True Confessions (1981)

R | 108 mins | Drama, Film noir | 25 September 1981

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HISTORY

A 19 Apr 1978 DV news item announced that producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff had acquired screen rights to John Gregory Dunne’s 1977 novel, True Confessions, and were in the process of hiring a writer and director for the film adaptation. At that time, United Artists Corp.’s head of production, Danton Rissner, reported that filming was scheduled to begin late 1978. By mid-Oct 1978, Dunne and his wife, screenwriter Joan Didion, had completed a script, as noted in an 11 Oct 1978 DV column. The 7 Apr 1980 Village Voice explained that Dunne originally contacted filmmaker Paul Schrader to revise the screenplay and direct the picture, but Didion ultimately “rewrote” her husband’s script, and Ulu Grosbard was hired as director. According to various contemporary sources, including the 2 Sep 1981 DV review, Dunne’s novel was loosely based on the 1947 unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, who became sensationalized in the press as “The Black Dahlia.”
       Principal photography in Los Angeles, CA, was delayed until 28 Jan 1980. A DV brief published that day noted Robert De Niro had just two weeks to go before he was due on set, but was still in the process of reducing the 212-pound weight he had attained for his recent role in Raging Bull (1980, see entry). Announcing the production’s completion, the 19 May 1980 Box reported that sixty Los Angeles area locations were used in the film, and a 23 Mar 1980 LAT article specified downtown’s Union Station and St. Joseph’s Church as filming sites. The ... More Less

A 19 Apr 1978 DV news item announced that producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff had acquired screen rights to John Gregory Dunne’s 1977 novel, True Confessions, and were in the process of hiring a writer and director for the film adaptation. At that time, United Artists Corp.’s head of production, Danton Rissner, reported that filming was scheduled to begin late 1978. By mid-Oct 1978, Dunne and his wife, screenwriter Joan Didion, had completed a script, as noted in an 11 Oct 1978 DV column. The 7 Apr 1980 Village Voice explained that Dunne originally contacted filmmaker Paul Schrader to revise the screenplay and direct the picture, but Didion ultimately “rewrote” her husband’s script, and Ulu Grosbard was hired as director. According to various contemporary sources, including the 2 Sep 1981 DV review, Dunne’s novel was loosely based on the 1947 unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, who became sensationalized in the press as “The Black Dahlia.”
       Principal photography in Los Angeles, CA, was delayed until 28 Jan 1980. A DV brief published that day noted Robert De Niro had just two weeks to go before he was due on set, but was still in the process of reducing the 212-pound weight he had attained for his recent role in Raging Bull (1980, see entry). Announcing the production’s completion, the 19 May 1980 Box reported that sixty Los Angeles area locations were used in the film, and a 23 Mar 1980 LAT article specified downtown’s Union Station and St. Joseph’s Church as filming sites. The $10 million production was not formally condoned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but the church maintained neutrality and allowed pastors to make their own decisions concerning the picture. Although priests were technically permitted to approve location filming, many opposed the film’s depiction of the church and declined the filmmakers’ requests for access, including Monsignor Joseph Pollard of the St. Andrews Church in Pasadena, CA. The fifteen-week shooting schedule was completed mid-May 1980 near Lancaster, CA.
       Nearly one year later, a 9 Mar 1981 DV news item reported the Chartoff-Winkler production team was replicating the successful release pattern of Raging Bull by scheduling True Confessions for an opening in fall 1981, instead of summer. On 18 Sep 1981, HR announced that actors Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall had been awarded top honors in Italy at the Venice Film Festival, and that the picture was set to open at four theaters in New York City, Toronto, Canada, and Los Angeles on 25 Sep 1981. The limited release was scheduled to be followed with a general opening on 300 U.S. screens on 9 Oct 1981. A 17 Sep 1981 HR news item noted that publisher Pocket Books planned to reissue nearly one million copies of Dunne’s bestseller with cover photographs of De Niro and Duvall as a marketing tie-in to the film’s release.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
19 May 1980.
---
Daily Variety
19 Apr 1978.
---
Daily Variety
11 Oct 1978.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jan 1980.
---
Daily Variety
9 Mar 1981.
---
Daily Variety
2 Sep 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Sep 1981
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1981.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Mar 1980
Section M, p. 36.
Los Angeles Times
25 Sep 1981
p. 1.
New York Times
25 Sep 1981
p. 4.
Variety
2 Sep 1981
p. 14, 27.
Village Voice
7 Apr 1980.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Robert Chartoff-Irwin Winkler Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod illustrator
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Assoc film ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Swing gang
Drapery man
Greensman
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Cost-women
"Bridal party" costumes
Men`s cost
Men`s cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd eff supv ed
Cableman
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Asst sd eff ed
Re-rec eng
Re-rec eng
Re-rec eng
MGM sd transfer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Title des
Opticals
Opticals
DANCE
Dance choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Extras casting
Creative assoc
Loc mgr
Loc scout
Craft service
First aid
First aid/Medical
Transportation coord
Transportation co-captain
Asst to prods
Asst to prods
Asst to Ulu Grosbard
Asst to Chartoff
Asst to Polaire
Asst to De Niro
Prod office coord
Prod assoc
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Religious tech adv
Police liaison/Security
Police tech adv
MGM projection bookings
Culver Studio projection
Culver Studio projection
Post prod
STAND INS
Stunt coord/Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne (New York, 1977).
SONGS
"Memories of You," as performed by Benny Goodman, written by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf, courtesy of Capitol Records.
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 September 1981
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 25 September 1981
Production Date:
28 January--mid May 1980 in Los Angeles and Lancaster, California
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
12 January 1982
Copyright Number:
PA126932
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®; Prints by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
108
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26314
SYNOPSIS

In 1940s Los Angeles, California, Monsignor Desmond “Des” Spellacy officiates at the wedding of construction magnate Jack Amsterdam’s daughter. Meanwhile, Des’s older brother, police sergeant Tom Spellacy, responds to a call from a local brothel. There, he discovers a priest, Father Mickey, who died during sexual intercourse. Tom’s sometime-mistress, madam Brenda Samuels, reminds the detective that he received payoffs from Jack Amsterdam and suggests Des also works in collusion with the gangster. She claims that her recent imprisonment was a set up to conceal the men’s rampant corruption. Back at the wedding, Des learns of Amsterdam’s plans to contribute a portion of his new housing development, “Rancho Rosa,” to build a Catholic school. Although Des suspects ulterior motives, he overlooks Amsterdam’s improper dealings to benefit the archdiocese. Sometime later, Tom Spellacy reports to a crime scene of a murdered young woman who was severed at the waist. Elsewhere, Des Spellacy and his confidante, Cardinal Danaher, attend a Mexican fiesta on Olvera Street, where they are greeted by Jack Amsterdam. As the priests are chauffeured away, the Cardinal expresses disdain for the corrupt businessman, but is willing to discount the man’s wrongdoings because his multi-million dollar donations are vital to the church. However, Des maintains that the archdiocese should end their dependence on Amsterdam after the new school is built. Later, at the police morgue, Tom and his partner, Frank Crotty, learn the murdered girl, Lois Fazenda, had undigested Chinese egg rolls in her stomach. Meanwhile, at the priory, Des’s mentor, Monsignor Seamus Fargo, is outsted from his position as chairman of the building fund because he spurns ... +


In 1940s Los Angeles, California, Monsignor Desmond “Des” Spellacy officiates at the wedding of construction magnate Jack Amsterdam’s daughter. Meanwhile, Des’s older brother, police sergeant Tom Spellacy, responds to a call from a local brothel. There, he discovers a priest, Father Mickey, who died during sexual intercourse. Tom’s sometime-mistress, madam Brenda Samuels, reminds the detective that he received payoffs from Jack Amsterdam and suggests Des also works in collusion with the gangster. She claims that her recent imprisonment was a set up to conceal the men’s rampant corruption. Back at the wedding, Des learns of Amsterdam’s plans to contribute a portion of his new housing development, “Rancho Rosa,” to build a Catholic school. Although Des suspects ulterior motives, he overlooks Amsterdam’s improper dealings to benefit the archdiocese. Sometime later, Tom Spellacy reports to a crime scene of a murdered young woman who was severed at the waist. Elsewhere, Des Spellacy and his confidante, Cardinal Danaher, attend a Mexican fiesta on Olvera Street, where they are greeted by Jack Amsterdam. As the priests are chauffeured away, the Cardinal expresses disdain for the corrupt businessman, but is willing to discount the man’s wrongdoings because his multi-million dollar donations are vital to the church. However, Des maintains that the archdiocese should end their dependence on Amsterdam after the new school is built. Later, at the police morgue, Tom and his partner, Frank Crotty, learn the murdered girl, Lois Fazenda, had undigested Chinese egg rolls in her stomach. Meanwhile, at the priory, Des’s mentor, Monsignor Seamus Fargo, is outsted from his position as chairman of the building fund because he spurns Amsterdam. Des later arranges to meet Amsterdam at a high-class restaurant, but notices that Tom has seated himself at a nearby table and joins his brother, instead. There, he glances at the Los Angeles Times headline, which refers to Lois Fazenda as the “Virgin Tramp.” When Amsterdam comes to the brothers’ table to boast of his good deeds, Tom reveals he once worked for the tycoon’s prostitution syndicate, receiving payoffs from Brenda Samuels. Amsterdam denies Tom’s claim, but Des is not deceived. As the “Virgin Tramp” murder remains unsolved and a tabloid sensation, Tom and Frank watch a pornographic film of the girl and notice that another cast member, prostitute Lorna Keane, was the woman “entertaining” Father Mickey the night he died. Tom returns to Brenda’s bordello and she identifies the pornographic filmmaker as Leland K. Standard. Tom searches for the man, but later learns he died in a car crash. Elsewhere, Monsignor Seamus Fargo warns Des that his business dealings with Amsterdam may come at a cost to his faith. Although Des argues he is using the money to benefit the church, he later tells Amsterdam’s associates that he wishes to end their relationship. Displeased by the news, the men argue that Des is merely protecting his brother. Back at the priory, Cardinal Danaher orders Des to fire his mentor, Monsignor Fargo, and promises to reward the young man with a Bishop rank. Meanwhile, Tom asks Lois’s parents if he can hold on to her diary. Inside, he finds Amsterdam’s telephone number and learns that Lois was his mistress. At an awards luncheon where Amsterdam is named “Catholic Layman of the Year,” Tom discovers that the mogul was treated in a hospital the same night Lois was killed. Just as Des reveals the archdiocese is “reevaluating” their relationship with Amsterdam, Tom accuses the man of killing Lois. Outraged, Amsterdam attacks Tom, leaving Des stuck in the middle, between his benefactor and his brother. That Sunday, after mass, Amsterdam’s associate, Dan T. Campion, reminds Des they once met Lois together when they picked her up as a hitchhiker. Campion admits he had an affair with the girl, but insists he has an alibi for the night of the murder. Back at the police station, prostitute Lorna Keane is detained and reveals the whereabouts of Leland K. Standard’s pornographic film operation. When Tom discovers that Standard’s car crash happened just eleven hours after Lois’s murder, he visits the man’s warehouse and discovers a box of decaying egg rolls. Inside, a trail of blood leads to a stained bathtub, and suggestive photographs of Lois are arranged with a letter of recommendation from Amsterdam. Back at the police station, Tom is alerted to the suicide of madam Brenda Samuels and learns she telephoned Amsterdam just before her death. Although Tom wants to arrest Amsterdam immediately, his partner, Frank, warns they have no evidence, and Des’s ministry will be destroyed by the exposure. In the church confessional, Amsterdam threatens to publicly disclose that Des had a relationship with Lois. As Amsterdam leaves, Tom storms into the confessional and insists on going after the gangster, no matter what happens to Des. The young monsignor agrees he should not be redeemed. Years later, Tom visits Des at the remote church of the now-deceased Monsignor Seamus Fargo, who established the ministry after his eviction from the Los Angeles archdiocese. There, Des announces he will soon die from a terminal illness and Tom apologizes for the Amsterdam case. However, Des insists the incident prompted his true salvation, and shows his brother the cemetery plot in which he will be buried. +

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

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