Foul Play (1978)

PG | 116 mins | Comedy | 1978

Full page view
HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Licia Hurst, a student at University of California, Los Angeles, with Jonathan Furner as academic advisor.

According to a 13 Aug 1977 LAT news item, writer-director Colin Higgins wrote the screenplay, originally entitled Killing Lydia, with actress Goldie Hawn in mind for the role of “Gloria Mundy.” Higgins and Hawn were first introduced by Hal Ashby, who directed Harold and Maude (1971, see entry), Higgins’s feature film screenwriting debut. Hawn was quoted in a 27 Nov 1977 LAT article as saying she had read the script a few years earlier and tried to acquire the rights with producing partner Julia Phillips, but was unable to obtain financing. Higgins put the project aside to pen Silver Streak (1976, see entry), which eventually grossed $75 million, as stated in the 27 Nov 1977 LAT. The success of Silver Streak allowed Higgins to move forward as director on Foul Play. However, when the film was picked up by Paramount Pictures, Hawn was not available. At the studio’s behest, producers Thomas L. Miller and Edward K. Milkis approached Farrah Fawcett-Majors to star, but Fawcett-Majors’s legal battles with the producers of the television series, Charlie’s Angels (ABC, 22 Sep 1976--19 Aug 1981), inhibited her availability. Returning to work after the birth of her son, Oliver Hudson, Hawn officially signed on as the female lead.
       In a 24 Jan 1981 LAT interview, Higgins recalled that Harrison Ford, who had done part-time ... More Less

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Licia Hurst, a student at University of California, Los Angeles, with Jonathan Furner as academic advisor.

According to a 13 Aug 1977 LAT news item, writer-director Colin Higgins wrote the screenplay, originally entitled Killing Lydia, with actress Goldie Hawn in mind for the role of “Gloria Mundy.” Higgins and Hawn were first introduced by Hal Ashby, who directed Harold and Maude (1971, see entry), Higgins’s feature film screenwriting debut. Hawn was quoted in a 27 Nov 1977 LAT article as saying she had read the script a few years earlier and tried to acquire the rights with producing partner Julia Phillips, but was unable to obtain financing. Higgins put the project aside to pen Silver Streak (1976, see entry), which eventually grossed $75 million, as stated in the 27 Nov 1977 LAT. The success of Silver Streak allowed Higgins to move forward as director on Foul Play. However, when the film was picked up by Paramount Pictures, Hawn was not available. At the studio’s behest, producers Thomas L. Miller and Edward K. Milkis approached Farrah Fawcett-Majors to star, but Fawcett-Majors’s legal battles with the producers of the television series, Charlie’s Angels (ABC, 22 Sep 1976--19 Aug 1981), inhibited her availability. Returning to work after the birth of her son, Oliver Hudson, Hawn officially signed on as the female lead.
       In a 24 Jan 1981 LAT interview, Higgins recalled that Harrison Ford, who had done part-time work for him as a carpenter, was his first choice for the role of “Tony Carlson,” but Ford turned it down in favor of Star Wars (1977, see entry). The role was also offered to Steve Martin.
       According to an Apr 2011 Empire magazine article, Chevy Chase was responsible for what would become a turning point in British actor Dudley Moore’s career. A fan of Moore’s work as one half of the British comedy duo “Derek and Clive,” Chase reportedly lobbied to have the performer, who had not yet appeared in an American film, cast in the role of “Stanley Tibbets.” Cyril Magnin, a prominent Jewish businessman and San Francisco’s chief of protocol, played “Pope Pius XIII,” and second unit director M. James Arnett appeared in a bit part as a truck driver.
       A 14 Sep 1977 LAT brief announced that filming was set to begin by 31 Oct 1977. The first three and a half weeks of principal photography would take place in San Francisco, CA, before production moved to Los Angeles, CA, for further location and studio shooting. The final scenes were set and filmed inside the San Francisco Opera House, but the 27 Nov 1977 LAT article noted that the exterior, foyer, and grand staircase shots were filmed at San Francisco’s City Hall because the entrance to the Opera House was not sufficiently grand. The Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, stood in for a fictitious theater of the same name in San Francisco.
       LAT listed the production budget as $5 million.
       Foul Play premiered in San Francisco on 8 Jul 1978, with a gala benefitting the American Conservatory Theater and Spring Opera Theater. According to a 10 Jul 1978 HR article, more than 1,000 dignitaries, socialites, and Hollywood luminaries attended the party and screening. A 12 Jul 1978 Var article reported that the event was hindered by the simultaneous taping of a promotional television special, A Weekend of ‘Foul Play,’ which aired in subsequent weeks to coincide with the film’s general release.
       Foul Play garnered generally favorable reviews, with many critics hailing Hawn’s return to the big screen after a two-year absence following the birth of her son. The 12 Jul 1978 Var review called the film “excellent” and Hawn “superb.” In her 19 Jul 1978 NYT review, Janet Maslin remarked that Higgins was not entirely successful at attempting a hybrid of genres, but called the film “slick, attractive, enjoyable. . . with all the earmarks of a hit.” Reviewers cited the plethora of references to Alfred Hitchcock’s films, in particular The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, see entry). A 6 Jan 1979 Screen International review described it as “Hitchcock meets the Marx Brothers,” while the 19 Jul 1978 Washington Post stated that Foul Play suffered in comparison, calling it a “fouled-up, kinked-up attempt at a playful, romantic comedy-mystery in the Hitchcock tradition.” Dudley Moore’s breakout performance was widely praised; in an otherwise mixed review on 24 Jul 1978, David Maslin of Newsweek applauded Moore’s performance, stating, “The comic laurels. . . go to pint-size Dudley Moore as a closet swinger eternally caught in kinkiness interruptus by endangered Goldie.”
       According to a 28 Jan 1979 NYT article, Foul Play earned $25,065,000 at the box office, making it one of the ten top-grossing films of 1978.
       “Ready To Take A Chance Again,” by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, was nominated for an Academy Award for Music (Original Song), but lost to “Last Dance” from the Thank God It’s Friday (1978, see entry). Higgins’s script was nominated for an Edgar Award (Best Movie) by the Mystery Writers of America, and the film received seven Golden Globe nominations, including: Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical; Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (Goldie Hawn); Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical (Chevy Chase); Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Dudley Moore); Best Screenplay – Motion Picture; Best Original Song – Motion Picture (“Ready to Take a Chance Again”); and New Star of the Year – Actor (Chevy Chase).
       Foul Play marked the directorial debut of Colin Higgins and Chevy Chase’s first leading role in a feature film, as well as the first project he signed onto after leaving Saturday Night Live (NBC, 11 Oct 1975-- ), as stated in the 14 Sep 1977 LAT brief; Chase appeared previously in the sketch comedy films The Groove Tube (1974, see entry) and Tunnelvision (1976, see entry). The film also marked character actress Frances Bay’s debut at the age of fifty-nine, and the last onscreen appearance of Broadway musical-comedy actress Queenie Smith.
       In 1981, ABC launched a short-lived television series based on the film also titled Foul Play, starring Barry Bostwick and Deborah Raffin, with executive producer Hal Sitowitz. The series was poorly reviewed in the 26 Jan 1981 LAT and cancelled in its first season. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
16 Aug 1978
Section D, p. 8.
Chicago Tribune
8 Mar 1981
Section I, p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 1978
p. 2, 11, 13.
Los Angeles Times
13 Aug 1977
Section B, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
14 Sep 1977
Part IV, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
27 Nov 1977
Section P, p. 48.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jul 1978
Calendar, p. 25.
Los Angeles Times
3 Apr 1979
Section E, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jan 1981
Section B, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
26 Jan 1981
Section G, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
30 Apr 1981
Section I, p. 1, 9.
Los Angeles Times
17 Sep 2011
Section AA, p. 5.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Jul 1978
p. 13.
New York Times
19 Jul 1978
Section III, p. 15.
New York Times
28 Jan 1979
Section D, p. 17.
Saturday Review
16 Sep 1978
p. 36.
Screen International
6 Jan 1979
p. 21.
Sun Reporter
29 Jun 1978
p. 34.
Time
31 Jul 1978
p. 86.
Variety
12 Jul 1978
p. 18.
Washington Post
19 Jul 1978
Section E, p. 9.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Miller-Milkis/Colin Higgins picture
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
2d unit dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Casting assoc
Unit pub
STAND INS
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Ready To Take A Chance Again," music by Charles Fox, lyric by Norman Gimbel, recording created by Barry Manilow and Ron Dante, sung by Barry Manilow, record engineer Michael Delugg, orchestrated by Richard Behrke
"Copacabana (At The Copa)," written by Jack Feldman, Bruce Sussman and Barry Manilow, sung by Barry Manilow, courtesy of Arista Records
"Stayin' Alive," written by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb, sung by The Bee Gees, courtesy of RSO Records and Tapes
+
SONGS
"Ready To Take A Chance Again," music by Charles Fox, lyric by Norman Gimbel, recording created by Barry Manilow and Ron Dante, sung by Barry Manilow, record engineer Michael Delugg, orchestrated by Richard Behrke
"Copacabana (At The Copa)," written by Jack Feldman, Bruce Sussman and Barry Manilow, sung by Barry Manilow, courtesy of Arista Records
"Stayin' Alive," written by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb, sung by The Bee Gees, courtesy of RSO Records and Tapes
"I Feel The Earth Move," written by Carole King
"Excerpts From Gilbert & Sullivan's 'The Mikado'," written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, performed by The New York City Opera, conducted by Julius Rudel, staged by Jack Eddleman.
+
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Killing Lydia
Release Date:
1978
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 19 July 1978
Los Angeles opening: 28 July 1978
Production Date:
began late October 1977 in San Francisco, CA
Copyright Claimant:
Shelburne Associates
Copyright Date:
7 September 1978
Copyright Number:
PA13106
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
116
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25152
SYNOPSIS

In San Francisco, California, librarian Gloria Mundy tries to move on with her life after a divorce. At a friend’s party, she meets Tony Carlson, and, although initially attracted to him, she is repulsed by Tony’s boorish attempts at flirtation. On her way home, she offers a ride to Scotty, whose car has broken down by the side of the road. In an attempt to reinvigorate her dating life, Gloria agrees to meet Scotty at the movies that night. After surreptitiously sliding a roll of film into a cigarette pack, Scotty says he is trying to quit smoking and asks Gloria to hold his cigarettes until they meet. Unbeknownst to Gloria, he keeps his eye on the rearview mirror, watching two men in a black limousine that is trailing behind them. That night, Gloria waits for Scotty outside the movie theater, but he does not show up so she goes in alone. A fatally wounded Scotty later joins her, but Gloria does not notice he is dying until he gasps that she should “beware of the dwarf.” In a panic, Gloria retrieves the theater’s manager, but when they return to Scotty’s seat, the corpse has mysteriously disappeared. Going home, Gloria is chased by a black car, so she runs to the apartment of her elderly landlord, Mr. Hennesey, and tells him about the evening’s events. Hennesy reassures her, believing that Scotty was pulling a prank. At lunch the next day, Gloria recounts the ordeal to her co-worker Stella, who chastises her for being naïve and insists that she protect herself. Stella takes out the alarm, can of mace, and brass knuckles that she carries in her own purse at ... +


In San Francisco, California, librarian Gloria Mundy tries to move on with her life after a divorce. At a friend’s party, she meets Tony Carlson, and, although initially attracted to him, she is repulsed by Tony’s boorish attempts at flirtation. On her way home, she offers a ride to Scotty, whose car has broken down by the side of the road. In an attempt to reinvigorate her dating life, Gloria agrees to meet Scotty at the movies that night. After surreptitiously sliding a roll of film into a cigarette pack, Scotty says he is trying to quit smoking and asks Gloria to hold his cigarettes until they meet. Unbeknownst to Gloria, he keeps his eye on the rearview mirror, watching two men in a black limousine that is trailing behind them. That night, Gloria waits for Scotty outside the movie theater, but he does not show up so she goes in alone. A fatally wounded Scotty later joins her, but Gloria does not notice he is dying until he gasps that she should “beware of the dwarf.” In a panic, Gloria retrieves the theater’s manager, but when they return to Scotty’s seat, the corpse has mysteriously disappeared. Going home, Gloria is chased by a black car, so she runs to the apartment of her elderly landlord, Mr. Hennesey, and tells him about the evening’s events. Hennesy reassures her, believing that Scotty was pulling a prank. At lunch the next day, Gloria recounts the ordeal to her co-worker Stella, who chastises her for being naïve and insists that she protect herself. Stella takes out the alarm, can of mace, and brass knuckles that she carries in her own purse at all times and offers them to Gloria. When another librarian informs Gloria that a dwarf has stopped by the library looking for her, she recalls Scotty’s warning. Later, a tall albino named Whitey Jackson attempts to kidnap Gloria when she is closing up the library. She manages to evade him by dashing into a crowded singles bar, where she approaches a stranger, Stanley Tibbets, and asks him to take her home. Unaware of Gloria’s predicament, Stanley assumes that she is interested in a sexual encounter. At his apartment, Stanley attempts to seduce Gloria with erotic props, but she is astonished by his presumption. Back at her apartment, Gloria is attacked by Scarface, a thug who demands Scotty’s cigarette pack. After stabbing Scarface with knitting needles, Gloria calls the police. Scarface revives, but when he goes after her, the albino, Whitey Jackson, appears and kills him, causing Gloria to faint. When she recovers, she is surprised to see Tony Carlson, the boorish flirt she met at the party and one of the police detectives sent to investigate her attack. Since Scarface’s corpse has vanished, Gloria’s story appears outlandish to the police. Tony asks Gloria to meet him for lunch the next day. However, on her way to the police station, Gloria is kidnapped by Jackson and his cohort, Turk, and taken to an apartment. Using Stella’s arsenal of self-defense devices, Gloria manages to escape. Tony then discovers the apartment where she was held is leased to a man named “Stiltskin.” Upon further investigation, he learns that the police have found the body of Gloria’s movie date, Scotty, who was an undercover policeman. At the time of his death, Scotty was on the trail of assassin Rupert Stiltskin, also known as “The Dwarf.” At home alone, Gloria is visited by an aggressive little person who babbles about “eternal rest,” and she assumes he is Stiltskin. Fearing for her life, she ferociously attacks the little person, only to find out that he is a Bible salesman. Gloria and Tony realize that Jackson and Stiltskin were in cahoots with Scarface, who tried to double-cross his partners by leaking evidence about a murder plot to Scotty. Tony is assigned to protect Gloria, and when he and his partner, Fergie, learn that the black limousine used to kidnap her is registered to a Catholic archbishop named Thorncrest, the trio visits the prelate’s mansion. The archbishop and his housekeeper, Gerda Casswell, claim the limousine has been stolen. Once the visitors are gone, however, Thorncrest and Casswell discuss their involvement in a scheme with Stiltskin, Jackson, and Turk. Tony takes Gloria to his houseboat, where they spend a romantic night together. The next morning, Tony is called away to work and asks Fergie to protect Gloria. Soon after, Jackson and Turk kidnap Fergie and use him to lure Gloria to a deserted building. When Gloria arrives, Fergie warns her to leave and she escapes into a seedy massage parlor. Hiding in one of the rooms, she discovers a mortified Stanley Tibbets. Learning that their lives are in danger, Tibbets calls police, but Jackson and Stiltskin abduct Gloria before they arrive. Meanwhile, Tony discovers housekeeper Gerda Casswell’s true identity: she is an ex-convict and ringleader of an anti-church organization. Learning that Gloria has disappeared from her apartment, Tony rushes to Thorncrest’s mansion with Gloria’s landlord, Hennesey, at his side. Tony discovers Fergie tied up in the basement, and Fergie briefs his partner on the criminals’ scheme to assassinate Pope Pius XIII during that night’s performance of The Mikado at the San Francisco Opera House. Fergie explains his recent discovery that the real Archbishop Thorncrest is dead and the man impersonating him is the prelate’s twin brother, Charlie. Stiltskin finds Tony in the basement, but Tony kills the assassin in self-defense. Gerda Casswell appears, overpowers Tony, and leads him to the sitting room, where he and Gloria are tied up. Casswell explains her gang’s goal to spark a revolution against organized religion. To that end, Jackson is stationed at the Opera House, ready to open fire on the Pope. Hennesey sneaks into the room, knocks out Charlie, and vanquishes Casswell in a martial arts fight. Meanwhile, as the opera, conducted by Stanley Tibbets, begins, Jackson eludes security guards and sets his sights on the Pope. With only fifteen minutes to spare before the impending assassination, Tony and Gloria race to the opera house in Thorncrest’s limousine, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. They are joined by police as they search for Jackson backstage at the opera house. Jackson grabs Gloria and takes her hostage, leading her to a catwalk above the stage. During the ensuing gunfight, a security guard is shot and falls from the catwalk, becoming entangled in a hanging set decoration. Tony shoots Jackson, who also falls and becomes entangled. As The Mikado comes to a close, the set decoration that has ensnared the two men is accidentally lowered behind the performers onstage. Believing the opera was meant to end this way, the Pope applauds enthusiastically, and the confused audience follows. Gloria and Tony reunite onstage in a passionate embrace. Recognizing Gloria, Stanley disguises himself with a pair of dark glasses. +

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.