Walsh was based upon one of Hoffman's painful childhood memories.

I wonder if the below picture pre-dates star Dustin Hoffman's abandonment of directing duties on Straight Time. Great still regardless. Looks like bigger crowds showed up for the shooting of the film than to actually see the film.

I can't find any evidence of the still online, but, IIRC, in John Willis' Screen World from 1979 (each volume featured the previous year's films), there was an image of a fully dressed Max Dembo (Hoffman) laying on the sand with a bikini-clad Jenny Mercer (Theresa Russell). I imagine it's one of many Hoffman-shot scenes that did not end up in the final picture. If they still existed in some form, I would have loved to have seen these on the DVD.


J.D. said...

Love this film! It is definitely one of the quintessential crime films from the 1970s. I recall that Michael Mann did an uncredited rewrite of the script at some point which helps explain the authenticity of how the characters behave and what they do. I haven't seen this film in ages but I remember being very impressed with Hoffman's performance.

Ned Merrill said...

Yes, Mann did do uncredited writing on the film and it certainly is fitting considering the later work, particularly HEAT and THIEF. De Niro's Neil McCauley is very reminiscent of Max Dembo. The way he treats his relationship with Amy Brenneman is very similar to Hoffman's with Theresa Russell. I recall thinking this when I saw HEAT theatrically (I had already seen STRAIGHT TIME several times at that point), although I don't think I was aware of Mann's work on STRAIGHT TIME at that time.

J.D. said...

I believe that Mann ended up hiring Eddie Bunker to work as a consultant on HEAT and based Jon Voight's character on him. It's all connected!

Ned Merrill said...

So it is! I did not know that, J.D. Or, if I did, I forgot it!