Big Trouble


1h 33m 1985

Brief Synopsis

An unhappy wife tries to get her insurance agent to help her kill her husband.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1985
Location
Arizona, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m

Synopsis

An insurance agent decides to send his three sons to Yale. To raise the cash, he gets drawn into a bizarre scheme to fraudently collect on an accidental death policy.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
R
Genre
Comedy
Release Date
1985
Location
Arizona, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 33m

Articles

Big Trouble (1986)


You know what they say about good intentions, and it was probably with the best that the powers-that-be at Columbia greenlit a reunion of the creative principals that made The In-Laws (1979) a critical and commercial comedy hit. Big Trouble (1986) wound up being rather aptly titled; the production wound up with its fair share of turmoil, and its theatrical run became one of the era's more notorious dogs. Given time and distance, though, this lovingly twisted homage to Double Indemnity (1944) isn't quite the multi-car pileup that has been reputed, and actually offers quite a few laughs from an accomplished cast of farceurs.

Hard-plugging suburban insurance salesman Leonard Hoffman (Alan Arkin) is experiencing a not uncommon middle-age crisis, which is magnified; his musically gifted triplet sons have all been accepted to Yale. There's no way he'll be able to cover even the initial tuition payment, and his entreaties to his aloof alumni boss (Robert Stack) for a good word to the scholarship committee go unheeded. It's then he makes a follow-up sales call to the mansion of Blanche Rickey (Beverly D'Angelo), an attractive blonde who greets him half-dressed and half in the bag. The obviously unstable Blanche begins to confide in Leonard about the precarious state of her depressed husband's health, and how she'd like to put him out of his misery.

As the discomfited salesman makes his way out the door, he gets to meet the fragile hubby; Steve Rickey (Peter Falk), a complete oddball whose shadowy entrepreneurial interests involve the smuggling of Chinese laborers into the country. With his kids' future at stake, Leonard succumbs to Blanche's continued pressures and offers of a kickback, and the plot proceeds according to James M. Cain. Leonard agrees to con Steve into blind-signing a multi-million dollar life policy, becomes an accessory to his murder at Blanche's hands, and helps bring off a convoluted scheme to make Steve's death look like a railroad-related accident.

It may all sound familiar, but when the grieving widow shows up at the insurer's offices for a grilling by Stack and claims chief Charles Durning, the similarities to Double Indemnity go by the boards. Suffice to say that Leonard's involvement in the Rickeys' toils are far from over, and the twist and turns continue unabated until the film's conclusion.

Big Trouble was supposed to have reunited Arkin and Falk under the direction of their In-Laws screenwriter, Andrew Bergman. A few weeks into filming, Bergman left and he was successful in getting his name removed from the screenplay, which is credited to the W.C. Fieldsesque "Warren Bogle." On Falk's recommendation, John Cassavetes was brought in to bring the film to completion. On balance, it's a shame that the final directing credit for one of postwar America's most individualistic filmmakers would be a job for hire. While there's no reconciling Big Trouble with the rest of Cassavetes' body of work, he managed to draw amusing performances from his worthwhile ensemble, which also included Valerie Curtin as Leonard's wife, Richard Libertini as a quack doctor, and Paul Dooley as the train passenger who almost blows the scheme.

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenplay: Warren Bogle
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Art Direction: Peter Landsdown Smith
Music: Bill Conti
Film Editing: Donn Cambern, Ralph E. Winters
Cast: Peter Falk (Steve Rickey), Alan Arkin (Leonard Hoffman), Beverly D'Angelo (Blanche Rickey), Charles Durning (O'Mara), Robert Stack (Winslow), Paul Dooley (Noozel), Valerie Curtin (Arlene Hoffman), Richard Libertini (Dr. Lopez), Steve Alterman (Peter Hoffman), Jerry Pavlon (Michael Hoffman), Paul La Greca (Joshua Hoffman), John Finnegan (Det. Murphy), Karl Lukas (Police captain).
C-93m.

by John S. Steinberg
Big Trouble (1986)

Big Trouble (1986)

You know what they say about good intentions, and it was probably with the best that the powers-that-be at Columbia greenlit a reunion of the creative principals that made The In-Laws (1979) a critical and commercial comedy hit. Big Trouble (1986) wound up being rather aptly titled; the production wound up with its fair share of turmoil, and its theatrical run became one of the era's more notorious dogs. Given time and distance, though, this lovingly twisted homage to Double Indemnity (1944) isn't quite the multi-car pileup that has been reputed, and actually offers quite a few laughs from an accomplished cast of farceurs. Hard-plugging suburban insurance salesman Leonard Hoffman (Alan Arkin) is experiencing a not uncommon middle-age crisis, which is magnified; his musically gifted triplet sons have all been accepted to Yale. There's no way he'll be able to cover even the initial tuition payment, and his entreaties to his aloof alumni boss (Robert Stack) for a good word to the scholarship committee go unheeded. It's then he makes a follow-up sales call to the mansion of Blanche Rickey (Beverly D'Angelo), an attractive blonde who greets him half-dressed and half in the bag. The obviously unstable Blanche begins to confide in Leonard about the precarious state of her depressed husband's health, and how she'd like to put him out of his misery. As the discomfited salesman makes his way out the door, he gets to meet the fragile hubby; Steve Rickey (Peter Falk), a complete oddball whose shadowy entrepreneurial interests involve the smuggling of Chinese laborers into the country. With his kids' future at stake, Leonard succumbs to Blanche's continued pressures and offers of a kickback, and the plot proceeds according to James M. Cain. Leonard agrees to con Steve into blind-signing a multi-million dollar life policy, becomes an accessory to his murder at Blanche's hands, and helps bring off a convoluted scheme to make Steve's death look like a railroad-related accident. It may all sound familiar, but when the grieving widow shows up at the insurer's offices for a grilling by Stack and claims chief Charles Durning, the similarities to Double Indemnity go by the boards. Suffice to say that Leonard's involvement in the Rickeys' toils are far from over, and the twist and turns continue unabated until the film's conclusion. Big Trouble was supposed to have reunited Arkin and Falk under the direction of their In-Laws screenwriter, Andrew Bergman. A few weeks into filming, Bergman left and he was successful in getting his name removed from the screenplay, which is credited to the W.C. Fieldsesque "Warren Bogle." On Falk's recommendation, John Cassavetes was brought in to bring the film to completion. On balance, it's a shame that the final directing credit for one of postwar America's most individualistic filmmakers would be a job for hire. While there's no reconciling Big Trouble with the rest of Cassavetes' body of work, he managed to draw amusing performances from his worthwhile ensemble, which also included Valerie Curtin as Leonard's wife, Richard Libertini as a quack doctor, and Paul Dooley as the train passenger who almost blows the scheme. Director: John Cassavetes Screenplay: Warren Bogle Cinematography: Bill Butler Art Direction: Peter Landsdown Smith Music: Bill Conti Film Editing: Donn Cambern, Ralph E. Winters Cast: Peter Falk (Steve Rickey), Alan Arkin (Leonard Hoffman), Beverly D'Angelo (Blanche Rickey), Charles Durning (O'Mara), Robert Stack (Winslow), Paul Dooley (Noozel), Valerie Curtin (Arlene Hoffman), Richard Libertini (Dr. Lopez), Steve Alterman (Peter Hoffman), Jerry Pavlon (Michael Hoffman), Paul La Greca (Joshua Hoffman), John Finnegan (Det. Murphy), Karl Lukas (Police captain). C-93m. by John S. Steinberg

Robert Stack, 1919-2003


Robert Stack, the tough, forceful actor who had a solid career in films before achieving his greatest success playing crime fighter Eliot Ness in the '60s television series The Untouchables (1959-63) and later as host of the long-running Unsolved Mysteries(1987-2002), died on May 14 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 84.

Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling.

Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger.

Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen.

His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942).

After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958).

Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name.

Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980).

Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.

by Michael T. Toole

Robert Stack, 1919-2003

Robert Stack, the tough, forceful actor who had a solid career in films before achieving his greatest success playing crime fighter Eliot Ness in the '60s television series The Untouchables (1959-63) and later as host of the long-running Unsolved Mysteries(1987-2002), died on May 14 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 84. Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling. Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger. Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen. His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942). After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958). Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name. Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980). Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1, 1985

Released in United States November 1985

Re-released in United States on Video February 16, 1994

Re-released in United States on Video February 16, 1994

Released in United States November 1985

Released in United States Fall November 1, 1985