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This article is about the movie. For the Tennessee rock band, see Grifters.
The Grifters

Theatrical Release Poster
Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Martin Scorsese
Robert A. Harris
Jim Painter
Written by Novel:
Jim Thompson
Screenplay:
Donald E. Westlake
Starring John Cusack
Anjelica Huston
Annette Bening
Pat Hingle
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Oliver Stapleton
Editing by Mick Audsley
Distributed by Miramax
Release date(s) December 5, 1990
Running time 119 minutes
Country  United States
Language English
Gross revenue $13,446,769 (USA)

The Grifters is a 1990 neo-noir film directed by Stephen Frears and produced by Martin Scorsese. It stars John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening and is based upon The Grifters, a pulp novel by Jim Thompson.

Contents

Plot

Lilly Dillon is an experienced con artist who begins to rethink her life when her son Roy, a small-time grifter, suffers an almost-fatal injury from a punch he receives after a failed scam.

Lilly works for a bookmaker, Bobo Justus, handling playback at the tracks—that is, betting money to lower the odds of longshots. On her way to La Jolla for the horse races, she stops in Los Angeles to visit Roy, whom she hasn't seen in eight years. She finds him in pain and bleeding internally. When medical assistance finally comes, Lilly confronts the doctor, threatening to have him killed if her son dies.

At the hospital, Lilly meets and takes an instant dislike to Roy's girlfriend, Myra Langtry, who is a few years older than her son. Lilly urges her son to quit the grift, saying he literally doesn't have the stomach for it. Because she leaves late for La Jolla, she misses a race where the winner was paying 70-1. For this mistake, Bobo burns her hand with a cigar.

Myra plays all the angles. She uses her body to persuade her landlord to overlook the rent. She makes a similar offer to a jeweler to get what she wants for a gem she is trying to pawn.

Upon leaving the hospital, Roy takes Myra to La Jolla for the weekend. On the train, she notices him conning a group of sailors. Myra reveals that she is also on the grift and looking for a new partner for a long-con operation.

Myra describes her long association with another man, Cole, and how they took advantage of wealthy marks in business cons, including a greedy oil investor, Gloucester Hebbing. A flashback scene in a plush office building culminates in a fake FBI raid with a fake shooting of Myra to discourage Hebbing from going to the police.

Roy resists the proposition, fearing she may try to dupe him herself. Myra sees his mother's influence behind Roy's decision and makes a move for revenge. She lets it be known that Lilly has been stealing from Bobo over the years and stashing money in the trunk of her car. Lilly is warned by a friend and flees. Myra follows with the intention of killing her.

Roy is called by an FBI agent to identify his mother's body, found in a motel room with the face disfigured. While identifying it as Lilly's, he silently notes that there is no cigar burn on the corpse's hand. Coming back home, he finds Lilly trying to steal all of his money. She shot Myra while being attacked at the motel and arranged things so that it looked like she was the one killed.

Roy refuses to let her go with his money. A desperate Lilly is willing to try anything, first pleading with him, then seducing him, even going so far as to tempt Roy by claiming he is really not her son. Roy calls her disgusting. In anger, Lilly swings a suitcase at him and unintentionally breaks a glass onto his neck, slashing an artery.

Lilly packs up the money as her son's body bleeds to death on the floor. She drives off into the night.

Production

The project originated with Martin Scorsese who subsequently brought in Stephen Frears to direct while he produced.[1] Frears had just finished making Dangerous Liaisons and was looking for another project when Scorsese approached him.[2] The British filmmaker was drawn to Thompson's "tough and very stylistic" writing and described it, "as if pulp fiction meets Greek tragedy".[2] Scorsese looked for a screenwriter, and filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff recommended Donald Westlake.

Frears contacted Westlake who agreed to re-read the Thompson novel—but after doing so, turned the project down, citing the story as "too gloomy". Frears then phoned Westlake, and convinced Westlake that he saw the story as a positive one, if considered as a story of Lily's drive to survive. Westalke changed his mind, and agreed to write the adptation.[1] Frears was unsuccessful, however, at convincing Westlake to write the script under his pseudonym "Richard Stark", a name Westlake had used to write 20 noir-influenced crime novels from 1962 through 1974. (Stark's name appears in the film, though, on a sign reading "Stark, Coe and Fellows"; Westake explains in the film's commentary track that he has written novels as Richard Stark, Tucker Coe and "some other fellows".)

Meanwhile, John Cusack had read Jim Thompson's novel in 1985 and was so impressed by it that he wanted to turn the book into a film himself.[3] When Cusack found out that Scorsese and Frears were planning an adaptation, he actively pursued a role in the project. Cusack has said that he saw the character of Roy Dillon as "a wonderfully twisted role to dive into".[3] To research his role, he studied with real grifters and learned card and dice tricks as well as sleight-of-hand tricks like the 20-dollar-switch that his character does in the film. He even successfully pulled off this trick at a bar on a bartender he knew well.[4]

For the role of Lilly, Frears originally considered Cher but she became too expensive after the success of Moonstruck.[5] Sissy Spacek also read the part of Lily Dillon. Frears first contacted Anjelica Huston about playing Lilly in 1989 while she was filming Crimes and Misdemeanors, but after reading the script, she was unsure.[6] Before she could make a decision, Frears called her and said that they were going in a different direction in the casting. Melanie Griffith was approached to play Lilly because he was interested in making a film "about how shocking it would be to have a mother who looked like your sister,"[2] but the actress was pregnant at the time and could not do it. A few months later, Frears contacted Huston again to see if she was still interested.[6] He was reluctant to cast her because she looked like "a lady", and decided to cheapen her look with a bleached blond wig and "vulgar clothes".[2] Huston read the script again and felt more passionate about the part and was cast in the role. To research her part, she studied lady dealers at card parlors in L.A. county.[6]

The shoot was emotionally challenging for Huston. After completing the final scene between Lilly and Roy, she was so drained from the experience that she ran from the set and the studio. It took her hours to recover.[6] After shooting the scene where Bobo Justus tortures Lilly for information, Huston was so affected by the rough quality of the scene that she spent that night throwing up.[6]

Reception

The Grifters had its world premiere on September 14, 1990 at the Toronto Film Festival at the Elgin Theater.[2][7] The film had a brief Academy Award-qualifying run in New York City and Los Angeles before opening wide in January.[8]

Awards

The Grifters was nominated in 1990 for four Academy Awards:

It lost in all categories. Some magazines remarked that Elmer Bernstein might have deserved a nomination for his original score.

The actresses were also nominated for a few notable international prizes, including the BAFTA (Bening) and the Golden Globe (Huston): they were both awarded by the American National Society of Film Critics. Westlake's screenplay was nominated by the Writers Guild of America, losing – as he did at the Oscars – to Michael Blake's Dances with Wolves.

Cast

References

  1. ^ a b Bygrave, Mike (July 16, 1990). "A Shot at Point Blank". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Kelly, Deirdre (September 15, 1990). "An English Director on Challenge of Making his First Yankee Flick". Globe and Mail. 
  3. ^ a b Van Gelder, Lawrence (August 31, 1990). "At the Movies". New York Times. 
  4. ^ Goodman, Joan (January 31, 1991). "Getting the Drift of the Grift". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ Johnston, Sheila (January 31, 1991). "The Innocent Abroad". The Independent. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Sharkey, Betsy (December 2, 1990). "Anjelica Huston Seeks the Soul of a Con Artist". New York Times. 
  7. ^ Harris, Christopher (August 29, 1990). "Frears to Attend Premiere". Globe and Mail. 
  8. ^ Green, Tom (December 11, 1990). "Haute Huston". USA Today. 

Quotes

  • Bobo Justus: One question. Do you want to stick to that story, or do you want to keep your teeth?
    Lilly Dillon: I want to keep my teeth.
  • Myra Langtry: I have only one thing now. Are you interested?
    Jeweler: Well, I'd have to see it, of course.
    Myra Langtry: You are seeing it. You're looking right at it.
    Jeweler: I see.

External links

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