Absence of Malice (1981)

PG | 115 mins | Drama | 20 November 1981

Director:

Sydney Pollack

Writer:

Kurt Luedtke

Producer:

Sydney Pollack

Cinematographer:

Owen Roizman

Editor:

Sheldon Kahn

Production Designer:

Terence Marsh

Production Company:

Mirage Enterprises
Full page view
HISTORY

Articles in the Jul 1981 Esquire and the 1 Oct 1980 Var reported that Kurt Luedtke left his position as executive editor at the Detroit Free Press, and moved to Los Angeles, CA, to write a screenplay about the newspaper business. Esquire noted that Luedtke pitched his concept to an agent at the Ziegler Diskant Agency and was soon working with director George Roy Hill on the project, although Hill eventually left the project. An article in the 12 Nov 1981 Marquee reported that director Sydney Pollack and Luedtke shared the same agent and, therefore, Pollack had access to the 250-page script. Although Pollack was concerned with the script’s length, he realized that Luedtke was an inexperienced screenwriter who lacked strong visuals in his script. However, Pollack resolved that Luedtke was a talented writer with an intriguing concept. Var announced that Luedtke sold the script to Orion Pictures for $250,000 and would receive another $100,000 and a share of the grosses, when the film broke even. Orion is not credited in the film.
       According to an item in the 20 Aug 1980 DV, Sydney Pollack approached Al Pacino and Diane Keaton to star in the film. Items in the 19 Sep 1980 DV and the 1 Oct 1980 Var reported that Sally Field was cast and Al Pacino was still being considered, but the 19 Nov 1980 Var reported that Paul Newman was cast in the film.
       As noted in an 11 Mar 1981 Var brief, the male lead was ... More Less

Articles in the Jul 1981 Esquire and the 1 Oct 1980 Var reported that Kurt Luedtke left his position as executive editor at the Detroit Free Press, and moved to Los Angeles, CA, to write a screenplay about the newspaper business. Esquire noted that Luedtke pitched his concept to an agent at the Ziegler Diskant Agency and was soon working with director George Roy Hill on the project, although Hill eventually left the project. An article in the 12 Nov 1981 Marquee reported that director Sydney Pollack and Luedtke shared the same agent and, therefore, Pollack had access to the 250-page script. Although Pollack was concerned with the script’s length, he realized that Luedtke was an inexperienced screenwriter who lacked strong visuals in his script. However, Pollack resolved that Luedtke was a talented writer with an intriguing concept. Var announced that Luedtke sold the script to Orion Pictures for $250,000 and would receive another $100,000 and a share of the grosses, when the film broke even. Orion is not credited in the film.
       According to an item in the 20 Aug 1980 DV, Sydney Pollack approached Al Pacino and Diane Keaton to star in the film. Items in the 19 Sep 1980 DV and the 1 Oct 1980 Var reported that Sally Field was cast and Al Pacino was still being considered, but the 19 Nov 1980 Var reported that Paul Newman was cast in the film.
       As noted in an 11 Mar 1981 Var brief, the male lead was originally conceived as an Italian whose father was in the Mafia, and Newman’s casting necessitated a change in the character’s ethnicity. The Mafia angle was eliminated and the character’s name was changed to “Gallagher.”
       The 1 Oct 1980 Var reported that filming would start on 12 Nov 1980 in Miami, FL. Production notes in AMPAS library files noted that the film’s locations included the newsroom of the Miami Herald newspaper. According to the 1 Oct 1980 Var, Luedtke was a reporter at that newspaper from 1963-1965. The back of the Flagship National Bank was utilized for exterior shots of the film’s Miami Standard newspaper. Biscayne Bay was the location for scenes shot aboard Gallagher's yacht, the fictional “Rum Runner," and the actual name of the boat was “The Optimist.” Biscayne Bay was also the location for the film’s “Gallagher’s Imports” warehouse. An article in the 10 Jun 1989 TV Guide reported that Paul Newman, a well-known practical joker, snuck 200 live chickens into the office of the film’s production manager. The 11 Mar 1981 Var reported the film completed its three-month shoot that week. An article in the 23 Nov 1981 New York reported that, after previews, the ending of the film was changed slightly so that Newman’s character did not completely dismiss Field’s character. The producers and director did not want the exchange to sound “too final” and, therefore, softened it to indicate that the characters might see each other in the future.
       Production notes and the 21 Oct 1981 HR reported the world premiere of Absence of Malice would be held at the Eisenhower Theater of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on 15 Nov 1981. The screening was a benefit for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The 23 Oct 1981 HR reported that a 17 Nov 1981 screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of AMPAS in Los Angeles would benefit the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Southern California The movie was scheduled to open in Los Angeles and New York City on 20 Nov 1980 and would open nationally on 18 Dec 1981.
       An item in the 23 Nov 1981 DV reported that the film grossed $50,802 in its first three days in Los Angeles and New York City. Production notes stated that the film grossed $73,553 in the first four days of its release. The 4 Dec 1981 HR noted that the film was so successful in its limited engagements, it would expand one week earlier than planned to twenty-nine theaters in New York and Southern California. According to the 7 Dec 1981 HR, the film had grossed $369,044 to that time. An article in the 5 Jan 1982 DV reported the film’s box office total-to-date was $16,024,787. A chart in the 10 Feb 1982 HR listed Absence of Malice in second place of the top five films of the weekend. The film’s weekend gross was $1,837,530 on 932 screens. The chart also placed the film in third place on a list of the top five grossing movies that were currently in release. In eleven weeks and three days of release, the film grossed $32,739,501.
       Absence of Malice received three Academy Award nominations: Paul Newman for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Melinda Dillon for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Kurt Luedtke for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
       Absence of Malice was Kurt Luedtke’s first produced screenplay.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
20 Aug 1980.
---
Daily Variety
19 Sep 1980.
---
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1981.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jan 1982.
---
Esquire
Jul 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1981
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Dec 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 1982.
---
Los Angeles Times
20 Nov 1981
p. 1.
Marquee
12 Nov 1981.
---
New York
23 Nov 1981.
---
New York Times
19 Nov 1981
p. 21.
TV Guide
10 Jun 1989.
---
Variety
1 Oct 1980.
---
Variety
19 Nov 1980.
---
Variety
11 Mar 1981.
---
Variety
18 Nov 1981
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures Presents
A Sydney Pollack Film
A Mirage Enterprises Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Gaffer
Key grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Const coord
Const foreman
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Men`s cost
Women`s cost
MUSIC
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom man
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup artist
Ms. Field's makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Transportation coord
Loc mgr
Auditor
Asst auditor
Transportation capt
Transportation capt [Miami]
Prod coord
DETAILS
Release Date:
20 November 1981
Premiere Information:
Washington, DC premiere: 15 November 1981
New York and Los Angeles openings: 20 November 1981
Production Date:
12 November 1980 - early March 1981
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 December 1981
Copyright Number:
PA121605
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Deluxe®
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
115
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26332
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Headlines in Florida’s Miami Standard newspaper reveal that Joseph Diaz, a longshoremen union leader, has been missing for months and is presumed dead, although the police have no leads. Reporter Megan Carter visits the FBI task force headquarters, but the offices are empty as its members are watching footage of the funeral for bootlegger Tommy Gallagher. In the screening room, Elliot Rosen, head of the task force, points out Tommy’s brother, Santos Malderone, the head of local organized crime. He also focuses on Tommy’s son, Michael Colin Gallagher, a liquor supplier who is supposedly clean. However, Rosen is suspicious and orders his men, including Bob Waddell, to work a case against Gallagher. Later, Megan asks Bob why the task force is interested in Gallagher and he warns her to stay away, but Megan reports to her boss, “Mac” McAdam, that the task force must be investigating Gallagher regarding Diaz’s disappearance. Rosen agrees to meet Megan but deliberately places Gallagher’s file on his desk before her arrival, then leaves the room when she appears. Megan reads the file and writes an article claiming that Gallagher is a suspect in Diaz’s disappearance. The newspaper’s lawyer vets the article and asks Megan to call Gallagher so they can protect themselves legally; since the paper has no knowledge that the story is false, they are “absent malice” and cannot be sued. When the article is printed, Gallagher demands to know Megan’s source, but she refuses to answer and unsuccessfully interrogates Gallagher about Diaz’s disappearance. Elsewhere, District Attorney Quinn questions Rosen about the ... +


Headlines in Florida’s Miami Standard newspaper reveal that Joseph Diaz, a longshoremen union leader, has been missing for months and is presumed dead, although the police have no leads. Reporter Megan Carter visits the FBI task force headquarters, but the offices are empty as its members are watching footage of the funeral for bootlegger Tommy Gallagher. In the screening room, Elliot Rosen, head of the task force, points out Tommy’s brother, Santos Malderone, the head of local organized crime. He also focuses on Tommy’s son, Michael Colin Gallagher, a liquor supplier who is supposedly clean. However, Rosen is suspicious and orders his men, including Bob Waddell, to work a case against Gallagher. Later, Megan asks Bob why the task force is interested in Gallagher and he warns her to stay away, but Megan reports to her boss, “Mac” McAdam, that the task force must be investigating Gallagher regarding Diaz’s disappearance. Rosen agrees to meet Megan but deliberately places Gallagher’s file on his desk before her arrival, then leaves the room when she appears. Megan reads the file and writes an article claiming that Gallagher is a suspect in Diaz’s disappearance. The newspaper’s lawyer vets the article and asks Megan to call Gallagher so they can protect themselves legally; since the paper has no knowledge that the story is false, they are “absent malice” and cannot be sued. When the article is printed, Gallagher demands to know Megan’s source, but she refuses to answer and unsuccessfully interrogates Gallagher about Diaz’s disappearance. Elsewhere, District Attorney Quinn questions Rosen about the reason for Gallagher’s investigation and Rosen argues that pressure on Gallagher might produce information from his uncle, Santos Malderone. Meanwhile, Gallagher’s friend Teresa Perrone, a shy, Catholic school secretary, worries about the article because she was with Gallagher when Diaz disappeared. Gallagher tells her to be honest if questioned, but to refrain from revealing her whereabouts. Later, Megan arranges a meeting with Gallagher, who offers to take her to lunch. Wearing a wire, Megan boards Gallagher’s sailboat as the newspaper photographer who is following them tracks down a police helicopter for assistance. Gallagher reveals that he knows Megan is wired and demands information about her sources, but Megan remains uncooperative. Making his case, Gallagher insists that if Megan writes about his guilt, everyone believes her, but if he is proved innocent, the story will be buried in the paper and no one will know the truth. As a police helicopter flies overhead, the lunch ends and Gallagher returns to his warehouse where he finds workers on strike. Gallagher tries to convince the union representative that he was not involved in Diaz’s disappearance, but the man does not believe him and insists that longshoremen cannot work there. Later, Gallagher takes Megan to dinner and asks for her consideration, but he soon realizes that Malderone’s henchmen are following them. Gallagher meets with his uncle and promises that he will not help the task force. Sometime later, Teresa arranges a meeting with Megan and explains Gallagher’s alibi; Teresa was pregnant from her former boyfriend and Gallagher took her to an Atlanta, Georgia, abortionist on the day Diaz disappeared. Although Teresa is a staunch Catholic and begs Megan not to write about the abortion, Megan insists the information will clear Gallagher. When the story makes headlines, Teresa commits suicide. Upset, Megan goes to Gallagher’s warehouse but they argue and Gallagher rips Megan’s blouse. Before she leaves, Megan admits that Rosen leaked the story. Meanwhile, Rosen meets with Bob and insists that the investigation must continue despite Gallagher’s alibi. Elsewhere, Gallagher buys an answering machine and orders a bank check for $3,000, payable to District Attorney Quinn’s non-profit political organization. Gallagher then calls Quinn to set up a deal, promising to look into Diaz’s disappearance if Quinn makes a public statement clearing his name. Giving Quinn his phone number, Gallagher tells the District Attorney to call when the statement has made front-page news. Later, Gallagher brings a new blouse to Megan’s apartment and concedes that it was not easy for her to reveal Rosen’s name. Sometime later, Quinn orders Rosen to terminate the investigation and holds a news conference, clearing Gallagher. However, Rosen demands that Bob put both men under surveillance and orders an illegal wire tap on their phones. Megan brings Gallagher a proof of her article that clears his name, and, later, they are photographed as they enter her apartment building. The next morning, Gallagher leaves Megan’s building and returns to his warehouse, where he listens to a message from Quinn suggesting that they meet. That day, Gallagher disguises his voice and leaves incriminating messages on his own answering machine about the meeting. Gallagher also orders another check for Quinn’s non-profit organization. Meanwhile, Rosen and Bob discover the checks and study transcripts of the calls to conclude that Gallagher is bribing Quinn. When Bob tells Megan the news, she does not believe him, but Bob shows her the checks and photographs, including images of herself with Gallagher, and insists that she cannot print the story. That night, Megan cooks dinner for Gallagher and asks why Quinn made the public statement. Although Gallagher refuses to answer, Megan cannot let the subject drop and Gallagher leaves. Later, Quinn is shocked when Megan asks if he is receiving bribes and denies her claim, but Megan writes a story anyway, announcing that the task force is probing a link between Quinn and Gallagher. U.S. Assistant Attorney General James J. Wells assembles Gallagher, Megan, the newspaper’s lawyer, Quinn, Rosen and Bob for a formal inquiry into the Quinn-Gallagher article. Rosen fails to make his case, as Gallagher claims that he only promised Quinn to look into Diaz’s disappearance and argues that he donated money because he supported the organization. When Wells demands to know Megan’s sources, she admits that Rosen deliberately leaked the story about Gallagher but she refuses to implicate Bob. Wells realizes that Gallagher set up Quinn and the task force, but sympathizes with Gallagher regarding Teresa’s death. Wells dismisses Gallagher, Megan and Bob, but orders Quinn to resign. When Rosen refuses to leave the FBI, Wells fires him. Sometime later, Megan stops by Gallagher’s boat and learns that he has sold his home to sail North. Defending journalism as an honorable profession, Megan admits that she failed as a reporter but hopes to do better in the future. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.