Billy Bathgate (1991)

R | 108 mins | Drama | 1 November 1991

Director:

Robert Benton

Writer:

Tom Stoppard

Cinematographer:

Nestor Almendros

Production Designer:

Patrizia Von Brandenstein

Production Company:

Touchstone Pictures
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HISTORY

The 18 Nov 1988 LAHExam announced the Walt Disney Company’s $1 million acquisition of motion picture rights to the novel, Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow, scheduled for publication by Random House in Feb 1989. Eighteen months later, producer Arlene Donovan told the 13 May 1990 LAT that she was hoping for Doctorow’s involvement in the picture, referring to him as a “muse.” A news item in the 29 May 1990 DV estimated an Aug 1990 start of principal photography. The 11 Jul 1990 DV reported that location filming in Montreal, Canada, would likely be abandoned in favor North Carolina. Actor Dustin Hoffman, who was already committed to the project, was expected to receive writer Tom Stoppard’s screenplay within the next ten days. Although the 22 Jul 1990 Long Beach Press-Telegram stated that filming was delayed indefinitely, reportedly because Hoffman was dissatisfied with the current draft of the screenplay, the 8 Sep 1990 HR announced a 26 Sep 1990 start date.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Arlene Donovan suggested Hoffman for the role of “Dutch Schultz,” and director Robert Benton met with him the next morning to discuss the project. Benton interviewed Australian actress Nicole Kidman, based her performance in Dead Calm (1989), and offered her the role of “Drew Preston,” once she proved that she could cross her eyes and affect an American accent. Actor Loren Dean was given the title role for his ability to project “vulnerability and innocence,” while maturing as the story progressed. He was among the ... More Less

The 18 Nov 1988 LAHExam announced the Walt Disney Company’s $1 million acquisition of motion picture rights to the novel, Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow, scheduled for publication by Random House in Feb 1989. Eighteen months later, producer Arlene Donovan told the 13 May 1990 LAT that she was hoping for Doctorow’s involvement in the picture, referring to him as a “muse.” A news item in the 29 May 1990 DV estimated an Aug 1990 start of principal photography. The 11 Jul 1990 DV reported that location filming in Montreal, Canada, would likely be abandoned in favor North Carolina. Actor Dustin Hoffman, who was already committed to the project, was expected to receive writer Tom Stoppard’s screenplay within the next ten days. Although the 22 Jul 1990 Long Beach Press-Telegram stated that filming was delayed indefinitely, reportedly because Hoffman was dissatisfied with the current draft of the screenplay, the 8 Sep 1990 HR announced a 26 Sep 1990 start date.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Arlene Donovan suggested Hoffman for the role of “Dutch Schultz,” and director Robert Benton met with him the next morning to discuss the project. Benton interviewed Australian actress Nicole Kidman, based her performance in Dead Calm (1989), and offered her the role of “Drew Preston,” once she proved that she could cross her eyes and affect an American accent. Actor Loren Dean was given the title role for his ability to project “vulnerability and innocence,” while maturing as the story progressed. He was among the first three candidates to audition for the part. On 29 Sep 1990, Screen International revealed that actor John Malkovich was originally cast as “Otto Berman,” before being replaced by Stephen Hill.
       The art department was faced with the challenge of returning parts of New York City to the way they appeared in the 1930s. Basing designs on images culled from the New York Public Library and the Museum of the City of New York, storefronts were fitted with façades, lamp posts, pay telephones, and street markings were replaced with period replicas, and items such as air conditioners, security doors, and television antennas were removed with the promise of being replaced once production ended. A news item in the 5 Nov 1990 New York noted that a group, led by a man named Mustafa, interrupted production the previous month, demanding more African-American crewmembers be hired. A spokesman for Disney affiliate Touchstone Pictures asserted that “hiring minorities” was standard company policy.
       Racetrack sequences were filmed in Saratoga, NY, in late Sep 1990, a month after the track closed for the season. The groundsmen remained at their jobs to maintain the greenery, and sod was replaced with a fast-growing grass. Because the horses could only be raced around the track once per day, substitute horses were needed, all of which required the cooperation of the owners and the New York Racing Commission.
       After photography was completed in New York, the company moved to Hamlet, NC, a former railroad town that was relatively unchanged since the 1930s, with a main street featuring an abandoned movie theater, a transient hotel, and several empty storefronts. The tugboat sequences were filmed at Carolco Studios in Wilmington, NC. After photographing tugboat exteriors in New York City, a tugboat set was constructed to accommodate a variety of interior and exterior shots. The cabin set was built on a thirteen-ton steel frame, suspended fifteen feet off the ground by a crane, and moved manually to simulate motion. Only twenty actors and crewmembers were allowed on the set at any time, and weight racks required constant adjustment to compensate for “shifting bodies” as they moved about. Carolco studios also housed the “Embassy Club” and brothel sets. Production was completed in Durham, NC, where the diving pool at Duke University was used for Nicole Kidman’s underwater scene. The pool was lined with colorfast black cloth, weighted with chains to hide the tile walls and viewing window. Production was completed 10 Feb 1991.
       According to the 11 Nov 1991 Var, composer John Kander was offered several hundred thousand dollars to score the film. Although director Robert Benton was satisfied with Kander’s music, Disney executives were not and commissioned Mark Isham to write a new score.
       The 9 May 1991 DV reported that the picture’s 28 Jun 1991 release would be postponed until autumn, pending the reshooting of several scenes. Hoffman and Kidman were committed to other projects, making them unavailable over the summer. The 29 Apr 1991 Var estimated the picture’s cost at $45 million. The 21 Jul 1991 LAT noted that delays were common to the project, beginning with preproduction, which lasted three to four weeks longer than expected. After filming was completed, Robert Benton was given only sixteen weeks to prepare a “rough cut,” rather than the twenty-two weeks he had anticipated. The finished product was rejected by the studio, by Dustin Hoffman, and by Benton himself, who envisioned a different ending. On 5 Aug 1991, Var reported that Nicole Kidman had returned to New York City for reshoots. However, the 25 Aug 1991 LAT expected Hoffman to remain unavailable until completing Hook (1991, see entry), leaving the picture in limbo. The 12 Sep 1991 LAT announced a 1 Nov 1991 release, while the 2 Oct 1991 HR stated that additional filming would take place in the ensuing weeks. Two days later, the Oct 4 1991 HR reported that Introvision was currently filming a scene composed of miniatures and visual effects. The following week, the 10 Oct 1991 DV announced the completion of film’s new ending, which Disney executives would view the following day.
       Billy Bathgate opened to lukewarm reviews. Dustin Hoffman told the 31 Oct 1991 LAT that he was disappointed in the completed picture, claiming Benton ignored many of his suggestions, despite their agreement to collaborate on the project. Among his complaints was the absence of a “triangle” between “Billy,” “Drew,” and “Dutch,” and the humorless portrayal of Jewish gangsters, whom he described as “terrific, funny characters.” Writer Robert Kaufman agreed, telling the 10 Nov 1991 LAT that his late godfather, the real Dutch Schultz, “had a wicked sense of humor.” In a separate article in the 31 Oct 1991 LAT, Benton insisted that he honored his agreement with Hoffman, implementing the actor’s suggestions when they seemed feasible. Hoffman, who was also involved in casting, did not completely agree that Loren Dean was suited to the title role. Benton recounted other problems in making the film, such as a negotiated wage increase for members of the Teamsters union, resulting in a larger budget, and additional days being added to the North Carolina shoot. He defended his revised ending to the film, saying the screenplay originally allowed “Billy” to survive a gun battle without coming to the defense of his comrades, which seemed inconsistent with the character. He reshot a total of five scenes. Hoffman convinced Disney president Jeffrey Katzenberg to allow the additional filming, predicting that the picture would otherwise fail. Katzenberg reportedly considered replacing Benton, but could not be reached for comment at the time of the article. Hoffman requested another reshoot earlier that month, but was denied because of the film’s looming release date. Despite rumors to the contrary, Benton said that he and Hoffman remained close friends. Earlier in the year, the media nicknamed the picture “Billygate,” referring to the failed epic Heaven’s Gate (1980, see entry), which was plagued by similar delays.
       A “CinemaScore Movie Report” in the 5 Nov 1991 HR stated that sixty-three percent of viewers gave the film a high rating. The 424 participants were polled in St. Louis, MO; Los Angeles, CA; Las Vegas, NV; and Orlando, FL. Billy Bathgate was one of several films included in a promotional partnership between Touchstone Pictures and Coca-Cola, as reported in the 2 Oct 1991 HR.
       End credits include the following statement: “The producers wish to thank: The people of the cities of Hamlet, North Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina; Saratoga Springs, New York; The New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development; The Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre and Broadcasting of New York City.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
29 May 1990.
---
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1990
p. 2.
Daily Variety
8 May 1991.
---
Daily Variety
10 Oct 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Sep 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Oct 1991
p. 7, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1991.
---
LAHExam
18 Nov 1988.
---
Long Beach Press-Telegram
22 Jul 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 May 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Jul 1991
p. 26.
Los Angeles Times
25 Aug 1991
Section F, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
12 Sep 1991
Section F, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1991
Section F, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1991
Section F, p. 1, 6, 7.
Los Angeles Times
1 Nov 1991
Calendar, p. 1.
New York
5 Nov 1990
p. 17.
New York Times
1 Nov 1991
Section C, p. 1.
Screen International
29 Sep 1990.
---
Time
30 Sep 1991.
---
Variety
29 Apr 1991.
---
Variety
5 Aug 1991.
---
Variety
4 Nov 1991
p. 60.
Variety
11 Nov 1991.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Touchstone Pictures presents
In association with Touchwood Pacific Partners I
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
2d cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Chief lighting tech
Best boy elec
Best boy grip
Still photog
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Art dept coord
Art dir, North Carolina crew
Art dept coord, North Carolina crew
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
Apprentice film ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Const grip
Const consultant
Scenic artist
Cam scenic artist
Set dec, North Carolina crew
Asst set dec, North Carolina crew
Leadman, North Carolina crew
Const coord, North Carolina crew
Const foreman, North Carolina crew
Const foreman, North Carolina crew
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Men's cost supv
Men's cost supv
Women's cost supv
Costumer for Mr. Hoffman
Men's ward supv, North Carolina crew
Women's ward supv, North Carolina crew
MUSIC
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Score orch by
Mus scoring mixer
Score cond by
Orch contractor
Supv copyist
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
1st asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Supv ADR ed
Supv ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Asst ADR ed
Foley artist
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec at
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Title des
Title des
Titles and opticals
"Tugboat" opt by
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artists for Mr. Willis
Spec eff makeup artist
Hair des by
Hairstylist
Hairstylist to Mr. Willis
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Supv prod coord
Supv prod coord
Prod assoc
Asst to Mr. Colesberry
Asst to Mr. Hoffman
Asst to Ms. Kidman
Loc mgr
Set prod asst
Prod accountant
Post-prod accountant
Consultant to Robert Benton
Dialect coach
Juggling teacher
Magic coach
Race horse coord
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Extras casting
Extras casting
NY extras casting
NY extras casting
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Craft service
Hamlet loc mgr, North Carolina crew
Transportation capt, North Carolina crew
Transportation capt, North Carolina crew
Prod controller, North Carolina crew
Loc accountant, North Carolina crew
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt coord
Stunt pilot
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Prod and dist on
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based upon the novel Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow (New York, 1989).
SONGS
“Oyfn Pripetshok (On The Hearth),” written by Mark Warshawsky, instrumental arrangement by Dick Hyman
“Bye Bye Blackbird,” written by Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon, arrangement by Dick Hyman
“I'm In The Mood for Love,” written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, arrangement by Dick Hyman
+
SONGS
“Oyfn Pripetshok (On The Hearth),” written by Mark Warshawsky, instrumental arrangement by Dick Hyman
“Bye Bye Blackbird,” written by Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon, arrangement by Dick Hyman
“I'm In The Mood for Love,” written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, arrangement by Dick Hyman
“I Only Have Eyes For You,” written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, performed by Eddy Duchin and His Orchestra, courtesy of RCA Records label of BMG Music
“Oyfn Pripetshok (On The Hearth),” written by Mark Warshawsky, instrumental arrangement by Mark Isham
“Bye Bye Blackbird,” written by Ray Henderson and Mort Dixon, orchestrated by Michael Gibson
Franz Schubert, “Der Hirt Auf Dem Flesem, (The Shepherd On The Rock),” performed by Helen Donath, soprano, Dieter Klöcker, clarinet, Klaus Donath, piano, courtesy of Acanta/Pilz Compact Disc, by arrangement with Sounds of Film
“Who,” written by Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach, orchestrated by Michael Gibson
“My Romance,” written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, arranged by Dick Hyman
“Washington Post March,” written by John Philip Sousa, arranged by R. Earley
“The Mule Walk,” written and performed by James P. Johnson, courtesy of Columbia Records, by arrangement with Sony Music Licensing.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
1 November 1991
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 1 November 1991
Production Date:
26 September 1990--10 February 1991
Copyright Claimant:
Touchstone Pictures, an accepted alternative of the Walt Disney Company
Copyright Date:
14 November 1991
Copyright Number:
PA545071
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
108
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
31476
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1935 New York City, crime boss Dutch Schultz abducts employee Bo Weinberg and his girl friend, Drew Preston. Aboard a tugboat in the harbor, Dutch’s lieutenant, Irving, binds Bo’s hands and places his feet in a tub of concrete, while the gangster’s young protégé, Billy Behan, looks on. Bo Weinberg reminds Schultz that he the helped build the gangster’s empire and committed murders on its behalf, and reminds Schultz of the time he saved the gangster’s life. Dutch ignores Bo’s entreaties and takes Drew below deck to get acquainted. Bo advises Billy to separate himself from Dutch, who will soon be overtaken by his rivals. He asks how Billy became involved with the gang, and the boy recalls attracting Dutch’s attention by juggling for him. Impressed with the boy’s skill, Dutch gives him $5, which he uses to buy a gun. That evening, Billy tells his girl friend, Rebecca, about his plans to pursue a career with the Schultz organization. Later, Billy gains entry to Dutch’s office where “bagmen” deliver money from the gang’s numbers racket. When Billy presents the clerk with a paper bag containing cupcakes, Dutch appreciates the gesture and instructs accountant Otto Berman to hire the boy to do odd jobs. Otto is impressed with Billy’s audacity, describing him as “a kid with luck.” Billy proves his loyalty by identifying rival gangster Jack Kelly, whom he witnessed encroaching on the numbers operation. Unable to contact enforcer Bo Weinberg, Dutch murders Jack Kelly himself. Days later, Billy listens outside the door as Otto Berman informs Dutch that Bo Weinberg recently returned from ... +


In 1935 New York City, crime boss Dutch Schultz abducts employee Bo Weinberg and his girl friend, Drew Preston. Aboard a tugboat in the harbor, Dutch’s lieutenant, Irving, binds Bo’s hands and places his feet in a tub of concrete, while the gangster’s young protégé, Billy Behan, looks on. Bo Weinberg reminds Schultz that he the helped build the gangster’s empire and committed murders on its behalf, and reminds Schultz of the time he saved the gangster’s life. Dutch ignores Bo’s entreaties and takes Drew below deck to get acquainted. Bo advises Billy to separate himself from Dutch, who will soon be overtaken by his rivals. He asks how Billy became involved with the gang, and the boy recalls attracting Dutch’s attention by juggling for him. Impressed with the boy’s skill, Dutch gives him $5, which he uses to buy a gun. That evening, Billy tells his girl friend, Rebecca, about his plans to pursue a career with the Schultz organization. Later, Billy gains entry to Dutch’s office where “bagmen” deliver money from the gang’s numbers racket. When Billy presents the clerk with a paper bag containing cupcakes, Dutch appreciates the gesture and instructs accountant Otto Berman to hire the boy to do odd jobs. Otto is impressed with Billy’s audacity, describing him as “a kid with luck.” Billy proves his loyalty by identifying rival gangster Jack Kelly, whom he witnessed encroaching on the numbers operation. Unable to contact enforcer Bo Weinberg, Dutch murders Jack Kelly himself. Days later, Billy listens outside the door as Otto Berman informs Dutch that Bo Weinberg recently returned from Saratoga, New York, where he arranged the takeover of the Schultz empire by a rival organization. With Dutch facing trial for tax evasion, Otto Berman deduces that Bo Weinberg is trying to secure his future. Billy supplies proof of Bo’s betrayal by presenting his employer with a gambling chip bearing the name of a Saratoga casino, that fell from the enforcer’s pocket. Meanwhile, Dutch’s attorney, “Dixie” Davis, moves the trial to Onondaga, New York, a small town where the gangster’s exploits are relatively unknown. Otto gives Billy $50 to buy a new suit, explaining that the boy will accompany Dutch to Onondaga as his protégé. Billy returns home to Bathgate Avenue in The Bronx, New York, telling Rebecca about his life with the Schultz gang. He gives his beleaguered mother a large amount of money, saying he has found work upstate, but she is indifferent. On the tugboat, Bo Weinberg’s dying wish is that Billy promises to protect Drew from the Schultz gang. Meanwhile, Dutch advises Drew to forget Bo, as he is effectively dead. When Drew complies, Dutch claims that a plea for Bo’s life might have saved him. Upon returning to shore, Billy accompanies Drew to her apartment, which she shares with her homosexual husband, Harvey Preston. He then escorts her to a tryst with Dutch. Four weeks prior to the trial, Dutch, Otto, Irving, Billy, and an enforcer named Lulu, relocate to Onondaga, where they plan to ingratiate themselves with the townspeople. Despite Otto Berman’s objections, Drew is permitted to join them, under the guise of being Billy’s governess. Dutch enhances his reputation by depositing thousands of dollars in the local bank, presiding over a church bingo game, assisting struggling farmers, and portraying himself as an honest businessman who is being persecuted by the government. During a walk through the forest, Drew asks Billy to recount Bo Weinberg’s final moments, and she is touched by the boy’s promise to protect her. Upon returning to the hotel, Billy overhears Otto’s disapproval of Drew’s presence, saying her knowledge of Bo’s murder could further incriminate Dutch. However, the gangster is certain that a threat of physical harm will ensure her silence. Drew openly flirts with Billy, despite his warning that she not antagonize Dutch. However, Drew dismisses Dutch as “a very ordinary man” and “my gangster.” Hoping to further endear himself to the people of Onondaga, Dutch converts to Roman Catholicism, with the sponsorship of Mafioso Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Afterward, Dutch and his entourage retire to the hotel to question associate Julie Martin about allegations of embezzlement. Julie admits to taking the money, saying he deserved it, and Dutch shoots him in the face. While Irving disposes of the body, Lulu punches Billy in the nose to create an alibi for the bloodstain on the carpet. As a reward for Billy’s loyalty, Dutch makes him an official member of the gang. Fearing that Drew’s presence in court will reflect badly on the married Dutch, Otto Berman orders her to leave town. Drew decides on a trip to Saratoga with Billy as her companion. Unaware that Lucky Luciano is spying on them, Drew seduces Billy the night of their arrival. In the morning, Billy is terrified that Dutch might learn of his transgression, and believes his good luck may have run out. Otto telephones, instructing Billy to take Drew to the racetrack that afternoon, and to maintain a safe distance. Realizing that Drew’s life is in danger, Billy telephones Harvey Preston, asking him to take back his wife. At the track, Billy surrounds Drew with a large flower arrangement and tells her to remain in her seat, while Irving and Lulu search the stands. Drew casually mentions that she remembers meeting Lucky Luciano when she visited Saratoga with Bo Weinberg. As Irving takes aim at Drew, her husband appears and takes her to his car. Billy joins the gunmen as they follow the Prestons to a clearing and watch the couple leave in their private airplane. Billy assures them that Drew was unaware of the plot against her. After Dutch wins his trial, District Attorney Thomas Dewey indicts him on new charges. Otto Berman convinces Dutch not to kill the prosecutor, certain he can bribe a city official named Mr. Hines to have the charges dropped. While Dutch and his entourage wait at the Palace Chop House in Newark, New Jersey, Billy delivers $17,000 to Hines. The official refuses the money, saying Dewey will not be dissuaded. Billy enters the Palace Chop House to return the money, and informs Dutch that Lucky Luciano was plotting against him with Bo Weinberg. Dutch is infuriated by the news and strikes Billy. Otto Berman fires the boy and gives him the $17,000 as severance pay. As Billy leaves, gunmen enter and kill his former comrades. Billy is brought before Lucky Luciano, who is in league with Dutch’s attorney, Dixie Davis. Although Dixie swears that Dutch’s empire is bankrupt, Billy insists that several million dollars are stored in Otto Berman’s safe. He offers his severance pay as proof, and Dixie is subjected to an aggressive interrogation. Lucky shows his appreciation by letting Billy live, but is uneasy about the boy’s knowledge of the underworld and promises to keep abreast of his activities. Billy asks for his money back, and the gangster complies. Outside, Lucky’s driver offers Billy a ride home, but he prefers to walk. +

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

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