Without a Trace (1983)

PG | 118 mins | Mystery | 4 February 1983

Director:

Stanley R. Jaffe

Writer:

Beth Gutcheon

Producer:

Stanley R. Jaffe

Cinematographer:

John Bailey

Production Designer:

Paul Sylbert
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HISTORY

       The 14 Nov 1980 Publishers Weekly reported producer-director Stanley R. Jaffe’s purchase of motion picture rights for Beth Gutcheon’s novel, Still Missing. Jaffe paid $350,000 for the property, and guaranteed five percent of the proposed film’s net profits to the author. The novel was due for publication in Spring 1981. A year later, the 25 Nov 1981 DV noted that the film, tentatively titled Still Missing, would mark Jaffe’s directorial debut. Principal photography began 6 Apr 1982 in New York City, under the official title, Without a Trace, as reported in the 30 Apr 1982 DV. An article in the 9 Mar 1983 DV stated that SLM Entertainment Ltd. supplied one third of marketing and final production costs, although no monetary figure was specified.
       According to the 31 Jul 1982 LAHExam, the novel was inspired by the 25 May 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz, the six-year-old son of Beth Gutcheon’s neighbors, Julie and Stanley Patz. Approximately two months following the incident, Gutcheon invited Julie Patz to discuss her feelings about the loss of her son, adding that she would write a short story on the subject. Although Gutcheon remembered getting the Patzes’ “blessing” to write and publish her novel, Julie Patz claimed ignorance of the author’s plans until “a much later date,” and was surprised to find herself quoted in the completed book. The Patzes had no plans to sue Gutcheon, as it would distract them from the search for Etan, and raise the ethical issue of profiting from the tragedy. ... More Less

       The 14 Nov 1980 Publishers Weekly reported producer-director Stanley R. Jaffe’s purchase of motion picture rights for Beth Gutcheon’s novel, Still Missing. Jaffe paid $350,000 for the property, and guaranteed five percent of the proposed film’s net profits to the author. The novel was due for publication in Spring 1981. A year later, the 25 Nov 1981 DV noted that the film, tentatively titled Still Missing, would mark Jaffe’s directorial debut. Principal photography began 6 Apr 1982 in New York City, under the official title, Without a Trace, as reported in the 30 Apr 1982 DV. An article in the 9 Mar 1983 DV stated that SLM Entertainment Ltd. supplied one third of marketing and final production costs, although no monetary figure was specified.
       According to the 31 Jul 1982 LAHExam, the novel was inspired by the 25 May 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz, the six-year-old son of Beth Gutcheon’s neighbors, Julie and Stanley Patz. Approximately two months following the incident, Gutcheon invited Julie Patz to discuss her feelings about the loss of her son, adding that she would write a short story on the subject. Although Gutcheon remembered getting the Patzes’ “blessing” to write and publish her novel, Julie Patz claimed ignorance of the author’s plans until “a much later date,” and was surprised to find herself quoted in the completed book. The Patzes had no plans to sue Gutcheon, as it would distract them from the search for Etan, and raise the ethical issue of profiting from the tragedy. While the Patzes believed the publicity surrounding the book and the film might aid in their son’s recovery, they were also concerned that the fictional story would be confused with their own. Gutcheon argued that her novel could just as easily describe a child abduction case anywhere in the United States. At the time of the article, the story had earned Gutcheon between $500,000 and $750,000.
       Despite the novel’s Boston, MA, setting, Jaffe chose to film in New York City’s Brooklyn Heights district, reportedly to contain production costs. Gutcheon stated that she and Jaffe consulted the Patzes on the decision, but Jaffe denies the claim, insisting that the story was a work of fiction with no specific connection to the Patz family. However, in their search for a young boy to play abduction victim “Alex Selky,” the filmmakers interviewed former classmates of Etan Patz, which dismayed Gutcheon, as well as the boy’s parents.
       Without a Trace opened 4 Feb 1983 in Los Angeles, CA, to mixed reviews. The film opened four months later in San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to the 14 Jun 1983 HR, where it earned $68,227 in the first week. While critics accused Jaffe of profiting from a family’s tragedy, he told the 13 Feb 1983 LAHExam that the picture raised public awareness of the more than 150,000 children who disappear annually.
       Etan Patz was pronounced legally dead in 2001. Two different suspects were implicated, but only one was officially charged. The trial was still in progress as of Mar 2015.
      End credits include the following statement: “The producers wish to thank the New York City Film Commission and the New York City Police Force for their cooperation in the making of this film.”
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
25 Nov 1981.
---
Daily Variety
30 Apr 1982.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jun 1982.
---
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1983
p. 1, 30.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Feb 1983
p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jun 1983.
---
LAHExam
31 Jul 1982
Part C, pp. 1-2.
LAHExam
13 Feb 1983
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
4 Feb 1983
p. 1, 14.
New York Times
4 Feb 1983
p. 8.
Publishers Weekly
14 Nov 1980.
---
Variety
7 Apr 1982.
---
Variety
1 Nov 1982.
---
Variety
2 Feb 1983
p. 18, 22.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Charles Brown
Sam J. Coppola
Videotape segments:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Stanley Jaffe Production
Produced and released by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Scr
Based upon her novel Still Missing
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Best boy
Still photog
Standby cine, New York
2d grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Props by
Asst prop
Chief carpenter
Chief const grip
Set dresser
Set dresser
Scenic chargeman
Scenic chargeman
Const grip
2d grip
Carpenter
COSTUMES
Cost des by
Women's costumer
Men's costumer
Prod asst to cost dept
MUSIC
Mus ed
La Da Productions
SOUND
Sd mixer
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Re-rec supv
Trans Audio, Inc.
Looping ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Addl casting
Addl casting
Extra casting
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Transportation capt
Asst prod office coord
Loc auditor
Videotape coord & asst loc mgr
Unit pub
Asst to the prod-dir
Office mgr-receptionist, Stanley Jaffe Productions
Casting asst
Prod asst
Driver
Driver
Driver
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
ANIMATION
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon (New York, 1981).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Still Missing
Release Date:
4 February 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 4 February 1983
Production Date:
began 6 April 1982
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
4 February 1983
Copyright Number:
PA163454
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
118
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26712
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On a March morning in Brooklyn Heights, New York, Susan Selky, an English professor at Columbia University, and her six-year-old son, Alex, prepare for their day. At 8:30 a.m., Susan gives Alex a goodbye hug and they go their separate ways. Susan enters her home seven hours later and watches through the window for Alex’s return. She telephones her friend, Jocelyn Norris, whose daughter informs them that Alex was absent from school. Jocelyn contacts police, and Detective Al Menetti is placed in charge of the case. He sets up a command center in Susan’s home, and questions her about possible suspects, including her estranged husband, Graham, a professor at New York University. A television news reporter asks to interview Susan, but Menetti advises against it, certain that media attention at this early stage will elicit false information. However, Susan agrees to an interview with reporter Vivienne Grant, hoping the publicity will hasten Alex’s return. During the interview, Susan explains that she allowed Alex to walk alone because of the school’s close proximity to their home, and the neighborhood’s low crime rate. Graham enters, having just learned of his son’s disappearance, and assures Menetti he was with a colleague most of the day. By morning, Graham believes his son may be dead, as a kidnapper would have demanded a ransom in the first several hours. Two hundred police officers and a pair of helicopters are dispatched to the neighborhood, but there is no sign of Alex. Menetti joins Susan and Graham at a neighborhood meeting, where he states that Alex was last seen on nearby Montague Street, but ... +


On a March morning in Brooklyn Heights, New York, Susan Selky, an English professor at Columbia University, and her six-year-old son, Alex, prepare for their day. At 8:30 a.m., Susan gives Alex a goodbye hug and they go their separate ways. Susan enters her home seven hours later and watches through the window for Alex’s return. She telephones her friend, Jocelyn Norris, whose daughter informs them that Alex was absent from school. Jocelyn contacts police, and Detective Al Menetti is placed in charge of the case. He sets up a command center in Susan’s home, and questions her about possible suspects, including her estranged husband, Graham, a professor at New York University. A television news reporter asks to interview Susan, but Menetti advises against it, certain that media attention at this early stage will elicit false information. However, Susan agrees to an interview with reporter Vivienne Grant, hoping the publicity will hasten Alex’s return. During the interview, Susan explains that she allowed Alex to walk alone because of the school’s close proximity to their home, and the neighborhood’s low crime rate. Graham enters, having just learned of his son’s disappearance, and assures Menetti he was with a colleague most of the day. By morning, Graham believes his son may be dead, as a kidnapper would have demanded a ransom in the first several hours. Two hundred police officers and a pair of helicopters are dispatched to the neighborhood, but there is no sign of Alex. Menetti joins Susan and Graham at a neighborhood meeting, where he states that Alex was last seen on nearby Montague Street, but no determination of criminal activity has been made. Susan and Graham ask their neighbors to circulate posters of Alex throughout the community. Later, Susan’s housekeeper, Phillippe Lucienne, visits on his day off to help with housework, and is questioned by police. In the evening, Menetti goes home to his wife, Pat, and two children, Marcia and Eugene. He complains to Pat about the scant progress he has made on the case, although three witnesses did see Alex in the company of a man dressed in leather. Menetti suspects that Alex is a victim of sexual abuse, and worries for his own son’s safety. He hires Mrs. Hauser, a psychic, who visualizes Alex riding in an older model blue car as it crosses the Charter Oak Bridge in Connecticut. However, none of the tollbooth attendants remember seeing the boy. Police find a new suspect in Neil Mooney, a child pornographer living Brooklyn, who stole his wife’s 1965 blue Cadillac the day before Alex disappeared. Meanwhile, Susan is invited to appear on a television talk show with Janet Smith, whose daughter is also missing. Janet cancels her appearance upon learning that her child drowned in a cistern, but Susan proceeds with the interview, hoping it will help her son. After several weeks, members of the investigation team are diverted to other cases, and Susan accuses Menetti of losing interest. He argues the he has not abandoned the case, and assures her that Neil Mooney’s arrest is imminent. However, when Mooney is arrested that evening, police discover he was not in Brooklyn on the day Alex vanished. As weeks pass, Graham accepts the possibility that Alex is dead, and advises Susan to do the same. She refuses, accusing Graham of not caring about their son. Meanwhile, Menetti’s preoccupation with the case has a negative effect on his home life, but he continues to explore new leads. One night, Graham is robbed and beaten after responding to a fraudulent telephone call from a woman demanding a $10,000 ransom for Alex. Susan appreciates Graham’s sacrifice and spends the night in the hospital at his bedside. On Independence Day, Menetti is notified of the arrest of Patrick Sullivan, alias Phillippe Lucienne, a convicted sex offender. In his possession is a pair of bloodied boy’s underpants, with “Alex Selky” on the nametag. Menetti presumes the boy is dead and personally delivers the news to Susan. She is devastated, but accepts Phillippe’s invitation to speak with him at the detention center. He denies hurting Alex, explaining that he cut himself while washing Susan’s dishes and used the underwear to absorb the blood. He adds that the rape conviction resulted from his homosexual affair with the son of a Mormon elder. Susan relates the story to Menetti, but he is convinced of Phillippe’s guilt. Undaunted, Susan continues to pursue the case, although the community no longer supports her. Jocelyn Norris recommends that Susan enter psychotherapy, believing she is obsessed with recovering her dead son. Susan becomes enraged and refuses to discuss the matter. Later, she receives a telephone call from Malvina Robbins, an elderly woman in Bridgeport, Connecticut, asking her to retrieve Alex from a neighbor’s home. When Susan reports the call to Menetti, he dismisses Ms. Robbins as a psychotic who telephones police twice a week to discuss her latest delusions. However, the next day, as Menetti drives his son, Eugene, to an amusement park, he suddenly steers the car toward Connecticut and deputizes the boy as his partner in a “secret mission.” Upon their arrival in Bridgeport, Malvina Robbins directs Menetti to the home of Anna Abel and her brother, Hank, which has an older, blue sedan in the driveway. Accompanied by local police officers, Menetti rings the Abels’ doorbell and Alex answers. Anna hobbles toward the door, aided by a walker, and she is placed under arrest. She blames Hank for Alex’s abduction, while explaining that she needs a caretaker while her brother works. Police escort Menetti back to Brooklyn, where he reunites Alex with his mother. +

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

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