Heat 1986 ***

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Any personal investigation into the decline and fall of Burt Reynolds would have to include Heat, a 1986 film which eared the star a cool $2 million. Reynolds had decided, perhaps a half dozen films too late, that the ‘man with a car’ trope had been overdone, and was looking for more mature roles. Both Stick and Heat demonstrate that his stardom was considerable enough to bring in a team of top talent; William Goldman adapts his own novel here, while super-producer Elliot Kastner (Where Eagles Dare, The Long Goodbye, Angel Heart) produces. The opening sequence is pretty striking with Nick Escalante (Reynolds) hitting on a woman in a bar, only to be badly beaten by her wimpy husband. It’s soon revealed that this is a set up job, and that Escalante is being paid to make the husband look good. Establishing that our central character is happy to debase himself for cash is a strange way to start, and things get odder when Nick dons a ridiculously garish pimp outfit to avenge a woman Holly (Karen Young) who has fallen foul of a local crime boss DeMarco (Neill Barry). Nick pulls soon lamentable slow-mo kung fu moves and enables Holly to humiliate DeMarco by taking a knife to his genetalia. A side-plot involves Nick working as a bodyguard/chaperone to a gauche young man (Peter McNichol), although given how sleazy the whole enterprise is, it’s hard to imagine Nick’s influence being a positive one, and the way the stories are blended at the climax is crude to say the least. Heat went through several directors, with Dick Richards allegedly quitting after Reynolds punched him in the face. Given the atrocious fight-scenes here, a punch from Reynolds wouldn’t have much impact; a scene where he karate-kicks a light-bulb out if its socket is utterly farcical. And Nick’s habit of carrying his jacking on his shoulder by one finger makes him look like a male-model. And yet…Goldman was one of the Hollywood greats, and there’s some interesting scenes, notably a long meditation on gambling that transfers well to the screen. And even the confrontations between Nick and DeMarco have some latent menace; this is a small-scale, nasty but bluntly effective crime story, quite different from Goldman’s other work, but with evidence of his unique style. With support from Howard Hesseman, Heat isn’t exactly a classic, and was probably worth remaking as Wild Card with Jason Stratham, but there are treasures amongst the ruins for fans of Goldman’s gift for character.

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The Princess Bride 1987 ****

princessbride1William Goldman’s adaptation of his own children’s book is a gleeful pastiche of adventure stories, packed with memorable lines and performances.  Carey Elwes is a refreshingly brash hero as Wesley, who attempts to rescue The Princess Bride (Robin Wright) from various parties. Mandy Patinkin’s vengeful Inigo Montoya is a perfect foil, and cameos from Billy Crystal, Peter Cook, Mel Smith,  Christopher Guest and Chris Sarandon all help with the anything-goes tone. And while the storytelling bookends with Peter Falk take some living up to, Goldman’s adaptation of his own book and Rob Reiner’s direction make this a classic adventure for children with a literary bent. Watch out for the ROUS (Rodents of Unusual Size)!

Marathon Man 1976 ****

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William Goldman’s novels are rarely assessed as much more than expanded screenplays; a pity that books like The Color of Light have never been filmed. But the level of detail in Magic or Marathon Man are indicative of Goldman’s well-researched feeling for the worlds he describes, and John Schlesinger brings the right level of gravity to this 1976 film. Dustin Hoffman is Babe, scholar and runner, who needs both abilities when he discovers that his brother Doc (Roy Scheider) is a double agent and that there’s a gang of Nazis led by Szell (Laurence Olivier) on his case. The dental torture scene has passed into cult history, but there’s plenty of other notably points to enjoy in Marathon Man, from the artfully convoluted construction to the utter seriousness with which the actors treat the material. Goldman was on a roll in the 70’s, and Marathon Man stands up well today as an example of how good writing can make a thriller sing, even if many sequences don’t have the snap that Goldman’s book has; the description of Babe waiting in the bathtub for the assassins to arrive is brilliant prose.

The Great Waldo Pepper 1975 ***

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With a script by William Goldman and direction from George Roy Hill (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), The Great Waldo Pepper was expected to be a huge hit; even if audiences found the downbeat twists hard to take, there’s plenty to enjoy in this Robert Redford vehicle about barnstorming flying aces in 1920’s Nebraska. Waldo Pepper (Redford) is a WWI flyer who uses his skills for showman-like performances, but the dangerous antics take their toll on him and his associates. Notable appearances from Margot Kidder and Susan Sarandon are amongst the attractions, but star, writer and director are all perfectly in sync in the excellent period adventure.

Magic 1978 ***

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William Goldman’s excellent book, written with intimate, personal depth, was always going to be a tricky one to adapt, but Sir Richard Attenborough’s 1978 horror film makes the most of a creepy conceit, even if its misses the pathos. Anthony Hopkins plays Corky the ventriloquist who finds that his wooden pal Fats seems to be taking over his life, and stifling his hopes of romance. This conceit played beautifully in the classic portmanteau Dead of Night, and still works at feature-length, with good support from Burgess Meredith and Ann Margaret. Coming off the back of A Bridge Too Far, and working up to more epic Gandhi and A Chorus Line, Attenborough coaxes a complex, painful performance from Hopkins, who demonstrates why he’s been a sought-after talent for five decades.