The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper (1981)

PG | 101 mins | Adventure, Drama | 13 November 1981

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HISTORY

Notes in AMPAS library files report the film’s working titles included Pursuit, Free Fall, and Life of D. B. Cooper.
       According to articles in the 16 Aug 1978 HR and the 14 Feb 1979 Var, producers Daniel Wigutow and Michael Taylor left their executive positions at United Artists (UA) to become independent producers, and pitched the project Pursuit to Mike Medavoy, then head of production at UA. Medavoy left UA to co-found Orion Pictures and UA lost interest in Pursuit, but Medavoy was still interested and brought the project to Orion. Robert Mulligan was set to direct and Jeffrey Alan Fiskin was hired to write the screenplay based on J. D. Reed’s story, which would also be released as a book. Although the HR article claimed that Reed and Mark Krim, both former Sports Illustrated writers, created the story, Krim was not mentioned again in conjunction with either the film or Reed’s book, Free Fall. The film was budged at $8 - $10 million and principal photography was planned for fall 1979.
       An item in the 22 Jan 1980 HR announced that Casablanca FilmWorks purchased the rights to Reed’s novel Free Fall and planned to make it with Universal Pictures. Articles in the 10 Dec 1979 HR and the 6 Feb 1980 Var noted that Wigutow and Taylor remained as producers, with John Frankenheimer as director, and Henry Winkler signed to star. Principal photography on the $10 million production was scheduled to start 9 Apr ... More Less

Notes in AMPAS library files report the film’s working titles included Pursuit, Free Fall, and Life of D. B. Cooper.
       According to articles in the 16 Aug 1978 HR and the 14 Feb 1979 Var, producers Daniel Wigutow and Michael Taylor left their executive positions at United Artists (UA) to become independent producers, and pitched the project Pursuit to Mike Medavoy, then head of production at UA. Medavoy left UA to co-found Orion Pictures and UA lost interest in Pursuit, but Medavoy was still interested and brought the project to Orion. Robert Mulligan was set to direct and Jeffrey Alan Fiskin was hired to write the screenplay based on J. D. Reed’s story, which would also be released as a book. Although the HR article claimed that Reed and Mark Krim, both former Sports Illustrated writers, created the story, Krim was not mentioned again in conjunction with either the film or Reed’s book, Free Fall. The film was budged at $8 - $10 million and principal photography was planned for fall 1979.
       An item in the 22 Jan 1980 HR announced that Casablanca FilmWorks purchased the rights to Reed’s novel Free Fall and planned to make it with Universal Pictures. Articles in the 10 Dec 1979 HR and the 6 Feb 1980 Var noted that Wigutow and Taylor remained as producers, with John Frankenheimer as director, and Henry Winkler signed to star. Principal photography on the $10 million production was scheduled to start 9 Apr 1980. However, the 25 Feb 1980 DV reported that Henry Winkler left the project due to “creative differences,” and Frankenheimer approached actor Treat Williams to star. The 28 Dec 1980 LAT noted that Casablanca FilmWorks became PolyGram Pictures, and the 9 May 1980 HR stated that PolyGram’s production of Pursuit would star Roy Scheider and Treat Williams. However, Scheider does not appear in the film. The 5 Jun 1980 DV reported that Kim Basinger would portray the wife of “D. B. Cooper” in the film. However, Basinger did not participate in the project. Actress Kathryn Harrold played the character “Hannah.” An item in the 5 Nov 1980 Var stated that actor Peter Coyote was cast in the film, but Coyote does not receive onscreen credit and his participation cannot be verified.
       The 2 Feb 1981 HR reported that Frankenheimer had filmed second unit footage in Jackson Hole, WY, between 2-10 Jun 1980. The 7 Jul 1980 LAT announced that Frankenheimer had been fired for an unspecified “breach of contract” prior to the scheduled start of principal photography in Aug 1980. As tracked in articles in the 28 Aug 1980 HR, the 29 Aug 1980 DV and the 3 Sep 1980 Var, Frankenheimer filed a $12 million lawsuit against PolyGram Pictures for breach of contract, claiming he was wrongfully terminated from the film after he began shooting. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) subsequently filed an arbitration proceeding against PolyGram Pictures regarding Frankenheimer’s firing. The DGA cited four violations of the guild’s basic agreement, alleging that Polygram failed to provide Frankenheimer with a top-sheet (summary) budget prior to hiring him, did not provide the director with specific budgetary limitations, failed to consult with him regarding budget changes, and did not alert Frankenheimer when Polygram discharged the film’s crew. Polygram Pictures filed a countersuit against Frankenheimer. Their suit included accusations that Frankenheimer used production money for his personal expenses, that he misrepresented himself as a producer in order to obtain the negative of the film, and that he hired Paul Sylbert to rewrite the script while Fiskin was rewriting. Polygram stated it paid $30,000 for Sylbert’s unauthorized screenplay “to protect its goodwill in the film industry.” An article in the 2 Feb 1981 HR stated that Frankenheimer and Polygram Pictures reached a confidential out-of-court settlement. PolyGram dropped their countersuit and the negotiated deal “favored Frankenheimer,” reportedly with an upper six-figure settlement.
       According to the 28 Dec 1980 LAT, the production was suspended until Buzz Kulik was hired to replace Frankenheimer. Kulik felt the script had serious problems and worked with W. D. Richter on “major rewriting,” which continued throughout production. However, Richter does not receive onscreen credit. Kulik wanted to shut down production for several weeks to rewrite the script, but was refused. Public disagreements between Kulik and PolyGram executives were common, and the actors were also vocal about their script issues. Robert Duvall was quoted admitting, “It was an atrocious script and I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been broke.” Kathryn Harrold claimed that halfway through principal photography, the script kept changing and she still did not understand “what kind of woman” her character was.
       An item in the 14 Jul 1980 Var reported that Kulik would start filming 24 Aug 1980. However, the 26 Sep 1980 HR noted that principal photography began 4 Sep 1980. As stated in the 27 Sep 1981 LAHExam, locations included Jackson Hole, WY, Tucson, AZ, and the Los Angeles, CA, area. Principal photography began with a chase sequence on the whitewater rapids of the Snake River, located forty miles outside Jackson Hole. The Coronado National Forest in Tucson substituted for the Washington state forest that the real “D. B. Cooper” parachuted into.
       According to an interview with Kathryn Harrold in the 26 Feb 1981 LAT, principal photography was completed in Nov 1980. However, she was later scheduled for three weeks of additional filming. An article in the 22 Nov 1981 LAT reported the cast and crew were reassembled to reshoot “up to half the film, including the conclusion.” The 18 Nov 1981 Var reported that Roger Spottiswoode was hired for the reshoot and to “assemble the feature.” Spottiswoode received onscreen credit as director.
       An article in the 20 Feb 1981 HR noted that production delays prevented the film from opening 12 Jun 1981, as planned. Universal Pictures, which distributed the film, canceled its contracts for the summer date, and planned a 13 Nov 1981 release.
       The 23 Nov 1981 DV reported Universal’s promotional campaign included a $1 million reward for information regarding the real skyjacker, D. B. Cooper. Universal offered to pay $50,000 per year for twenty years to anyone with knowledge of the Cooper’s whereabouts. Prior to the promotion, the Universal legal department’s investigation into the “legal implications” included obtaining clearances from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which wanted any resulting information turned over to the agency. An item in the 4 Nov 1981 Var, noted that Universal’s offer expired on 1 Dec 1981.
       The film was released on 13 Nov 1981, and the 22 Nov 1981 LAT reported a PolyGram executive’s claim that the film’s weekend box office gross was $1.5 million and the first week gross was estimated at $2.5 million. The 9-15 Dec 1981 Village Voice list of Fall 1981 releases cited The Pursuit of D. B. Cooper as a “disaster.”
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
25 Feb 1980.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1980.
---
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1980
p. 1, 19.
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1978
p. 1, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 May 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Aug 1980
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Sep 1980.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Feb 1981
p, 1, 13.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Feb 1981
p. 1, 37.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1981
p. 2.
LAHExam
27 Sep 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Jul 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
28 Dec 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 Feb 1981
Section VI, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
14 Nov 1981
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
22 Nov 1981.
---
New York Times
13 Nov 1981
p. 11.
Variety
14 Feb 1979.
---
Variety
6 Feb 1980.
---
Variety
14 Jul 1980.
---
Variety
3 Sep 1980.
---
Variety
5 Nov 1980.
---
Variety
4 Nov 1981.
---
Variety
18 Nov 1981
p. 19.
Village Voice
9-15 Dec 1981.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Polygram Pictures Presents
In Association With Peter Guber and Jon Peters
A Michael Taylor - Daniel Wigutow Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
Key 2d asst dir
Unit prod mgr, Addl photog
1st asst dir, Addl photog
Key 2d asst dir, Addl photog
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam op
Cam op
Asst cam
Still photog
Still photog
Key grip
Key grip
Gaffer
Gaffer
Best boy
Best boy
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Assoc film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Prop master
Const coord
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus score
Mus scoring mixer
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Supv sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Titles by
Title and optical eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Creative consultant
Creative consultant
Asst to the prods
Casting
Scr supv
Unit pub
Prod coord
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Loc mgr
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
STAND INS
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stuntperson
Stunt coord
Stunt pilot
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Free Fall by J. D. Reed (New York, 1980).
AUTHOR
SONGS
“Shine,” written and sung by Waylon Jennings, W. J. Music (BMI)
“Bittersweet Love,” sung by Jessi Colter, written by Enid Levine, Songs of Bandier-Koppelman, Inc. (ASCAP), Chappel Music (ASCAP)
“Maybe He Knows About You,” sung by Rita Coolidge, written by Enid Levine, Songs of Bandier-Koppelman, Inc. (ASCAP), Chappel Music (ASCAP)
+
SONGS
“Shine,” written and sung by Waylon Jennings, W. J. Music (BMI)
“Bittersweet Love,” sung by Jessi Colter, written by Enid Levine, Songs of Bandier-Koppelman, Inc. (ASCAP), Chappel Music (ASCAP)
“Maybe He Knows About You,” sung by Rita Coolidge, written by Enid Levine, Songs of Bandier-Koppelman, Inc. (ASCAP), Chappel Music (ASCAP)
“Money,” sung by Rita Coolidge, written by John Sebastian, Hudson Bay Music Co. (BMI)
“You Were Never There,” sung by Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, written by Michael Smotherman, Songs of Bandier-Koppelman, Inc. (ASCAP), Garbo Music (ASCAP), If Eyes Incorporated (ASCAP), Seventh Son Music (ASCAP), Chappel Music (ASCAP)
“Silk Dresses,” performed by The Marshall Tucker Band, written by Michael Smotherman, Songs of Bandier-Koppelman, Inc. (ASCAP), Garbo Music (ASCAP), If Eyes Incorporated (ASCAP), Seventh Son Music (ASCAP), Chappel Music (ASCAP)
“White Room,” performed by Cream, written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, Casserole Music, Inc. (BMI), Cream Courtesy of RSO Records, Inc.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Pursuit
Free Fall
Life of D. B. Cooper
Release Date:
13 November 1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 13 November 1981
Production Date:
began 4 September 1980
Copyright Claimant:
PolyGram Pictures, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
19 January 1982
Copyright Number:
PA126936
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Panaflex® Camera and Lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26534
SYNOPSIS

On Wednesday, 24 Nov 1971, J. R. Meade, posing as “D. B. Cooper,” hijacks an airplane, demands a ransom of $200,000 plus four parachutes, skydives from the plane’s rear hatch and disappears into the Washington state forest below. When the plane lands, Bill Gruen, the airline’s insurance investigator, searches the plane, noticing Cooper’s “bomb,” which turns out to be fake, and freeing Denise, a flight attendant, locked in the bathroom. Gruen learns that “Cooper” wore a bracelet identical to Gruen’s, and the former sergeant surmises the hijacker is Meade, once a soldier under Gruen’s command. Reporters note that thousands of hunters are entering the Washington forests for the start of deer season. In the mountains, Meade retrieves a previously hidden backpack and dons a fake beard and moustache, but soon discards the disguise. He also retrieves a hidden Jeep and another backpack containing a hunting rifle. Meade tosses several twenty dollar bills into the river, hides the rest of the money in a compartment under the passenger seat, and then hunts for a deer. Elsewhere, Gruen shows Denise photographs of his former soldiers and the flight attendant identifies Meade. When Meade is stopped at a checkpoint in the mountains, he shows a fake driver’s license and claims to be a hunter, verified by the deer strapped to the front of his Jeep. The officers search his vehicle, including the compartment under the passenger seat, which is now empty. Down the road, Meade stops at a food stand and offers the deer to a family in the parking lot. After moving the animal to their truck, Meade recovers the ... +


On Wednesday, 24 Nov 1971, J. R. Meade, posing as “D. B. Cooper,” hijacks an airplane, demands a ransom of $200,000 plus four parachutes, skydives from the plane’s rear hatch and disappears into the Washington state forest below. When the plane lands, Bill Gruen, the airline’s insurance investigator, searches the plane, noticing Cooper’s “bomb,” which turns out to be fake, and freeing Denise, a flight attendant, locked in the bathroom. Gruen learns that “Cooper” wore a bracelet identical to Gruen’s, and the former sergeant surmises the hijacker is Meade, once a soldier under Gruen’s command. Reporters note that thousands of hunters are entering the Washington forests for the start of deer season. In the mountains, Meade retrieves a previously hidden backpack and dons a fake beard and moustache, but soon discards the disguise. He also retrieves a hidden Jeep and another backpack containing a hunting rifle. Meade tosses several twenty dollar bills into the river, hides the rest of the money in a compartment under the passenger seat, and then hunts for a deer. Elsewhere, Gruen shows Denise photographs of his former soldiers and the flight attendant identifies Meade. When Meade is stopped at a checkpoint in the mountains, he shows a fake driver’s license and claims to be a hunter, verified by the deer strapped to the front of his Jeep. The officers search his vehicle, including the compartment under the passenger seat, which is now empty. Down the road, Meade stops at a food stand and offers the deer to a family in the parking lot. After moving the animal to their truck, Meade recovers the backpack of money hidden in the deer carcass. Meade leaves his Jeep in a remote hangar and starts for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in a truck. En route, he stops at a river, rows his boat to a piling, and ties the backpack underwater. In Mexico, Remson, a drug dealer and veteran who served with Meade, also realizes D. B. Cooper’s true identity and heads for Wyoming. Gruen arrives in Jackson Hole to question Meade’s wife, Hannah, who runs a river rafting business. Hannah insists she has not seen her husband in a long time, but Meade unexpectedly calls. Not wanting to alert Gruen, she pretends Meade is a client and secretly agrees to meet him. After Gruen leaves, Hannah visits Meade’s father, who is also a former serviceman and known as “Brigadier.” She is furious that Meade consistently disappears from her life and expects her to drop everything when he returns. That evening, Gruen follows Hannah to a bar. She asks her river rafting employee, Homer, to distract Gruen while she sneaks out, but Gruen sees Hannah leave and follows her, unaware that Remson is also outside the bar. Hannah meets Meade at a timber plant and is shocked to learn he is D. B. Cooper. Meade claims he did it for her, and convinces Hannah to leave Wyoming to pursue adventures with him. However, Gruen arrives outside, insisting he only wants the money back, but Meade does not believe his former nemesis. Hannah sneaks toward the truck while Meade turns on the plant’s machinery and creates a Molotov cocktail. Remson arrives as Meade rides a conveyor belt outside. Meade tosses the flaming bottle into Gruen’s car, and the vehicle explodes. Meade and Hannah race to his father’s house. The Brigadier is furious that his son is the hijacker and surprised that Hannah is leaving with him. The Brigadier wants his son to turn himself in, but Meade wants his father’s approval for executing the meticulous operation. As Meade and Hannah leave, their truck explodes, and Gruen appears with a gun aimed at the couple. Gruen wants the money and the glory for recovering it, but insists Meade can go free. The Brigadier steps outside with a rifle and orders Gruen to drop his weapon. After Meade and Hannah drive away in the Brigadier’s car, he allows Gruen to leave. Gruen returns to the bar, claims he has an inheritance for Meade, and convinces Homer to take him to Meade’s remote hideaway. The next day, Gruen and Homer arrive as Hannah and Meade retrieve the money from the river. Seeing Gruen, Meade rows toward the river’s rapids. After Gruen offers a $500 fee, Homer pilots their river raft, and the pursuit begins. During the chase through dangerous rapids, Gruen falls into the water. While Homer saves Gruen, they do not notice Meade’s boat crash into rocks. Meade and Hannah hide as Homer and Gruen continue down the rapids. The couple hikes to a nearby road and attempts to hitchhike, but the lone car passes them. Down the road, they discover the same car, seemingly empty and with keys in the ignition. Meade and Hannah steal the car and drive off, but Remson arises from his hiding place in the back seat, aims a gun at Meade’s head, and demands half the money. Instead, Meade accelerates and speeds through the winding mountain road until he crashes between two trees. Meade gets Remson’s gun, locks him in the trunk and walks away with Hannah. Meanwhile, Gruen realizes Meade is not on the river and hikes to the road. When Gruen comes across Remson in the car, he recognizes his former soldier, takes the man’s binoculars, and locks him back inside the trunk. At a ranch, Meade and Hannah leave money for the owners before riding away on two horses. Gruen spots them through binoculars, then hitchhikes to the nearest town, buys a used car, and pursues the couple to Arizona. Later, he discovers Meade and Hannah traded their horses for a used truck. Remson frees himself from the trunk, obtains a car, and joins the chase. Hannah and Meade make love as they drive, until the truck overheats. They are towed to a gas station and the vehicle is repaired. However, upon leaving, the truck will not start and they discover Remson hiding inside the engine with a gun. Remson demands all the money, but Hannah slams the truck hood on his hands, and they leave Remson stuck inside a stack of tires. Gruen arrives at the gas station and telephones his boss, who fires him for lack of results. However, when Gruen learns that Meade and Hannah were at the station, he continues his pursuit. Gruen sees Remson hitchhiking and gives him a ride. He agrees to split the money in exchange for Remson’s information, but after learning of Meade’s next destination, he tosses Remson from the vehicle. At a desolate airport, Meade and Hannah take refuge in the airplane graveyard where Meade has fashioned a home from an abandoned plane. They hear a sound and when Meade investigates, Gruen steals the money from Hannah. As Gruen flees in his car, Meade discovers Gruen slashed their truck tires. Meade runs across the airport, climbs into the cockpit of a decrepit plane and takes off. The plane barely stays aloft as Meade follows Gruen’s car into the desert. After a wild chase, Meade’s plane crashes and falls down a small ridge. Gruen’s car flies over the ridge and crashes next to the plane, but neither man is hurt. In the aftermath, Meade questions how Gruen knew he was the hijacker. Gruen admits few people have Meade’s skydiving expertise, and wonders if the adventure was worth the risk. Meade says that it was, and gives Gruen $25,000 to get a new car. Meade takes the money and walks to the road where Hannah picks him up. Moments later, Remson speeds toward the crashed vehicles in the desert, not noticing Meade’s truck as the couple drives away toward Mexico. +

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

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