‘48 Hours’: Walter Hill’s Buddy Action Comedy that Inspired a New Trend in Hollywood

Walter Hill created an action film far more influential than he probably hoped: 48 Hours brought to life a whole series of Hollywood buddy cop movies, more or less desperately trying to imitate the winning formula of their role model, which went on to attract solid critical acclaim and an abundance of millions at the box office. Production still photographer: Bruce McBroom © Paramount Pictures

I’m your worst fucking nightmare, man, a nigger with a badge, barked Eddie Murphy during the famous 48 Hoursredneck bar sequence that instantly created a new star on Hollywood’s horizon. In his feature film debut, having arrived late on set and without practically any rehearsing, Murphy nailed the part of a con forced to help out a hard-boiled cop out of his own interests and, in his very own words, “took charge in a white world onscreen.” He’s funny, charming, charismatic, yes, but the part owes much of its effectiveness to his onscreen counterbalance, the ever-dedicated Nick Nolte. The chemistry between the two of them is remarkable, as their mutual dislike and suspicion gradually grow into a specific sort of respect, but to praise 48 Hours, Walter Hill’s 1982 action comedy, solely on the merit of its performers’ qualities would mean to devalue the film’s historical importance. Walter Hill created an action film far more influential than he probably hoped: 48 Hours brought to life a whole series of Hollywood buddy cop movies, more or less desperately trying to imitate the winning formula of their role model, which went on to attract solid critical acclaim and an abundance of millions at the box office. It’s interesting to read how skeptical Paramount actually was about hiring Murphy, as it’s well known that their first target was the epitome of African-American comedy at the time, the great Richard Pryor. But Saturday Night Live star joined the project after his audition tapes impressed Hill, and as they say, the rest is history. Murphy went on to make several of similar pictures, but the freshness of his performance would never again be matched.

It was the producer Lawrence Gordon who initially came up with the original idea for this movie. Roger Spottiswoode, the editor of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, was soon hired to pen the first draft of the screenplay, with Steven E. de Souza working on a later version. However, the production hit a wall when Paramount studio head Michael Eiser decided the film wasn’t funny enough. “They only think ‘funny’ is what’s on the page,” explains Hill, who was then forced to incorporate more humor into the story. He did this with the help of screenwriter Larry Gross, producing new material specifically designed to suit the personalities of Nolte and Murphy, continuing to upgrade their characters and the script up to the very last day of shooting. Gross should also be thanked for an extensive diary he wrote during the production of 48 Hours, a delightful read with plenty of priceless first-hand information on both Hill and other important people working on the project. James Horner, the composer of Titanic’s best-selling orchestral film soundtrack of all time, provided the music, with experienced director of photography Ric Waite behind the camera. The film was edited by Mark Warner, Freeman A. Davies and Billy Weber, and the story was enhanced by the early introduction of the film’s antagonist, perfectly played by character actor James Remar.

48 Hours is funny, fresh, provocative and thoroughly entertaining throughout its 96 minutes of running time. The movie’s power lies in the electrifying relationship at the story’s core–the accidental partnership of two very different people, with diverse motivations and personalities, brought together by a single common goal. It’s where all the laughs come from, and it’s definitely the film’s strongest component, the one ingredient a lot of filmmakers have tried to reproduce in the decades that followed. But there can be only one original, and Walter Hill’s 48 Hours still holds very well compared to all of its genre followers.

A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Roger Spottiswoode, Walter Hill, Larry Gross & Steven E. de Souza’s screenplay for 48 Hours [PDF] (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

 
The following is an excerpt from The 48 Hours Diaries by the screenwriter Larry Gross and was originally published on Movie City News, with the friendly permission of David Poland. Amongst many gems: Nick Nolte “goes and gets a large glass coffee mug and fills it with orange juice and vodka every ten minutes, but you barely notice it.” Be sure to check the rest at MCN.

BEFORE THE MOVIE SHOOTS
APRIL 18, 1982

Last Thursday Walter Hill phones. A call my agent had promised me would come but didn’t know when. I’d hung on for four long days.

He was calling, I knew, already, to discuss my gong to work for him on a go picture in active pre production at Paramount called 48 Hours.

There are few directors in Hollywood as intelligent and worth working for as Walter. There are even few go pictures, percentage wise, and still fewer in this depressed economy, jobs at all. So on three simultaneous accounts I’m crazed about getting the cell…

“I don’t know what you’ve heard… I’ve been working this fella and while I like em I know it’s not gonna work out…”

That’s Walter referring to my predecessor on the project Steve De Souza.

“I been reading a few things… the script needs some things you do well I always think do less well. I gotta bunch of people standing my office wanting know whether to make the police cars red or blue… It’s brushwork on the script that’s needed… basically this things a pounder… a shaggy dog story. Defiant Ones plus chuckles… I’ll be honest with ya… with four weeks till we shoot you probably won’t get screenwriting credit… basically all you got time for is to do what I tell ya… are ya interested?”

I say I am, while choking on my throat.

“What’s good is you’ll get a shot at seeing one of these things actually gets done.”

I call my agent. We can put off the thing at Warner Brothers that I’m supposed to hand in, for six or seven weeks no problem. I say I’ll still be able to come in for meetings if anyone likes.

“No you won’t” Jane says, “You’ll be in San Francisco.”

“I will?”

“For sure.”

“Fantastic.”

Now I have been waiting four days for a script, Walter told me I’d get on Tuesday, two days away. My nerves go way up.

MAY 1, 1982

Today for the first time, I show Walter pages.

This after breakfast. In the headlines and radio, and t.v. in his office, the Falkland Islands crisis.

From there a detailed conversation about John Ford’s The Searchers… Walter agrees with his pal Lindsay Anderson that it’s overrated, that isn’t a genuine Ford film. I take the standard position that was this the one time Ford seriously confronted the racism implicit in westerns, and that gave it an anguish and power supreme in all his work.

“I read where somebody said it was an allegory of the Brown versus Board of Education desegregation… to me Jack was a bit lost on this one. I think basically it was a case of a guy whose basically a fairly simple person dealing with a piece of material he doesn’t totally understand… there are so many contradictions in the way its handled, he makes all these kind of weird camera moves that are just totally untypical.”

Then the subject turned to Wayne, with me offering the typical opinion that Ethan Edwards is Wayne’s finest performance.

“I hung around Wayne a few times” Walter said… “An uncouth rough bastard, all the things left wing types fear about right wing people in this case were true…” I said I had the impression Wayne was smart. “Well he could be charming, but basically he was a bully.

I meant, he was smart like he is in the films.

“He knew a lot about filmmaking. He ought to have… He made about seven thousand or however many… he knew about the technical of making but that’s basically not very hard to learn.”

We went to Walter’s house.

Fabulous library. Including a collected Samuel Johnson!

Walter for all his neo-populist rhetoric, none of which is wholly insincere, is also quietly, a bookish, highly literate anglophile.

In the rest of the place, wonderful rugs from Thailand, a subdued brown/blue color scheme, and a generally Spanish quality to the décor. I had asked him why he’d spent a lot of time in Mexico and he said, “because I couldn’t afford to go to Europe.”

Also a beautiful European poster for The Warriors—actually not a poster but a painting inspired by it.

We go over six pages of mine, same as always. He has likes, dislikes. Isn’t totally sure that what I’m giving him is an improvement.

MAY 19, 1982

The first days footage problem has now been defined as some “spot” on the lens. Whether we’ll be able to make the day up or not there’s no way to know. What I am fascinated to find out of course is whether or not something wonderful got done on the new extra day.

It’s almost seven p.m. and all this should be known shortly.

LATER SAME NIGHT

Walter and Joel return with Gene Levy and Larry Gordon.

At dinner gossip was what Spielberg did or was in the process of doing to Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist, in tandem with whatever had gone on during the maknig of E.T., which numerous people on our crew worked on. E.T. will screen while we’re in San Francisco and gossip about it swirls too.

Generally there’s talk of shit Spielberg puts people through. Walter’s propguy Craig Rache was on E.T. So was Tim Kehoe, Walter’s First A.D. from Southern Comfort. And above all, the friend to everyone on this was Walter’s old pal from the days of The Driver and The Warriors, Frank Marshall. So all this is third hand, guys who told guys who told guys.

Walter is visibly restive at the concentration on Spielberg. Larry is genuinely amused and indifferent.

Joe says, “He’ll be the biggest director in the history of the business.”

I point out or try to that Spielberg’s bigness, unlike Coppola’s, will be rescindable instantly because of the lack of artistic distinction his films… power that comes from commercial success alone that can’t be plausibly dressed up in artistic or intellectual importance wanes as rapidly as it arrives. Commercial failure, which always comes by the law of averages, cancels all mere commercial success. Chaplin or Kurosawa, these are the men whose commercial successes as such are significant because they have generated loads of intellectual response which have a fruitful effect on the fact of good numbers.

But what if both Poltergeist and E.T. hit?

“He’ll be Victor Fleming,” I say.

“Who?” Joel asks.

“Well… Victor Fleming directed The Wizard of Oz and got screen credit for a lot of Gone With the Wind in the same year. And by the way he directed A Guy Named Joe, a movie Spielberg is planning to remake, you know, about flyers… anyway… Spielberg is Victor Fleming.”

“I like this theory…” says Walter. “I’m Howard Hawks and Spielberg is Victor Fleming. I like this.”

Larry Gordon describing himself, “I am above. Above the line.”

MAY 22, 1982
Philosophical In San Francisco

Watching San Francisco unreel and unfold, my fourth day here, I get a pervasive sense of nobody in this city “meaning it” in the sense that Erik Erikson uses that phrase in his book about Luther. People in LA vehemently, blissed out or dead-souled in their money lust, but peculiarly they mean it. They’ve come there to throw their whole purpose behind something even if that thing happens to be slick, trivial or dumb. People in LA are unironically, even savagely acquisitive of the things they want. San Franciscans on the other hand seem to live saturated in an evasion of the darker elements of appetite. It’s sort of dishonest. All the benign aspects of appetite, and all the benign objects of it, art, food movies, are given prominent display and shown much concern, but the but the will to “go for it” that aspect of appetite is thinned out. Some stones just cannot be lifted here.

Larry Gordon continues ribbing Joel Silver.

“With Joel, I feel like I’m Hitler’s father. I have a son and he grows up to be Adolf Hitler.”

Walter and I get into one of our polite disagreements about movie aesthetics that we have less time for now that he’s actually shooting. In these quarrels, he invents a distinction in our positions that doesn’t actually exist. I tolerate this rhetorical device, for the simple pleasure of hearing state his case though the lucidity with which he states it is always truistic. He says things no one could possibly disagree with.

“What you and your pathetic European intellectual friends who make films don’t realize,” he was saying today, “is that you have to put motion into these movies.”

“These Europeans you disdain, or who you, in fact, are only pretending to disdain for the purposes of this conversation, know this,” I reply. “There’s tons of motion in the frame in say, an Antonioni movies.”

“Antonioni makes dull movies.”

“Not his good ones” I respond.

“I do remember being impressed with the soundtrack on that one where they went to the island. That one shot I remember of the helicopter landing, he made that sound just awesome.”

“Antonioni’s good movies, like the one you just mentioned, L’avventura, are just like yours,” I started to say, “minimal and architectural, not relying on dialogue…” But then I kept my mouth shut… I didn’t want to get theoretical… this opinion would stun Walter when I offered it and I knew why it sunned him. He operates purely from his conscious ambitions, and think they were vastly opposed to his European peers. He was not wrong to say he’s different. The fact that some of their tactics and effects do, in fact, coincide is not, of course, disproved by this, though I can wholly understanding his finding that fact being pointed out or proven to him to be distasteful. To him it would mean being tarred with the unwanted brush of being uncommercial… and the truth is that whatever else Walter is or is not, he is not uncommercial.

MAY 25, 1982

The topics of this movie, 48 Hrs. Friendship, greed, violence and madness, should be emblems of a deeper poetic madness, a floating perpetual motion machine of the city depicted coming unhinged, unglued. This city is not our full topic of interest, however. It is itself, simply a location from the world. Walter’s not interested in the background much.

At dailies, Walter asks, or rather tells me, to start thinking about what kind of movie our footage that we’re seeing, reveals to us that we’re making.

I have an answer prompted in part by something noted by our hysterical Paramount executive boss, Simpson…

Simpson called to say “I see what Walter’s doing—I see the comedy.”

So my answer to Walter’s question is “We’re making a black comedy… the film is a black comedy.”

Second I say “It’s sort of a surreal city film, sort of a less stylized continuation of The Warriors in a way… transposed on to a more apparently traditional genre film…”

But there are rapid shifts in tone, and one disconnected inchoate set piece grafted on to another.

Walter changes the subject abruptly to Annette’s character Elaine.

“I don’t see the girl, fitting into that” Walter says frowning.

I want to protect “the girl” of course because I’ve had a large hand in reshaping and expanding her scenes. My first line to Walter had been the key to the mood and the relationship of these two men, Nick and Eddie is that neither of them is getting laid regularly and that has a lot to do with the tone of their interaction.

I tried to gently disagree with Walter that Elaine was irrelevant.

“Not in the way you’ve shot her so far” I said… “the way she looks, she is an icon, an inspirer or ideal, distance from is sort of like the condition of and the thing to be, overcome. She’s Helen of Troy. (A part of me wonders as I spoke if I were just trying to hustle Walter and would I have any luck.)

To try to clinch this argument I kept on babbling “The presence of the girl is essential Walter. If the element of the girl had been stronger in The Driver the film would have worked with audiences better. The erotic element in this weird surrealistic world is important.”

JUNE 30, 1982—THE SHOOTOUT AT THE WALDEN HOTEL

I note Walter’s upsetness, at the end of today.

He said, “Sometimes it gets annoying, irritating answering so many questions. You just get tired of dealing with the horseshit.”

The horseshit today included delaying with a practical location. Lighting extremely tight space. Nudity and the skittishness of the girls involved in it.

Walter to Sonny: “The hits aren’t in the bat.”

Remar and Sosna quarrel as Remar gets revved up to run down the hallway from the gun battle. Sosna yells. Remar yells back.

Walter barks, “Just concentrate on the shot Jimmy do your job and let him do his.” First time I’ve heard Walter raise his voice and the last time I will hear it during the entire shooting.

Remar instantly collapses and starts apologizing.

This morning is gunfire. Producing ample smoke. Headache making, now. Killing two actors. The two cop partners of Nick, Jonathan Banks and another actor, I can’t remember his name.

The camera crew (three) in green blankets and plastic faceguards like a gun-artillery emplacement or tech soldiers facing a huge attcking. Remar and Sonny blasting the two cops.

Remarks overheard:

Camera operator Rick Neff: My first two wives were skinny. Now I’m goin for the meat.

Walter Hill: “Send in a half apple.”

David Sosna when I’m whispering to someone just before a take: “They whisper over at the Desilu studios. Here, they keep quiet.”

Joel comes in announcing that he has a new movie to do at MGM.

My brother lets me know he’s been fired from the literary agency where he works. It happens to be the one that represents me, ICM.

JUNE 31, 1982

Walter’s little blonde squeeze, her name is Tara, works today. Doing the same part she did in The Driver. Joel privately announces to me that her acting is shitty. Her part is bigger than similar role of hotel desk clerk that she had in the other film. Here she actually has lines.

This morning dominated, unspokenly, by a single controversy. Paramount wants to make selected going-over-budget-judgments for reshoots. Walter refuses. He must receive his not-going-over-budget bonus first. Then he will do the reshoots. Berg tells Walter not to consider negotiating on this issue. Katzenberg says that going along with Walter’s carte blanche demands that going “over” be approved is impossible. The situation was complicated by Larry’s agreement to something on this question with Eisner. To get Walter to agree with the studio’s point of view on these issues—about this there is much hysteria this morning. Joel, Larry, Walter and Berg all accusing and being accused of underrating and undermining the other.

Ultimately, Walter wins clearly. Walter and Berg. At a key moment, Berg beats up on Michael Eisner, President Katzenberg’s boss.

There is a place Berg gets to that is the essence of ruthlessness. It is a straightforward cold eyed way of him saying I-am-in-the-sole-possession-of-the-facts. It really makes you think this is what Lenin must have been like. It is an insight into the vanity of the notion that power is personal. Berg embodies the knowledge that power is intimately related to perception, specifically perception of context, i.e. there is no transcending or absolute reality of power. Yoking this observation to EGO is tricky

My brother after telling me about his work problems announces that he is having marital problems too. Shit. A fucked day.

Meanwhile Walter has me invent a bunch of dialogue for Tara, aka Frizzy.

I get into a fight with 2nd AD Debbie Love about my being on the set when they were lighting. She implied I didn’t have the brains to move out of the way of the crew moving equipment around. I’m afraid she might be right.

Michael Sragow, a decent journalist/critic visits the set, representing Rolling Stone. Has written some of the more intelligent sympathetic responses to Walter’s work. Actually asks me a few questions.

At the end of a long day of shooting people being shot:

People don’t want to have conversations. They want to have the burden of having a consciousness assuaged.

JULY 1, 1982

Jonathan Banks death scene.

Sosna calling for quiet on the set. “Guys don’t talk about the next picture you’re gonna do—concentrate on this one.”

JULY 2, 1982

Big disagreement with Walter about how many weapons the villains should have, how tied Nick’s hands should be. Walter here plays up the big emotional moment as simple goodness of heart on Nick’s part. Our roles get reversed, I think his approach to this scene is too sentimental whereas usually he rejects suggestions of mine as too sentimental.

Sosna does a good practical joke on me, has me convinced that the can of soda I picked out of a box in craft services is “bad.” Calls to the crew doctor to discuss the likelihood I have food poisoning and will need to get my stomach. He has me going.

Remar cuts his hand catching a gun. More real blood. He, moping, after I console him says, “No one but the make up man consoles me.”

His eyes widen as they do in regular spasms.

“I don’t have to do this.”

Then he recounts how on Friedkin’s Cruising where he had a tough fight scene with Al Pacino, Pacino moped when he got a tiny bit hurt, and how solicitous Friedkin and the producer Jerry Weintraub were about his well being. He and the danger he was in was ignored, he says.

Life is always a matter of injustice for Jimmy.

I point out to Walter that Jimmy’s suffering a bit and Walter ignores my remark. Then he comments a little later:

“Jimmy’s a faker.” He tells a story of a massive sprain Jimmy suffered on The Warriors and how he cured himself miraculously when after shooting ended that night a crew softball game was announced.

Luca and I quarrel again, this because when I ask her where the trades I gave her to read are. She says, “I don’t know. I’m working.” I get insulted at this.

Baird Steptoe, a camera assistant, Don Thorin Jr. another camera assistant, and Luca, over drinks talk about what “this business” does to romantic relationships.

Girls pass by in the lobby of this building. It’s owned and occupied by members of the Church Of Scientology. Some of them stop and watch what we’re doing.

Walter casually glances at the watching girls, nudges me. “More scientological puss.”

JULY 6, 1982

Joel: “You’re not following the law of STBP! And what is the law of SBTP? See The Big Picture.

Defending a plump famous screamer who runs Paramount t.v. Gary Nardino: “He’s effective”

Effective for what, I ask in reply. What quality stuff is he defending, is he effective in?

“He’s in television, he’s not concerned with quality.”

Walter on the subject of Producer-studio squabbles: “You have to remember that ninety seven percent of the things that they’re concerned with are unimportant.”

I mention idly over the I had heard a rumor that Gordon Carroll, had produced the film that would be our main Christmas competition, Blue Thunder, has said the film isn’t very good.

“That’s okay” Walter says, “Gordon’s one of those producers who feel that they and the studio have started off on this wonderful adventure together, they have dreamed this noble dream—now these so-so filmmakers have come along and screwed it up.”

This in turn causes Walter to remark about the notes we’d received from Simpson about our film before we started that he has mostly ignored. I had turned to him at one point, holding a copy of those notes in my hand, and said, “They’re contemplating a Platonic kind of movie that resembles our script schematically, but which doesn’t have anything to do with our actual movie… It’s notes on the “type” of movie ours is, not the actual thing itself.” The film the studio chiefs see in their head the perfect idea for a film that is unmuddied by specific choices, or the specific stylistic voice of the filmmakers.

Walter has a bad cold today. It’s the scene of Nick meeting Eddie for the first time at the jail.

Sosna barking at the crew: “Hold the work.” John you’re a good man, I’ll take you on all my big pictures soon as I get one.

Sound guy Jim Cutter back holding the door audibly mutters, “This could be your last.”

After a take fails: “Let’s go again. Debbie picture up—picture now.”

Eddie, improving. His rendition of Roxanne, by the Police—super.

JULY 7, 1982

This morning, a long elaborate take of Nick and Eddie at the prison, Eddie in his armani suit for the first time in the film, Nick angrily pushing Eddie around, fluffing his lines a few times, Eddie much better still yelling at Nick.

Nick got very tense and frustrated, sluffing his lines, and oddly I think it’s because he’s reluctant to be as mean and aggressive as the scene requires him to be. The odd thing is of course is he’s so good at it. But I almost feel like it makes Nick feel guilty to be good at this kind of being rough and even vicious. It’s like a part of him feels like these were the kinds of feelings he got into acting to avoid. He’s such a gentle and not violent person.

To everyone’s despair—Walter’s, Joel’s and mine—the studio furnished us today with their list of alternative titles. It is a long mimeographed sheet. It makes us temporarily consider finding a loaded weapon and blowing our brains out, because we can see just how the movie is viewed by the studio when they send us these ideas. The two ideas that we keep repeating in a depressed mantra are “hotshots” and “runaround”.

We just shake our heads and stare at each other gloomily, not saying but thinking, “congratulations pal, you’re working on a film called hotshots…”

JULY 14, 1982

Followed Walter to editor Freeman Davies’ suite, saw Cut footage.

Reggie’s first appearance at the jail, leading to the beating up of Luther.

I am pleased by a sense of the “push” of the narrative. I am nervous that in some scenes characters behave in emotional routines or attitudes that have not been sufficiently prepared for. Never the less the “push” or “drive” I notice is more decisive. The shades of emotional clarity I am referring to… the absence of them may have their noticability collapsed by narrative urgency. (Hope.)

Joel’s birthday. Larry Gordon’s cake for him has a massive erect penis and the words Happy Birthday You Putz, on them.

Another cake is a gargantuan imitation hamburger. A third cake has a an icing depiction of Joel and a naked bimbo. A massive striptease dancer follows the unveiling of the cake.

Yesterday had one of the best moments for me in the making of this film. Lindsay Anderson and Walter Hill stretched out on the prop bed, musing about John Ford’s My Darling Clementine.

Who thought of the title? What did the project mean to Ford? Did he have to use Linda Darnell as Chiquita because she was banging Zanuck, the studio executive on the film?

I flirt with Denise some more. I would say I’m getting exactly nowhere.

Nick blasts (!) through a glass window barrier, today. This time, in that jacked up doing an athletic mode, he’s got a tremendous urgency to do it. Quite stunning.

Also squibs exploding all over the dyke apartment.

Is yesterday’s revolutionary truth discredited because the world was not reformed along its precepts? Today has not been the perfect tomorrow. That was foreseen. The Final Conflict, awaited and wished for (a consummation devoutly to be wished) has not arisen.

The “truth” disproven by today’s failure to live up to it may be revivified tomorrow.

The idea that change is actual view with the idea that no particular instance of change is decisive—

That charge is actual is what determines whether or not the perceptive modality is intelligent or not. How someone evaluates it, how he wants to deny it after acknowledging it. That’s anybody’s business as long as the reality of the phenomenon of change is acknowledged.

JULY 30, 1982

Walter about his own ambitions to innovate: “I thought I invented some shots on The Driver but it turns out the camera man tells me, they’ve been doin’ ’em since 1915… it’s awful hard to invent something… I always thought you could have a tremendous impact on showing a fight by a lateral movement of the camera to the side of the action, joined with a zoom in… you need very large objects in the foreground or background for that to work.”

“Maybe it’s real hard to invent things,” I remarked back, “all you can do is make original combinations of old things.”

AUGUST 4, 1982

Eddie’s moment in the Country Western Bar scene. This was the one thing he was excited about getting a chance to play the first day I met him.

Walter watches Eddie roust the rednecks at the bar. He turns to Joel at the end and says of this “money” scene, simply, “I’m rich.”

Much of Eddie’s improvs are wonderful here.

Walter really warm today. He senses that the strategy of waiting and keeping this scene till the end of the shoot when Eddie is a million times more confident has paid off.

“I gotta get busy and get this scene done so this kid can jack up his price.”

We go over to the editing room and see the scene between Eddie and the girl cut together. He’s not satisfied. I beg him not to think of cutting it.

He points to the boxes of film that sit over Freeman’s shoulder.

“What you don’t understand is, it’s not a theoretical decision. By the time the decision is made, if the scenes are out, you will want them out. You don’t really make the film back on the set, you make it in here with those hundred or so white boxes. The film is in there in those boxes somewhere, and its gotta be what they tell ya it is.”

AUGUST 12, 1982

Fourth night shooting in Chinatown. Watching Nick attack Margot Rose on her way up to her place. And then all the mechanics of finally killing Ganz.

Larry Gordon brings a lot of chinese food back for the crew to snack on after eating lunch at one of these places with Joel. As typical, Joel’s eating habits come in for drollery. There’s Larry’s eating to avoid a heart attack and Joel, from Larry’s point of view, overeating.

“The guy running never saw a check that big in the history of the restaurant… he just couldn’t get a load of Blutto over there… he was always coming over to us, going ‘Maw? Maw?”

Later watching all the moves of Remar going around corners gunning for Nick and Eddie: “Always remember. You must improvise.”

At the beginning of the night before shooting starts, Walter presents me with a page of notes he’s prepared for a new script. It will be the first in a series of adventures of an action hero he’s had it in his mind to create for a long time. The character’s name is Tom Cody. And Walter has it in his head to create a franchise about him… introducing him as The Stranger.

He asks me if I’m interested in writing the script with him… I ask him is the Pope Catholic? Larry and Joel would be along on this ride. Suits me.

AUGUST 18, 1982
THE LAST NIGHT OF SHOOTING

The last night—around twelve shooting days later than expected. Or originally scheduled.

The movie has had good luck throughout and continues too—dawn shot done at dawn, gets lucky darkness lasting long enough for six takes. The freeway lights go on when needed

Joel responding to inquiries from me a in a manner a little more hostile than usual: “Get outta the business—just go into another profession.”

The essence of Joel, is that he remains, at all times and all costs unconscious of his own aggression.

My friend Corrine, who originally introduced me to Walter about seven months ago, sends a “cookiegram” to the set, a fabulous giant cake—cookie, with Walter, Nick, Eddie, Larry, Joel and me depicted. Corrine’s conception of the movie gives me a prominent place in it. You know. From her mouth to God’s ear.

Now we go to our last night: The “tag” is what we’re shooting… Nick and Eddie coming away from the girl’s apartment and then discussing what they’re going to do with the money.

At lunch, the cast and crew picture. I ask Larry Gordon how everything’s going. He gives his stern indifferent look, “Everything’s normal.”

Katzenberg shows up to shake Walter, Nick and Eddie’s hand. Suddenly everyone wants to be Eddie’s friend. That whole situation has turned around totally. I ask Katzenberg what Paramount has coming up. He mentions An Officer and a Gentleman with Richard Gere which he describes as a coming of age story, “I’m very proud of it.”

As we’re preparing to do some of the last shots, I sit with Walter.

I comment on the fact that the studio is starting to seem more confident about the film. That of course doesn’t reassure him in the slightest:

“I worry that this thing is gonna be called ‘two guys in search of a story.’ I know that barely worries you at all.” Then he sighs. “Six movies… it takes a lot out of ya.”

Sometimes during in this process Walter was irritated at me as at someone there to take things out on. Sometimes he simply ignored me, because he was busy, tired or had more important things to do than explain whatever moves he was making to me. Then he sometimes, out of left field, wanted to announce conviction about a scene. There were still other times when he wanted, from me, a sort of gestalt view. The whole of how I looked at things, since I had the luxury of not having to be on the line to make choices every six seconds. Walter would, under these circumstances, lose interest in his superiority to me in movie politics or the detail of filmmaking and ask questions of a speculative kind—the arena in which we were more equals. “Whaddya think” he would ask, and I wold start shooting my mouth off which is basically what I’m good at.

Of course we often talked about whichever girls he found attractive on the set, wondering aloud if I did as well. We had talks about girls that were retrospective, speculative and competitive.

AUGUST 19, 1982

People ask if this is my first film.

I explain it isn’t really “mine”—it’s been in development with Walter in form or another since l973, the draft he did with Roger, was finished in l976… and that I was hired only three weeks prior to production commencing.

Will it be my first credit they ask? I don’t even know if I’ll get credit. The Writers Guild credit process is so screwed. I’ve been gypped out of credit on a number of things I worked on that got made where I was sure I deserved it… the whole credit deal for rewriting scripts is just completely illogical.

Walter and I amidst our discussions of work on The Stranger, talked about credit. He suggested, we identify ourselves as a writing team, Walter Hill & Larry Gross, that that would increase my chances of getting credit.

It was exceptionally generous of him. As a first writer his sole credit was a lock… but by putting himself with me, he was risking his own position in the credits… this is all too arcane and weird to explain but I composed this letter a few nights ago to the Writer’s Guild.

This was the first draft of a letter I wrote to the Writer’s Guild asking for credit on the movie:

To Whom It May Concern:

I worked on the script of this film everyday from About April 25 through postproduction… it is hard to disentangle my contribution to the script from that of Walter Hill, since he revised, rewrote, and added to and improved everything I did. Some of what he did, has become half mine. Everything of mine is at least half his. If any other writer other than Walter gets credit than I deserve to as well. That’s a fact but I know facts never enter into these deliberation.

(GROSS NOTE: Eventually the Writer’s Guild assigned screenplay credit to Walter Hill, Roger Spottiswoode. Myself and Stephen De Souza. In December Of 1982, the film opened to generally favorable reviews and decent business that hung on through a significant part of the next year. The film was perceived to be a hit. In February of 1983 Universal bought the script that Walter and I had begun in August, now entitled Streets Of Fire. With Joel and Larry we were in production by March of 1983. But that, as they say, is another atory). —Larry Gross, published October 2, 2008

 
The 48 Hours Diaries by the screenwriter Larry Gross was originally published on Movie City News. Images copyright by Paramount Pictures and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only. Production still photographer: Bruce McBroom © Paramount Pictures.

Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in