The Grifters (1990)

R | 119 mins | Drama | 5 December 1990

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HISTORY

Opening credits begin with the following quote from the song “The Lady Is A Tramp,” written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers: “I’ve wined and dined on mulligan stew and never wished for turkey, As I hitched and hiked and grifted too from Maine to Albuquerque…”
       End credits include the following statements: “Special thanks to Bruce Kawin”; “The producers wish to thank the following: Phoenix Film Commission – Debra Knoblauch; Turf Paradise Race Track, Phoenix, Arizona, Ann Oliver, Frank Kush; Donna Karan Company; Victoria Ann Varga; L.A. Eyeworks; Charles Jourdan; Giorgio Armani; Kim Jacobson and Mansour Travel Company; Miller Brewing Company; Pepsi-Cola Company; S & A Global Studios; Skywest; M/S Billings Publicity – Andrea Jaffe, Inc.; Anne Harrison; George Howe”; and, “Extract from ‘The Lady Vanishes’ courtesy of Rank Film Distributors Ltd.”
       An article in the 11 Mar 1990 LAT stated that The Grifters was one of three recent feature film adaptations of novelist Jim Thompson’s work. The others were After Dark, My Sweet and The Kill-Off (1990, see entries). Thompson, who died “nearly broke and largely forgotten” in 1977, was a noted favorite of Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King, Claude Chabrol, and Martin Scorsese, the latter of whom partnered with director Stephen Frears to produce The Grifters under his newly formed production company, according to production notes in AMPAS library files. Film rights to the novel had been previously optioned by Harold Schneider and Ronald Rubin, as noted in a 21 Jan 1974 HR brief, but no further mention of Schneider, Rubin, or their production company GAFF, was found in AMPAS files.
       A 4 Jun 1989 ... More Less

Opening credits begin with the following quote from the song “The Lady Is A Tramp,” written by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers: “I’ve wined and dined on mulligan stew and never wished for turkey, As I hitched and hiked and grifted too from Maine to Albuquerque…”
       End credits include the following statements: “Special thanks to Bruce Kawin”; “The producers wish to thank the following: Phoenix Film Commission – Debra Knoblauch; Turf Paradise Race Track, Phoenix, Arizona, Ann Oliver, Frank Kush; Donna Karan Company; Victoria Ann Varga; L.A. Eyeworks; Charles Jourdan; Giorgio Armani; Kim Jacobson and Mansour Travel Company; Miller Brewing Company; Pepsi-Cola Company; S & A Global Studios; Skywest; M/S Billings Publicity – Andrea Jaffe, Inc.; Anne Harrison; George Howe”; and, “Extract from ‘The Lady Vanishes’ courtesy of Rank Film Distributors Ltd.”
       An article in the 11 Mar 1990 LAT stated that The Grifters was one of three recent feature film adaptations of novelist Jim Thompson’s work. The others were After Dark, My Sweet and The Kill-Off (1990, see entries). Thompson, who died “nearly broke and largely forgotten” in 1977, was a noted favorite of Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King, Claude Chabrol, and Martin Scorsese, the latter of whom partnered with director Stephen Frears to produce The Grifters under his newly formed production company, according to production notes in AMPAS library files. Film rights to the novel had been previously optioned by Harold Schneider and Ronald Rubin, as noted in a 21 Jan 1974 HR brief, but no further mention of Schneider, Rubin, or their production company GAFF, was found in AMPAS files.
       A 4 Jun 1989 LAT “Cinefile” column announced Melanie Griffith would play John Cusack’s mother in The Grifters, and actress Geena Davis would “complete the triangle” of co-stars. However, the 31 Jul 1989 LAHExam reported Griffith dropped out of the project to spend more time with her baby and husband, actor Don Johnson. On 3 Sep 1989, LAT named Anjelica Huston as Griffith’s replacement for “Lilly Dillon,” with Cusack still attached as “Roy Dillon” and Annette Bening replacing Geena Davis as “Myra Langtry.” According to a 2 Dec 1990 NYT article, Stephen Frears first contacted Huston while she was in New York City shooting Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, see entry). Huston was wary about playing the part of Lilly and was relieved when Frears informed her he had changed his mind. However, a few months later, Frears approached Huston again. The actress remained unsure about taking the role until Frears suggested she play it as a platinum blonde. In preparation, Huston spent time in Los Angeles, CA, card parlors, where she studied the behavior of female dealers.
       Filming began 23 Oct 1989, according to a 24 Oct 1989 HR production chart. The bulk of principal photography took place in Los Angeles, where locations included the Bryson Apartments building on Wilshire Boulevard. Cast and crew traveled to Phoenix, AZ, for three days of filming.
       In a 1 Feb 1991 LAT item, costume designer Richard Hornung described the tasteful suits worn by John Cusack in contrast to the “tarty,” form-fitting outfits worn by Huston and Annette Bening, whose characters Hornung referred to as “circling sharks.” Cusack’s suits came from Giorgio Armani, while most of Huston and Bening’s costumes were designed by Hornung. Bening also wore pieces by Frank Moschino and Jean Paul Gautier, and the womens’ shoes came from London, England-based designer Manolo Blahnik.
       In May 1988, worldwide distribution rights were purchased by Cineplex Odeon “on a negative pickup basis,” as noted in the 11 May 1990 DV. Although Cineplex Odeon originally intended to release the film in the U.S., the company bowed out for undisclosed reasons, and U.S. rights went to Miramax Films. Miramax cross-promoted the film with Premiere magazine, as stated in a 9 Oct 1990 HR brief, and put up displays at 2,000 bookstores, concurrent with Vantage Press’s re-publication of Thompson’s novel.
       According to a 28 Aug 1990 DV item, the world premiere was set to take place at the Toronto Festival of Festivals in Sep 1990. To qualify for Academy Award consideration, a limited release in Los Angeles and New York City was arranged for 5 Dec 1990, as noted in the 13 Nov 1990 HR, while a “limited wide” release, in 600-800 theaters, was set for Jan 1991. The release was previously scheduled for 9 Nov 1990, but Miramax delayed it “to avoid holiday gridlock” and allow the film “the longest possible runs,” as noted in 17 Oct 1990 and 5 Nov 1990 DV items. On 15 Jan 1991, the Los Angeles premiere coincided with the United Nations deadline demanding Saddam Hussein’s withdrawal from Kuwait. A 17 Jan 1991 LAT brief stated the premiere raised funds for Amnesty International.
       Critical reception was positive, with consistent praise going to Frears’s contemporary take on film noir, and the performances of Cusack, Huston, and Bening. The Grifters received Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Actress in a Leading Role (Anjelica Huston), Actress in a Supporting Role (Annette Bening), and Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium). The Golden Globe Awards also nominated Huston for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, and the film won Independent Spirit Awards for Best Feature and Best Female Lead (Huston).
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
17 May 1988.
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1990.
---
Daily Variety
28 Aug 1990.
---
Daily Variety
17 Oct 1990
p. 1, 17.
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jan 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Sep 1990
p. 5, 21.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Oct 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1990.
---
LAHExam
31 Jul 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Jun 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Sep 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Mar 1990
Calendar, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
5 Dec 1990
Calendar, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
17 Jan 1991
Section E, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
1 Feb 1991
Section E, p. 6.
New York Times
2 Dec 1990
Section A, p. 1.
New York Times
5 Dec 1990
p. 19.
Variety
24 Sep 1990
p. 84, 86.
WSJ
24 Jan 1991
Section A, p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Cineplex Odeon Films presents
a Martin Scorsese production of
a Stephen Frears film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
3d asst cam
Still photog
Video playback
Video 24
Gaffer
Best boy elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Grip
Grip
2d unit dir of photog
2d unit 1st asst cam
Steadicam op
Steadicam asst cam
Grip/Elec equip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept co-ord
Storyboard artist
Art dept intern
Art dept intern
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
1st asst ed London
1st asst ed Los Angeles
2d asst ed London
2d asst ed Los Angeles
Apprentice ed Los Angeles
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Asst prop master
Asst set dec
Asst dec
Leadperson
Key set dresser
Swing gang
Swing gang
Key scenic artist
Standby painter
Standby painter
Standby painter
Standby painter
Standby painter
Const co-ord
Const foreman
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Asst cost des
Ward asst
Ward asst
MUSIC
Electronic mus des
Mus rec by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Asst mixer
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Dial ed
Asst dial ed
Foley ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Opticals by
Titles by
Titles by
Titles stills photog
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hair stylist
Asst hair stylist
Asst make-up
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting (L.A.)
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Prod co-ord
Asst prod co-ord
Prod secy
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Asst loc mgr
Transportation co-ord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Casting assoc
Extras casting
Extras casting
Extras casting
Asst to Barbara De Fina
Asst to Martin Scorsese
2d unit loc mgr
Post prod supv
Post prod asst
Craft service
Consultant
Consultant
Consultant
Promotions
Promotions
Bond company
Tote boards provided by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Asst stunt co-ord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Film processed by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Grifters by Jim Thompson (Evanston, 1963).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Do You Do You Love Me," performed by Dreamworld, words & music by Pete Theodore and Emily Bernstein.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
5 December 1990
Premiere Information:
Toronto Festival of Festivals premiere: September 1990
Los Angeles and New York openings: 5 December 1990
Los Angeles premiere: 15 January 1991
Production Date:
began 23 October 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Cineplex Odeon Films, Inc.
Copyright Date:
7 September 1990
Copyright Number:
PA516398
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo® in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® cameras & lenses
Duration(in mins):
119
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30355
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Lilly Dillon, a striking platinum blonde, places large bets on long-shot horses at Palomas Downs racetrack in New Mexico. After the races, she telephones Irv, an accountant who works for Lilly’s bookkeeper boss, Bobo Justus. Irv relays Bobo’s instructions for Lilly to continue on to La Jolla, California. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, twenty-five-year old Roy Dillon is caught using a sleight of hand trick to shortchange a bartender. The bartender slugs him in the abdomen with a baseball bat, and Roy stumbles outside. Elsewhere, Myra Langtry, Roy’s girl friend of two months, uses her sex appeal to seduce a jeweler after he determines her diamond bracelet is a fake. Roy returns to his apartment and dreams about the man who taught him how to “grift,” or swindle money from easy targets, when he left home at seventeen. Myra arrives, and she and Roy make love. In the morning, Lilly Dillon, Roy’s estranged mother, shows up at his apartment. Roy greets her coolly, and Lilly responds by kissing him on the lips. She admits she is still working for Bobo Justus, handling “playback money” to lower the odds on long shots at horse races. Roy evades the question when she asks what he is doing for a living. She notices he is very sick and calls a doctor connected to Bobo. The doctor arrives with an ambulance and determines Roy has an internal hemorrhage. He warns Lilly her son might die, but Lilly threatens the doctor’s life if Roy does not recover. Lilly meets Myra at the hospital and immediately disapproves of her. When Roy cannot remember who brought him to the hospital, Myra tells him that Lilly saved his ... +


Lilly Dillon, a striking platinum blonde, places large bets on long-shot horses at Palomas Downs racetrack in New Mexico. After the races, she telephones Irv, an accountant who works for Lilly’s bookkeeper boss, Bobo Justus. Irv relays Bobo’s instructions for Lilly to continue on to La Jolla, California. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, twenty-five-year old Roy Dillon is caught using a sleight of hand trick to shortchange a bartender. The bartender slugs him in the abdomen with a baseball bat, and Roy stumbles outside. Elsewhere, Myra Langtry, Roy’s girl friend of two months, uses her sex appeal to seduce a jeweler after he determines her diamond bracelet is a fake. Roy returns to his apartment and dreams about the man who taught him how to “grift,” or swindle money from easy targets, when he left home at seventeen. Myra arrives, and she and Roy make love. In the morning, Lilly Dillon, Roy’s estranged mother, shows up at his apartment. Roy greets her coolly, and Lilly responds by kissing him on the lips. She admits she is still working for Bobo Justus, handling “playback money” to lower the odds on long shots at horse races. Roy evades the question when she asks what he is doing for a living. She notices he is very sick and calls a doctor connected to Bobo. The doctor arrives with an ambulance and determines Roy has an internal hemorrhage. He warns Lilly her son might die, but Lilly threatens the doctor’s life if Roy does not recover. Lilly meets Myra at the hospital and immediately disapproves of her. When Roy cannot remember who brought him to the hospital, Myra tells him that Lilly saved his life, and Lilly claims credit for giving her son life for the second time. However, Roy tells Myra he was an “inconvenient” child for Lilly, who had him at age fourteen. Lilly leaves for La Jolla, but is late getting to the racetrack. She listens to a track announcer on the radio and frets when a long shot named Troubadour wins with seventy-to-one odds. Later, Lilly returns to the hospital. She suspects Roy of grifting, but he denies it. Lilly warns him to stop, criticizes Myra, and leaves in a huff. Roy leaves a telephone message for Myra, suggesting a weekend getaway in La Jolla. Meanwhile, Myra seduces her landlord to avoid paying her overdue rent. After hearing about Troubadour’s big win, Bobo Justus shows up in La Jolla and accuses Lilly of swindling him. He takes Lilly to his hotel and orders her to place a bunch of oranges inside a towel. She recalls that a towel filled with oranges is often used in insurance scams, because the makeshift weapon, if used properly, yields large bruises without causing internal damage. Bobo raises the towel to strike her, but Lilly ducks. In turn, Bobo burns the back of her hand with his cigar. Before he lets her go, he forces Lilly to admit she has been skimming a little off of his earnings at the track. He encourages her to look out for herself, as long as she is not stealing large amounts. Back in Los Angeles, Roy removes cash from a secret compartment hidden behind a painting on his wall. He and Myra take a train to La Jolla. During the ride, Roy slips a magnet inside his sleeve and goes to the club car, where he initiates a game of dice with a group of drunken sailors. The magnet causes the dice to fall in Roy’s favor, and he collects the sailors’ money. At dinner, Myra confesses to spying on Roy’s “grift” and reveals she too is a grifter, formerly partnered with Cole Langley. Roy recognizes Langley’s name. Myra describes one of Cole’s schemes, in which they tricked Southern oilmen into investing in fake ventures. When the man would arrive at Cole’s office with cash, actors pretending to be federal agents appeared. Cole would shoot Myra with blank shells, and as the agents arrested him, the oilman would inevitably flee, leaving his money behind. Roy asks what happened to Cole, and Myra admits he was committed to a sanitarium. She asks Roy to be her new partner, but he is reluctant. In the morning, Roy shows up at Lilly’s hotel room with $4,000 for his hospital expenses. Lilly rejects the money, but Roy insists she take it. He notices the cigar burn on her hand, but she claims it was an accident. Lilly pleads with Roy to quit the grift and get a “straight job.” He promises he only takes part in short cons, but Lilly does not believe him. Roy determines she is headed back home to Baltimore, Maryland, and says it was nice to see her. Later, Myra follows Lilly to the track and spies the large stash of cash she keeps hidden in the trunk of her car. On the train back to Los Angeles, Myra tells Roy she telephoned a friend in Baltimore to ask about Lilly. Roy becomes defensive, and Myra condemns him for siding with his mother. He argues that he took nothing from Lilly when he left home at seventeen years old, and only relies on himself. Back in Los Angeles, Myra presents Roy with an opportunity for a long con in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She says she will contribute $10,000, and needs him to put in between $15,000 and $20,000. When Roy turns her down, Myra accuses him of being in love with his mother. He hits her, tells her she is disgusting, and forces her out of his apartment. Myra decides to go after Lilly, who is still in La Jolla. Meanwhile, Roy calls his mother and says he will meet her that evening for a talk. Soon after, Lilly gets a call from Irv, warning that someone tipped off Bobo to the stolen cash she keeps hidden in the trunk of her car. Lilly flees the hotel just before Bobo’s thugs arrive. Myra follows Lilly to a motel in Phoenix, Arizona, where Lilly asks for a room in the back, and loads her gun for protection. Looking eerily similar, Myra checks in minutes later, and the motel clerk mistakes her for Lilly. Myra steals the clerk’s master key ring and, later that night, sneaks into Lilly’s room to strangle her. Roy is called to Phoenix the next day, where police ask him to identify Lilly’s corpse. Because she was shot in the face, presumably by herself with her own gun, Roy must identify the body from the neck down. At first, he believes the svelte body belongs to Lilly, but on second glance, he does not see a cigar burn and realizes it is Myra. Roy smiles and confirms it is his mother. Meanwhile, donning Myra’s slinky dress, Lilly returns to Los Angeles and sneaks into Roy’s apartment. She searches for a hidden stash of cash, and finds it in the secret compartments behind Roy’s paintings. Roy walks in as she stuffs the cash into a suitcase. Lilly, on the run from Bobo, begs her son to give her the money, reminding him that she gave him life twice. Roy refuses to give it to her, and announces his own plans to go off the grift. Lilly asks how Roy would feel if she told him she was not his mother, then kisses him. Roy kisses back, but stops himself and picks up a glass of water. Lilly grabs her suitcase and knocks the glass, which slices Roy’s throat. Money flies out of the suitcase, and Roy falls to the ground in a pool of blood. Lilly wails and clutches her dying son, but quickly collects herself. She retrieves the fallen cash, sneaks out of the apartment building, and drives away. +

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

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