The War of the Roses (1989)

R | 116 mins | Comedy-drama | 8 December 1989

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HISTORY

       The film’s story is framed by the narrative of character “Gavin D’Amato,” a divorce attorney who warns a potential client about the hazards of dissolving a marriage.
       According to an 18 Oct 1985 Publishers Weekly article, Warren Adler’s 1981 novel, The War of the Roses, was first optioned by the Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown production team at Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, where Adler wrote an initial film adaptation. A Sep 1980 issue of Box announced the deal. Although Publishers Weekly stated that Adler’s literary agent, Peter Lampack, brought the property to Paramount Pictures’ producer James L. Brooks when the Zanuck-Brown option lapsed, studio production notes in AMPAS library files reported that filmmaker Polly Platt, who had recently worked with James L. Brooks as production designer on Terms of Endearment (1983, see entry), gave Brooks the Adler novel. Platt is credited onscreen as executive producer.
       Before moving forward with The War of the Roses, Brooks and his company, Gracie Films, became associated with Twentieth Century Fox, returning the property to its first studio. However, Israeli entrepreneur Arnon Milchan had since acquired screen rights to The War of the Roses from Lampack and Zanuck-Brown for $40,000, according to a 27 Dec 1989 Var brief. Milchan released ownership of the picture for $300,000 and a producer’s credit. Although Var stated that Milchan was not involved with production, his personal assistant is credited onscreen, suggesting that he played some role in the making of the picture.
       At the time of Brooks’ move ... More Less

       The film’s story is framed by the narrative of character “Gavin D’Amato,” a divorce attorney who warns a potential client about the hazards of dissolving a marriage.
       According to an 18 Oct 1985 Publishers Weekly article, Warren Adler’s 1981 novel, The War of the Roses, was first optioned by the Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown production team at Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, where Adler wrote an initial film adaptation. A Sep 1980 issue of Box announced the deal. Although Publishers Weekly stated that Adler’s literary agent, Peter Lampack, brought the property to Paramount Pictures’ producer James L. Brooks when the Zanuck-Brown option lapsed, studio production notes in AMPAS library files reported that filmmaker Polly Platt, who had recently worked with James L. Brooks as production designer on Terms of Endearment (1983, see entry), gave Brooks the Adler novel. Platt is credited onscreen as executive producer.
       Before moving forward with The War of the Roses, Brooks and his company, Gracie Films, became associated with Twentieth Century Fox, returning the property to its first studio. However, Israeli entrepreneur Arnon Milchan had since acquired screen rights to The War of the Roses from Lampack and Zanuck-Brown for $40,000, according to a 27 Dec 1989 Var brief. Milchan released ownership of the picture for $300,000 and a producer’s credit. Although Var stated that Milchan was not involved with production, his personal assistant is credited onscreen, suggesting that he played some role in the making of the picture.
       At the time of Brooks’ move to Twentieth Century Fox, Adler’s adaptation was scrapped for a new version by screenwriter–co-producer Michael Leeson, who previously worked with both Brooks and actor-director Danny DeVito on the television series Taxi (ABC, 1978--1982). As stated in production notes, Leeson sent DeVito the script before the actor directed his first feature film, Throw Momma from the Train (1987, see entry). DeVito remembered that he wanted to direct The War of the Roses, but was not able to move ahead with the project until he and Brooks “started talking seriously” about the film on the Newhall, CA, set of Throw Momma from the Train. Due to DeVito’s longtime friendship with actor Michael Douglas and their successful work together with Kathleen Turner on Romancing the Stone (1984, see entry) and its sequel, The Jewel of the Nile (1985, see entry), the filmmakers were able to secure commitments from the two actors. German actress Marianne Sägebrecht was recruited for the role of “Susan,” even though the part was initially intended for a college student. According to production notes, the role was rewritten to accomodate Sägebrecht’s casting.
       HR production charts on 4 Apr 1989 stated that principal photography began 21 Mar 1989 in Los Angeles, CA, and Coupeville, WA. The town, located on Whidbey Island, represented Nantucket, MA, and had never before been used as a feature film location, according to production notes. Three weeks into production, the 7 Apr 1989 LAHExam reported that a snow scene was filmed on a back lot at Universal Studios the previous evening, depicting Christmas Eve in Cambridge, MA. Two days later, a 9 Apr 1989 LAT news item stated that the production had moved to Coupeville, where DeVito reportedly received a ransom note on his rental car, for the return of stolen dailies. Amused by the incident, DeVito noted that the production team still had the negatives, so the theft was inconsequential. As stated in production notes, additional locations included a house on Freemont Place in the Hancock Park district of Los Angeles, which was adorned with exterior columns to appear consistent with suburban homes near Washington, D.C. However, most scenes at the Roses’ residence were shot on Stage 6 at Twentieth Century Fox. A 16 Nov 1989 Rolling Stone article listed a budget of $26 million.
       On 20 Oct 1989, LAHExam stated that filming ended 25 Jul 1989, but the picture was still in post-production despite its 8 Dec 1989 release date. Twentieth Century Fox explained that the delay was due in part to reshoots with Douglas and Turner.
       Despite setbacks in post-production, The War of the Roses made its 8 Dec 1989 release date, but received mixed reviews. While the 4 Dec 1989 HR called the film “deliciously perverse,” the 4 Dec 1989 DV complained about its gratuitous display of wealth and referred to its humor as “sordid and tedious nonsense.”

      Included in the end credits is the following acknowledgement: “The producers wish to thank: Clayton Brown/Amtrak, Can-Do Island Services, David Davis, Peter DePalma, William Goldman, Nikki Allyn Grosso, Charles Jourdan, Inc., Havey Miller, Christine Rogers, Ed Weinberger, WTTG/Washington, D.C., and Remus Yazoo.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Sep 1980.
---
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1986.
---
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1989
p. 2, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 May 1989
p. 26.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1989
p. 4, 19.
LAHExam
7 Apr 1989.
---
LAHExam
20 Oct 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Apr 1989
pp. 29-30.
Los Angeles Times
8 Dec 1989
p. 1.
New York Times
8 Dec 1989
p. 16.
Publishers Weekly
18 Oct 1985.
---
Rolling Stone
16 Nov 1989
p. 40.
Variety
6 Dec 1989
p. 32.
Variety
27 Dec 1989.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Gracie Films Production
A Danny DeVito Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir, Washington unit
1st asst dir, Philadelphia 2d unit
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op, Cam
1st asst cam, Cam
2d asst cam, Cam
Panaglide op, Cam
Panaglide asst, Cam
Louma crane tech, Cam
Louma crane tech, Cam
Still photog, Cam
Addl asst, Cam
Addl asst, Cam
Process projection coord, Cam
Process eng, Cam
Process gang boss, Cam
Gaffer, Lighting
Best boy, Lighting
Best boy, Lighting
Lamp op, Lighting
Lamp op, Lighting
Lamp op, Lighting
Lamp op, Lighting
Lamp op, Lighting
Key grip, Set op
Best boy, Set op
Best boy, Set op
Dolly grip, Set op
Grip, Set op
Grip, Set op
Dir of photog, Philadelphia 2d unit
Cranes and dollies by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir, Art Dept
Sketch artist, Art dept
Art coord, Art dept
FILM EDITORS
Assoc ed, Ed
2d asst ed, Ed
Asst ed, Ed
Asst ed, Ed
Asst ed, Ed
Apprentice ed, Ed
Apprentice ed, Ed
Negative cutter, Post prod
Kona Cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des, Art dept
Set des, Art dept
Set des, Art dept
Set painter, Art dept
Supv foreman, Const
Supv foreman, Const
Propmaker foreman, Const
Labor foreman, Const
Labor foreman, Const
Paint foreman, Const
Greensman, Const
Loc prop foreman, Const
Loc painter, Const
Prop master, Prop
Asst prop master, Prop
2d asst props, Prop
Food styling, Prop
Leadman, Set dec
Swing gang, Set dec
Swing gang, Set dec
Swing gang, Set dec
Leadman, Washington unit
Water col paintings in Gavin D'Amatos's office by
Selected orig paintings
COSTUMES
Cost des
Suits and selected ward for Michael Douglas by
Paris
Men's key costumer, Costumes
Women's key costumer, Costumes
Women's costumer, Costumes
MUSIC
Mus ed, Post prod
Segue Music
Scoring mixer, Post prod
Mus glass performance by
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Sd mixer, Sd
Boom op, Sd
Cable person, Sd
Video asst op, Sd
Dial ed, Post prod
Dial ed, Post prod
Dial ed, Post prod
Dolby consultant, Post prod
Eff ed, Post prod
Eff ed, Post prod
Foley supv, Post prod
Foley ed, Post prod
Foley ed, Post prod
Foley mixer, Post prod
Foley walker, Post prod
Foley walker, Post prod
Group ADR Coord, Post prod
Re-rec at, Post prod
Re-rec mixer, Post prod
Re-rec mixer, Post prod
Re-rec mixer, Post prod
Re-rec mixer, Post prod
Rec, Post prod
Rec, Post prod
1st asst sd ed, Post prod
Asst sd ed, Post prod
Asst sd ed, Post prod
Asst sd ed, Post prod
Asst sd ed, Post prod
Asst sd ed, Post prod
Asst sd ed, Post prod
Apprentice sd ed, Post prod
Apprentice sd ed, Post prod
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title seq by
Title seq by
Spec eff supv, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Spec eff tech, Spec eff
Opt, Post prod
Title coord, Post prod
MAKEUP
Makeup supv, Makeup and hair
Key hair stylist, Makeup and hair
Makeup artist, Makeup and hair
Addl hair stylist, Makeup and hair
Body makeup, Makeup and hair
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner body doubles c
Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner body doubles c
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Exec in charge of prod for Gracie Films
Senior prod assoc
Casting asst, Casting
Casting asst, Casting
Loc mgr, Loc
Asst loc mgr, Loc
Script supv, Prod
Prod coord, Prod
Prod auditor, Prod
Exec asst to James L. Brooks, Prod
Spec asst to the prod, Prod
Asst to Mr. DeVito, Prod
Asst to Mr. Sakai, Prod
Asst to Mr. Milchan, Prod
Asst to Mr. Leeson, Prod
Dial coach for Ms. Sägebrecht, Prod
Asst auditor, Prod
Accounting asst, Prod
Prod asst, Prod
Prod asst, Prod
Prod asst, Prod
Prod asst, Prod
Prod asst, Prod
Prod intern, Prod
Prod intern, Prod
Prod intern, Prod
Pub
Craft services, Set op
Nurse, Set op
Transportation coord, Transportation
Transportation capt, Transportation
Transportation co-capt, Transportation
Head animal trainer, Wranglers
Head animal trainer, Wranglers
Trainer, Wranglers
Trainer, Wranglers
Loc mgr, Washington unit
Prod secy, Washington unit
Loc extras casting, Washington unit
STAND INS
Standin, Prod
Standin, Prod
Standin, Prod
Stunt coord, Stunts
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer, Post prod
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The War of the Roses by Warren Adler (New York, 1981).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Only You (And You Alone)," written by Buck Ram and Ande Rana, performed by The Platters, courtesy of PolyGram Special Projects, a division of PolyGram Records, Inc.
"We Wish You A Merry Christmas," arranged by Sam Pottie, performed by Sesame Street Cast, courtesy of Children's Television Workshop
"Pretty Lady, Lovely Lady," written and performed by Nicky Addeo.
DETAILS
Release Date:
8 December 1989
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 8 December 1989
New York opening: week of 8 December 1989
Production Date:
21 March -- 25 July 1989 in Los Angeles, CA, and Coupeville, WA
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
13 December 1989
Copyright Number:
PA439811
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex® camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
116
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30033
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Warning a potential client about the perils of divorce, a chain-smoking attorney named Gavin D’Amato tells the story of Oliver and Barbara Rose, who met at a Nantucket estate auction, both bidding on the same, mistakenly undervalued 18th-century Chinese homunculus statuette. When Barbara outbids Oliver, the two become attracted to each other, make love, and decide to marry. Three years later, the Roses have a family of boisterous twins, Josh and Carolyn, who distract Oliver from his efforts to complete a Harvard University law degree. One Christmas Eve, Oliver is busy with his studies, but Barbara insists they go for a walk and surprises her husband with an antique Morgan automobile. In the years to come, Oliver becomes an associate lawyer at a firm with Gavin, and angles for a more prestigious role. Sometime later, Barbara discovers that the owner of her “dream home” has died, and the Roses move into the mansion. Over the next six years, Oliver becomes a senior partner while Barbara refurbishes the house. Once the remodeling is complete, Barbara announces her plan to start a small business, selling pâté to fellow housewives. Anticipating a lucrative enterprise, Barbara buys an enormous sport utility (SUV) truck for $25,000. As her business flourishes and the Rose twins prepare to attend Harvard, Oliver persuades his wife to hire a live-in housekeeper named Susan. In time, Oliver’s ambition becomes a source of great annoyance to Barbara, who is trying to promote her new catering career. When Oliver fails to read her catering business contract, an argument ensues, and Barbara uses her strength as a gymnast to squeeze Oliver’s waist between ... +


Warning a potential client about the perils of divorce, a chain-smoking attorney named Gavin D’Amato tells the story of Oliver and Barbara Rose, who met at a Nantucket estate auction, both bidding on the same, mistakenly undervalued 18th-century Chinese homunculus statuette. When Barbara outbids Oliver, the two become attracted to each other, make love, and decide to marry. Three years later, the Roses have a family of boisterous twins, Josh and Carolyn, who distract Oliver from his efforts to complete a Harvard University law degree. One Christmas Eve, Oliver is busy with his studies, but Barbara insists they go for a walk and surprises her husband with an antique Morgan automobile. In the years to come, Oliver becomes an associate lawyer at a firm with Gavin, and angles for a more prestigious role. Sometime later, Barbara discovers that the owner of her “dream home” has died, and the Roses move into the mansion. Over the next six years, Oliver becomes a senior partner while Barbara refurbishes the house. Once the remodeling is complete, Barbara announces her plan to start a small business, selling pâté to fellow housewives. Anticipating a lucrative enterprise, Barbara buys an enormous sport utility (SUV) truck for $25,000. As her business flourishes and the Rose twins prepare to attend Harvard, Oliver persuades his wife to hire a live-in housekeeper named Susan. In time, Oliver’s ambition becomes a source of great annoyance to Barbara, who is trying to promote her new catering career. When Oliver fails to read her catering business contract, an argument ensues, and Barbara uses her strength as a gymnast to squeeze Oliver’s waist between her thighs. At a lunch meeting the following day, Oliver convulses in pain and believes he is dying from a heart attack, but soon learns he has a harmless hernia and attributes it to Barbara’s leg grip the previous evening. When Barbara fails to arrive at the hospital, Oliver returns home with a note he scrawled when he thought he was near death, declaring to Barbara: “All I am and all I have I owe to you.” However, Barbara is unmoved. She later confesses that she felt happy at the prospect of Oliver’s death and asks for a divorce. Sometime later, the couple meets Barbara’s divorce lawyer, Harry Thurmont, who states that Barbara wants nothing from Oliver but the house and its contents. When Oliver insists that his earnings paid for the home, the attorney quotes Oliver’s “deathbed” note. Enraged, Oliver declares war on his wife and vows she will never get the house. He seeks legal support from Gavin, who shows Oliver a little-known precedent stating that a divorcing couple can still live under one roof. Gavin suggests Oliver move back into the house to demonstrate his commitment to the property. On Christmas Eve, the Rose family awkwardly gathers around their decorated tree. The lights dim, and Barbara declares that there is a short circuit, but Oliver insists the blackout is due to a misplaced ornament. Later that evening, the tree catches fire and Barbara gloats over Oliver’s error. On another night, Barbara refuses to share her sleep medications with Oliver, and he accidentally kills her beloved cat on his way to the pharmacy. Taking revenge, Barbara locks Oliver in his sauna. Although she lets him out, hoping he will finally relent and leave the house, Oliver’s conviction only grows stronger and he later saws the heels off Barbara’s extensive shoe collection. In yet another attempt to rid herself of Oliver, Barbara attempts to seduce Gavin, hoping he will reason with Oliver. Soon, the twins leave for college and Susan ends her employment at the house. When Gavin warns his client to end the battle, Oliver fires the attorney and proceeds to disrupt Barbara’s business dinner party. Enraged, Barbara drives her SUV over Oliver’s restored Morgan as her guests watch in horror. On another evening, during an electrical blackout, Barbara invites Oliver to a candlelit supper and both are suspicious of being poisoned. When Barbara begs Oliver to leave yet again, he confesses that he still loves her and wants to restore their relationship. In retaliation, Barbara declares that her liver pâté is made from Oliver’s dog, Bennie. While the dog sits in the yard unharmed, Oliver chases Barbara through the house and nails the front door shut, so neither can leave. Barbara hides in the attic, but Oliver finds his wife and attempts to rape her. Playing along, Barbara bites her husband’s penis. Just then, Susan sneaks back into the house with concern for the couple and Oliver forces her to go away. He drunkenly sings to Barbara and lures her out of hiding with the announcement that he has a “gift” for her – the 18th-century Chinese homunculus statuette that Barbara won in the estate auction the day they met. As she reaches for it from the top of the stairs, Oliver pulls a string he attached to the ornament and snatches it away. Referring to the antique that provoked their bidding war years earlier, Oliver declares that he will give Barbara everything in the house if she says: “It’s mine.” Twisting his words, Barbara replies, “It’s mine,” inferring that the homunculus belongs to her. In response, Oliver smashes the artifact with an iron poker and Barbara bends over in pain, covering her eye. Oliver runs up the stairs to help, but she retaliates, hitting him with the rod. Losing balance, Barbara falls through the banister and clings for life to the foyer’s chandelier. Oliver offers to save her in return for the house. When he tries to catch the chandelier with the iron poker, he, too, is trapped on the light fixture. Outside, Susan waits for Gavin to respond to her urgent call for help. When he arrives, the couple begs him to get a ladder, but it is too late. The chandelier smashes to the ground. In his last moments of life, Oliver places his hand on Barbara’s shoulder, but she weakly tosses it aside, and Susan and Gavin find the couple dead. Back in the present, Gavin warns his new client that there is no such thing as a civil divorce and suggests that he try to restore love in his faded relationship. The attorney then finishes his last cigarette and goes home to his new wife. +

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

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