Tuesday, April 10, 2012

 

Untold Stories of Robert Altman's The Player
or Who the Hell is Thereza Ellis?


"When you really get down to who made the difference, who made this thing better instead of just ordinary, I don't think we'll ever find out." — Robert Altman on collaboration in making The Player on its DVD commentary

By Edward Copeland
Not everyone does great commentary tracks for DVDs (or laserdiscs or Blu-rays), but one man you could depend on to provide candid and informative listening experiences was the late great and much-missed Robert Altman. When it came to The Player, Altman either did the exercise twice or the version on the DVD of The Player was edited down to allow room for the comments of producer/screenwriter Michael Tolkin, who also wrote the novel upon which the film was based. I know I recall things from the long-gone Criterion laserdisc edition, I just can't be certain if the DVD commentary contains Altman anecdotes that weren't there before. Damn these ever-changing formats. Ironically, The Player DVD, now a New Line Platinum Series edition, recalls those Paleozoic days of laserdisc players: You have to flip the disc to access the special features. I knew going into the tribute to the 20th anniversary of The Player, that one post wouldn't do, that's why I set aside this one for those extra details about the film.


One instance that I know for certain Altman mentioned on the Criterion laserdisc that can't be found anywhere on the New Line DVD concerns the screenwriter that stalks studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) — even after Mill unintentionally kills the wrong writer, David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio), that he believes to be responsible. I remember at the time when I heard it on the laserdisc, it provided another laugh because unless you happened to be a voice recognition expert with a tremendous memory, you likely wouldn't have gleaned this from the movie itself. Kahane's failed screenwriter buddy Phil (Brian Brophy) eulogizes his dead friend at a graveside service and turns it into a tirade about Hollywood, which he pronounces guilty of "assault with intent to kill" though he blames society for Kahane's actual murder. "And the next time we sell a million dollar script and nail some shitbag producer, we'll say that's another one for David Kahane." At the end of the film, as Griffin drives home, fellow exec Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) tells him he just has to hear this movie pitch. Another voice gets on the speakerphone and reminds Griffin that he used to be in the postcard business. He then pitches the events in Griffin's life (and the movie you've just watched to him) and it's Brian Brophy's voice again as Phil, though the name Phil never comes up. Without Altman mentioning it on that Criterion laserdisc, I wouldn't know that. Since it's not on New Line's version, fewer people will. During Tolkin's portion of the commentary on the New Line DVD, he regrets that "Altman lost the sense of the writer and the police stalking Griffin. You really lost the sense of the writer stalking Griffin. I tried to maintain that in the script, but Altman lost it completely. I think that's a loss because it takes away something that was right about the book." While I agree in the sense that you'd never get that connection on your own, Altman never drops either strand completely. Griffin still gets postcards while attending the benefit dinner and the Lyle Lovett character literally stalks him and you don't know immediately that he's a police detective and the investigation keeps coming back right until the final scene where the witness bungles the lineup and clears him.

While The Player remains as good as it ever was, perhaps deeper even than I remember, watching the non-Criterion DVD of it made me mournful for the laserdisc collection I once owned. Sure, it could be a pain to have to get up a turn a disc over every half-hour or hour in the middle of a movie and purchase prices ran obscenely high, but when DVD came around, studios didn't let Criterion keep all the titles it had on laserdisc. Laserdisc players also had a function that DVD players don't (not having a Blu-ray, I can't speak for that device). Criterion has been able to release another Altman film, Short Cuts on DVD, but it lacks a feature that the laserdisc had that made for interesting viewing experiments. Since you could program the chapters you wanted to play on the laserdisc player, the Criterion Short Cuts laserdisc listed which chapter numbers went with which Raymond Carver story so you could set the machine up to watch a single one straight through. It also included a section of reviews of the film that you could read, including one by a young critic out of Dallas named Matt Zoller Seitz. This didn't just apply to Altman's films either. The Criterion laserdiscs for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Raging Bull both contained superior extras and full Scorsese commentaries. I don't think any of the zillion DVD and Blu-ray versions of Casablanca have yet included the fun Criterion laserdisc treasure of the story treatment for Brazzaville, the proposed sequel.

The major weakness of the New Line DVD of The Player versus the Criterion laserdisc (RIP) resides with their guides to the film's numerous cameo appearances. First, the New Line DVD omits some names listed on the Criterion laserdisc while it includes names that could have been on Criterion's but I have no clue concerning their identities now so they might have been on the laserdisc and I didn't know them almost two decades ago either. Of course, if you attempt to find the answer online, ha! The Inaccurate Movie Database contains a list of people playing themselves that matches neither list, including Patrick Swayze who filmed a cameo but was cut and appears in deleted scenes on both the DVD and the laserdisc alongside David Brown, Seymour Cassel, John Considine, Tim Curry, Joe Dallesandro, Jeff Daniels, Richard Edson, Franco Nero, Martha Plimpton and Lori Singer. Wikipedia provides a list as well, but it doesn't correspond with any of the three lists we have going so far. I decided that the only fair way to count the cameos is to go by the credits on the film itself — those listed as playing themselves. However, the movie actually sort of screws us on that one too because it counts Annie Ross (who plays the boozy torch singer in Short Cuts) as a cameo though when she appears in the opening unbroken shot, she's clearly playing the part of a studio executive discussing the studio's situation with fictional exec Frank Murphy, played by Frank Barhydt, co-screenwriter of Altman's Quintet, HealtH, Short Cuts and Kansas City and an actor in Tanner '88. Altman even says on the commentary that Ross plays an executive, yet the movie's credits call her a cameo. Using that logic, every single person in the film makes a cameo. Admittedly, my memory could be fuzzy on the mechanics of the cameo guide on the laserdisc, but it seemed to me that if you clicked on a name, it took you directly to the scene and pointed them out somehow, since some of the cameos can be particularly difficult to find. On the New Line version, good luck. You click on the name and it takes you to the scene, but just lets the sequence run. Trying to locate the late Brad Davis would become the DVD equivalent of Where's Waldo? — if New Line had remembered to include him as Criterion and the credits did. Lord help you when you get to the Habeas Corpus climax (the film-within-a-film) trying to sort out the guards. Don't blink or you'll miss Dennis Franz's mustache. In the spirit of helping, I'm going to try to guide readers to the film's officially sanctioned cameos where I can. I've taken care of Annie Ross (though I don't think she should count) so let's try to take care of the other 64 guest appearances. Before I delve into the cameo genealogy, I thought I'd share other details from the DVD commentary.

One piece of information I don't remember hearing or reading about Robert Altman and The Player (unless my steel-trap memory finally shows signs of metal fatigue following decades of overloading it) concerns how Altman became involved in the first place. Altman and co-writer Frank Barhydt had completed the screenplay for Short Cuts, Altman's planned movie that would interweave several tales based on short stories by the great Raymond Carver, but financing for the film remained elusive. In a video interview on the reverse side of the New Line DVD, Altman admits that some of the pointed barbs aimed at anxious writers and directors in The Player applied to him. "You can't do a satire unless it's mostly about yourself, unless you recognize all those things that you hate in yourself," Altman says. "When I was trying to sell Short Cuts, I sounded very much like one of those guys pitching. 'This is very much like Nashville but you've got to think it's more like blah blah blah.'" As Altman waited for money to come his way, someone showed him Tolkin's screenplay for The Player and offered Altman the chance to direct the movie — and Altman grabbed the job. The director's casting for Short Cuts largely had been completed so that explains why so many of that film's performers also appear in The Player. He'd hired Robbins for the other movie first before the character of Griffin Mill entered both of their lives. He'd locked in Annie Ross as well. Altman also had settled on singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett, an acting novice, to play the baker in Short Cuts' take on Carver's story "A Small, Good Thing." In order to give Lovett some on-the-job-training ahead of that film's shoot, Altman created the character of Detective DeLongpre for him. Altman also claims on the commentary track that Vincent D'Onofrio already had secured a part in Short Cuts before selecting him to be doomed writer David Kahane in The Player, but I find no evidence to back that up though I know Altman cut at least one story from Short Cuts.

In a film such as The Player filled with so many memorable scenes, one of its standouts exemplifies the brilliance that could result when Robert Altman's preferred way of working came together and flourished. It involved chance, luck, casting and the director's willingness to let his actors collaborate. Altman received a phone call from Whoopi Goldberg, begging to be in the movie. At the time, Altman didn't see any roles for her and told her she could appear as herself but Goldberg thought differently, She wanted to play Susan Avery, the Pasadena police detective who suspects Griffin of murder. Altman originally sought Joan Cusack for the role, but the actress was unavailable so Goldberg got the part. The film ran into a problem when everyone realized it lacked a scene where a completely paranoid Griffin had to travel to the Pasadena police station where the detectives toy with him. They had a set, but not a scene. Goldberg, Robbins and the other actors spent a day bouncing ideas off each other and then came up with this gem involving a fly swatter, off-color personal jokes, cracks about Rodney King, the infamous tampon talk and use as a prop and discussion of the horror classic Freaks. On the DVD commentary, Altman says that in reality, you could say that Goldberg wrote and directed this scene, showed in the YouTube clip below.


We're almost ready to leap into the cameo appearance search, but first I thought we'd stop for a good chuckle. A really good chuckle. I realize that the YouTube clip of the Pasadena police station scene provided quite a few, but this starts with the film and then gets its big laugh from the real world, which once again proves how truly clueless it can be. As you know, since we're celebrating The Player today, the movie got its release on April 10, 1992. The main character works at a fictional yet unnamed Hollywood movie studio. During filming, director Robert Altman asked his son Stephen, who served as the film's production designer, to try to come up with a slogan for the studio, preferably something as dumb and banal as he could. Stephen Altman came through, branding Griffin Mill's studio with the meaningless phrase "Movies — now more than ever!" Needless to say, he pleased his father, who admits on the DVD that The Player "has more contrivance in it than probably any film I've ever made." Now comes the funny part. Leap forward four years in the future to 1996. It's a presidential election year. NBC News, looking to rebrand itself and apparently having never seen The Player, chooses the slogan — yes, you guessed it — NBC News Now More Than Ever. We're not done. This slogan isn't new either. Click here to see who used that same slogan for a political campaign in 1972. I wouldn't put it past Altman for having known the connection and liking the link, but what the hell was NBC News' excuse, especially in a presidential campaign year?


First, some sympathy for poor Guy Remsen. "Who is Guy Remsen?" you might ask. His late older brother was the Altman regular repertory player Bert Remsen (I know — Bert Remsen probably isn't ringing bells for many of you either. How about Jack Riley? If the name doesn't cut, his face would or perhaps the name of his most famous character — Mr. Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show. When they get to end and show the climax of the movie within The Player, Habeas Corpus, all three actors make cameo appearances. If you read closely (here's one helpful item the DVD players have that laserdisc players didn't: zooms), you see that in Habeas Corpus, Riley plays "Hap" Harlow, one of the reporters covering the execution; Bert Remsen's name gets listed as executioner, since he's the guard who starts the gas pellets dropping into the chamber; and Guy Remsen portrays The Attorney General. On both the Criterion laserdisc version and the New Line DVD version, they managed to misidentify Guy Remsen in their respective cameo guides. In the Criterion, they just got the Remsen brothers confused. Bad, but I guess we could call that an understandable mistake. In the New Line edition, somehow they swapped Guy Remsen and Jack Riley. So I've included photos of all three to avoid confusion. Bert Remsen throws open the blinds, Guy Remsen stands behind Peter Falk (who has the role of Harry Levin in Habeas Corpus) and Jack Riley takes notes at the very edge of the chamber window (if the full picture were there, you would see Susan Sarandon to Riley's left in the part of another reporter, Ellen Walsh. I suppose this serves as good as a place as any to point out the three credited cameos I couldn't locate (for certain). The first actor I know very well. He's Richard Anderson, a character since the 1940s whose best-known role probably would be Oscar Goldman on both The Six-Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Where Anderson has hidden in The Player remains a mystery to me. He's not on the New Line DVD and I don't recall him on the Criterion laserdisc either. The mystery actress, whom I couldn't even find a photo for to try to search out her location, is named Maxine John-James. The Inaccurate Movie Database lists three features and one episode of the television series Acapulco H.E.A.T. Personally, I must track down her dual role in the 1997 film Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills. The third incognito cameo belongs to an actress named Jennifer Nash. Unlike Ms. John-James, she cites an extensive list of credits, mostly on television, and photographic proof of her existence can be obtained. In The Player, I couldn't find her unless that's her holding a dog and accompanying Malcolm McDowell in the lobby of The St. James Club. However, no matter how I tried to play with her image, I never succeeded in making it discernible enough to match against other photos of Nash.

Since they count Ross and she appears in the opening eight-minute shot, I'm going to attempt to get through the remainder of the cameos in the order that they appear in the film. Writer-director Adam Simon steps up first, pitching to Griffin as soon as Mill gets out of his Range Rover at the unnamed studio. Griffin pushes Simon off on his D-Girl (and girlfriend) Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson) while he has his secretary Jan (Angela Hall) call security to figure out who let Simon on the lot. His first official pitch comes from Buck Henry who tries to sell him the idea of a sequel to The Graduate. Henry reappears later at a benefit dinner for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's film program. Griffin meets next with two women screenwriters: Patricia Resnick and Joan Tewksbury. Resnick co-wrote Altman's A Wedding and Quintet. Tewksbury wrote Altman's Nashville and co-wrote Thieves Like Us. Alan Rudolph throws out the final pitch of the unbroken shot (after first being mistaken as Martin Scorsese by Jimmy the bike messenger, played by Paul Hewitt) and serves as the segment's final cameo. The writer-director's long relationship Altman includes Altman producing five of the feature films that Rudolph directed. On the DVD, Altman says, "I'm as interested in getting Alan Rudolph's new films going as I am my own."

Most of the film's cameos occur in group situations. I hadn't thought of this before but, in its own way, it mirrors the various settings that keep uniting all the characters in Altman's Nashville, which I still consider his greatest work. Only in The Player, the same characters do not cross paths but instead enter a location stocked with a new group of celebrities. This scene even gets a nice aural to visual segue. Griffin hovers over Claire (Dina Merrill), the studio president's powerful all-knowing executive secretary, trying to learn what she knows about rival movie executive Larry Levy. Claire ducks his queries long enough until the phone rings and she tells whoever is on the line, "No, we couldn't sign Anjelica Huston for that. She's booked for two years." Her utterance cuts immediately to Huston's face eating lunch on the patio of an outside restaurant with John Cusack and Levy. Soon, we see Griffin walking up the path to the restaurant where he bumps into Joel Grey on the steps. Mill introduces himself and says he knows his daughter Jennifer and is a big fan. Grey notes that the two have similar ties and moves on. Griffin joins the large table across Levy, Cusack and Huston where Bonnie and others who work at the studio await (including Jeremy Piven, who has a small role in the film). At a table for two next to the studio contingent's large round table sits Martin Mull. The remaining cameo in this scene happens to be the hardest to spot as well as the saddest. Actor Brad Davis, best known for the lead role in Midnight Express, eats at a table on the patio on the other side of the eatery's entryway. You don't get a good look at him, but what you can see gives an indication of his illness. Davis was dying of AIDS and succumbed on Sept. 8, 1991, seven months before the movie's release. I've cropped a larger frame so you can see where he sat and then enlarged Davis from that screenshot to give you an idea.

ABOVE: (from left) Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen, Sally Kellerman, Jack Lemmon and Felicia Farr at Dick Mellon's pool party.

The mixture of celebrities mingling at the pool party of Griffin's attorney, noted entertainment lawyer Dick Mellon (Sydney Pollack), proves quite eclectic, to say the least. When Griffin and Bonnie arrive at Dick's place, they first encounter Marlee Matlin and Bonnie — through Matlin's interpreter — discusses a script that she read and thinks would be great for Matlin. Dick spots Griffin's arrival and excuses himself from a conversation with Harry Belafonte and his daughter Shari concerning network news figures. Griffin and Mellon's conversation offered more evidence that Pollack might be a better actor than director, this time playing it straight. Griffin starts to tell Mellon about the threatening postcards when his white whale — Larry Levy — crashes the party, arriving as a guest of Jeff Goldblum. Mill complains to Dick that Levy keeps getting in his face. "He's a comer. That's what comers do — they get in your face. You're a comer, too. You can handle it," Mellon reassures him. "So, the rumors are true," Griffin replies. "Rumors are always true. You know that," Mellon tells him. "I'm always the last to hear about them," Griffin sighs. "No, you're always the last one to believe them," Dick corrects his client. Today, seeing Sydney Pollack play a character in a scene surrounded by celebrity cameos throws you off-kilter, the way some actors do when they appear on Curb Your Enthusiasm and it takes a few minutes to realize that they aren't playing themselves, but Pollack's role in The Player was the director's first acting job since 1982's Tootsie. Later in 1992, he took another part, this time in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives, but Pollack didn't start acting regularly until 1998. In fact, in that final decade of his life (he died in 2008), Pollack only directed two films and mostly acted and produced. Pollack's relative anonymity to audiences in 1992 prompted Altman to cast him in the first place, though Altman originally pursued director Blake Edwards for the part of Dick Mellon. In addition to those named so far and the two couples and Sally Kellerman (who appears again later at a gala benefit) pictured in the photograph above, the remaining attendees included Kathy Ireland, Jill St. John and Robert Wagner and last, but certainly not least, Rod Steiger, saying not a word as he holds a plate of food and stares at what appears to be a vertical fish tank, though it might just be bubbling water as I see no fish.

Our next stop on the virtual bus tour of Player cameos takes us another patio restaurant, this time for breakfast the next morning. Larry Levy just completed his meeting with studio head Joel Levison (Brion James), who can be spotted eating alone near the railing between the foreground figures of Burt Reynolds and entertainment columnist and critic Charles Champlin. Altman says he cast James as the studio head specifically because he'd been typecast as a villain in so many films such as Blade Runner, Tango & Cash and Another 48 Hrs. While looking over Brion James' filmography, I may have solved part of the Maxine John-James cameo mystery. Brion James also appeared in Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills and served as an associate producer of this Troma release. Looking further, Brion and Maxine John-James were married at the time of The Player. I still can't find a photo of her, but there you go. Levy makes a point of apologizing to Reynolds on the way out, hoping there are no hard feelings over some incident that Reynolds apparently doesn't recall since he has to ask Champlin who Levy was. Reynolds' cameo turns out to be one of the funniest once Griffin drops by. He remembers him. After Mill exits, Reynolds mutters to Champlin, "Asshole." The columnist responds, "One of a breed" which launches Reynolds into a monologue that we only hear the start of before they cut away. "No, actually they are a breed, In fact, they're breeding them" Reynolds begins but the sound fades out as we move to Levison's table. Reynolds' bit scored because, like all who appeared for Altman (accepting scale payment or no payment at all), they had no scripted dialogue. In Altman's way of thinking, if the celebrities show up to play themselves, he couldn't very well tell them what they would do in real life. As a result, every line or use of prop by a cameo artist came from that person. They also could choose to say nothing at all, but Altman and his editor Geraldine Peroni got to pick the best ones to use. (Peroni received the film's third Oscar nomination along with Altman's direction and Tolkin's adapted screenplay.) When Griffin threatens to quit over Levy coming to the studio, Levison tells him that he's under contract and he'd sue. Then, the third cameo becomes easier to see as Cathy Lee Crosby sits right behind him. In the wide picture above, Crosby appears as the blonde across from Levison.


That night, Griffin had his fatal encounter with David Kahane in Pasadena, but first the two went to a Japanese karaoke bar where actor Brian Tochi, perhaps best known as Takashi in Revenge of the Nerds or as the voice of Leonardo in the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, performed. The next day at work, Griffin and others watched the dailies from a noirish detective film called The Lonely Room starring Scott Glenn and Lily Tomlin. The purposeful flubs induce enough laughs, but the deleted scenes comes off as being even funnier as Tomlin complains about having to smoke so much when she doesn't and expresses concern about the message being sent. Then, in another cut take, Glenn asks that someone make sure that he gets his per diem when the day's shooting ends. Tomlin whines that she gets penalized because she lives in Los Angeles while Glenn lives in another state, flies in and stays at the Chateau Marmont and receives extra pay for it.

Now comes the moment we've been waiting for since the headline of this post: Who the hell is Thereza Ellis? Thanks to the New Line cameo guide, I know what she looks like and where she appears, but that answers no questions whatsoever. It's later that night when Griffin's stalker, who has surprised Griffin by not being dead, had told him to meet him alone at The St. James Club. In the hotel lobby, Griffin first encounters Malcolm McDowell (who is accompanied by a young blonde woman with a dog that might be that Jennifer Nash. Who knows?) McDowell smiles as he shakes Mill's hand and then tells the studio executive, "The next time you want to badmouth me, have the courage to do it to my face. You guys are all the same." Griffin looks stunned as the actor leaves (though he'll pop up again at that gala benefit). In a lounge area, Andie MacDowell has been cornered by the film's two most over-the-top characters: screenwriter Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) and Andy Civella (Dean Stockwell). Geena Davis originally was going to do this cameo, but some emergency happened so MacDowell flew in from her home in Montana at the last minute to pitch hit. That makes the conversation all the funnier since Oakley and Civella are trying to convince the actress the Montana always ends up being bad luck for people in the movie business, citing as their only evidence Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate. When the hyper pair spot Griffin, they start trying to pitch a movie idea at him and MacDowell takes the opportunity to escape, being led off by *(drumroll please)* THEREZA ELLIS. My search for information on Ellis has taken me to the far corners of the World Wide Web but the only sign that seems to point to the existence of a Thereza Ellis comes from universal agreement that she played herself in The Player. I could find no other credits, no other photographs, no other lines of work. Someone must track down Andie MacDowell. She could be the only person who knows the truth!

When the studio holds a black-and-white gala benefit for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the scene overflows with cameos both famous and curious. Buck Henry, Sally Kellerman and Malcolm McDowell put in repeat appearances, though the first cameo exists only as a voice as Leeza Gibbons narrates the arrivals at the event for Entertainment Tonight. Griffin uses the occasion to take the late David Kahane's girlfriend June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) out on their first public date after having sent Bonnie to New York to check out the new Tom Wolfe novel. Mostly, it's a sea of face in quick glances with the exception of Cher, who comes wearing red at Altman's behest. Later, he learned that Cher never wears red. The remaining attendees in alphabetical order: Karen Black, Gary Busey, James Coburn, Kasia Figura (who apparently has a huge career in Europe), Teri Garr, Elliott Gould, Sally Kirkland, Nick Nolte, Alexandra Powers (who appears to have been stuck sitting next to Fred Ward's Walter Stuckle), Mimi Rogers and Marvin Young, known better by his recording name Young MC of "Bust a Move" fame. Finally, we come to cameo payoff — the star-studded cast of the movie-within-the-movie Habeas Corpus. I already named some earlier, but I'll point them out again as art alone places these actors in order.












ABOVE LEFT: Guard No. 6 (Michael Bowen) stands in the hallway leading to the gas chamber in Habeas Corpus. ABOVE RIGHT: Reporters and other witnesses await the execution in the viewing room outside the gas chamber. (Front row, left to right) Reporters "Hap" Harlow (Jack Riley), Ellen Walsh (Susan Sarandon) and Harry Levin (Peter Falk) take notes for their stories. Standing directly behind Levin wearing a gray suit is The Attorney General (Guy Remsen). BELOW LEFT: Warden Lowe (Paul Dooley) appears at the witness window and taps his watch, indicating the execution should proceed. BELOW RIGHT: Following the warden's orders, Guard No. 3 (Robert Carradine, left) and Guard No. 4 (Steve James) head toward the cell to retrieve the condemned prisoner.
























ABOVE LEFT: Condemned murderer Marsha Kent (Julia Roberts) sits on her cot listening to Father Pratt (Ray Walston) read from The Bible. Matron Cole (Louise Fletcher) stands speaking with Dr. Besh (Rene Auberjonois) by the cell door. Marsha gets removed and taken to the gas chamber where they strap her in the chair and drop the gas pellets. (not pictured) ABOVE RIGHT: Assistant D.A. Dave Williams (Bruce Willis) bursts into the unit preparing to execute Marsha, the woman he convicted for murdering her husband and whom he loves, upon learning that Marsha's husband faked his death. Williams passes Guard No. 4 (David Alan Grier) on his way. BELOW LEFT: Williams (Bruce Willis) grabs a shotgun from Guard No. 1 (Dennis Franz). Williams blasts the glass of the gas chamber, releasing fumes everywhere.(not pictured) BELOW RIGHT: Williams (Bruce Willis) carries Marsha (Julia Roberts) to safety while inside the gas chamber (from left to right) Guard No. 4 (Steve James), the Executioner (Bert Remsen) and Guard No. 3 (Robert Carradine) shield their faces from the fumes.













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Comments:
I tried posting this comment a few days ago but may have botched it. Thanks for the great write-ups on this film. One amusing bit of trivia from Robert Altman: The Oral Biography: That year at the Oscars, Altman (up for Best Director) and his wife sat along the aisle of the front row eating pot brownies and kept having to shift their legs every time Clint Eastwood went to the stage (for Unforgiven).

Another Clint connnection: The climax of "Habeas Corpus" no longer seems quite so far-fetched, considering the ending of Eastwood's True Crime, released a few years later.
 
The Oscar year I remember was the year that Opie won for directing A Beautiful Mind and they showed Altman, who was up for Gosford Park, and Lynch, up for Mulholland Drive, embracing each other in the audience with this expression of "Well, we both knew they were gonna screw us.
 
First off great article, I thought I knew this movie well but there are still several things I missed.

A few other bits of triva about the cameos:
The Larry Levy line to Burt Reynolds
"I was just working for Kastner" is probably a reference to the falling out Altman and Elliot Kastner had over the Reynolds vehicle Heat. The bust up caused Altman to quit the picture and never speak to the producer again-even when they were on the same plane. Writer William Goldman briefly mentions it in his book saying there are still lawsuits over it

Similarly Malcolm McDowell has claimed that the scene where he insults Griffin was based on an actual occurrence, McDowell believes this damaged his own career.

Also writer Michael Tolkin and his brother Stephen Tolkin (who wrote the first Captain America) both cameo as the two smarmy fast-talking writers who want settle at the studio. They come in when Griffin is in the middle of an argument ("Mom and Dad are fighting")

 
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