Miller's Crossing (1990)

R | 114 mins | Drama | 22 September 1990

Director:

Joel Coen

Writers:

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Producer:

Ethan Coen

Cinematographer:

Barry Sonnenfeld

Production Designer:

Dennis Gassner

Production Company:

Circle Films
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HISTORY


       Miller’s Crossing was made as part of an arrangement between Joel and Ethan Coen and Circle Film, in which Circle agreed to finance several of the brothers’ films, regardless of distribution. The working relationship allowed the Coens considerable artistic freedom, as they only had to submit a script and budget to Circle, and produce a film that “resembled” the script at a budget that came close to what was initially proposed.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the characters “Tom Reagan” and “Liam ‘Leo’ O’Bannon” were not originally written as first-generation Irishmen with accents. However, when Irish actor Gabriel Byrne auditioned, he proposed that Tom Reagan have an Irish accent, and the Coens agreed. Trey Wilson, who was originally cast as Leo O’Bannon, died on 16 Jan 1989. Two days before the start of production, English actor Albert Finney was cast as Wilson’s replacement and took on an Irish accent to match Byrne’s. Although “Johnny Caspar” was written as a man in his fifties, thirty-nine-year-old Jon Polito lobbied for the role, and the Coens re-wrote him as a younger character.
       Principal photography began 27 Jan 1989, as noted in a 7 Feb 1989 HR production chart, and concluded on 28 Apr 1989, according to the 26 May 1989 HR. The film was shot in and around New Orleans, LA, on locations including the International House, a private club which stood in for the “Shenandoah Club”; storefronts on Magazine Street; Picayune Street, where Tom Reagan is seen walking with “Verna Bernbaum” on a rainy night; Church Street, the setting for a shoot-out outside the Shenandoah Club; and Gallier Hall, ... More Less


       Miller’s Crossing was made as part of an arrangement between Joel and Ethan Coen and Circle Film, in which Circle agreed to finance several of the brothers’ films, regardless of distribution. The working relationship allowed the Coens considerable artistic freedom, as they only had to submit a script and budget to Circle, and produce a film that “resembled” the script at a budget that came close to what was initially proposed.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the characters “Tom Reagan” and “Liam ‘Leo’ O’Bannon” were not originally written as first-generation Irishmen with accents. However, when Irish actor Gabriel Byrne auditioned, he proposed that Tom Reagan have an Irish accent, and the Coens agreed. Trey Wilson, who was originally cast as Leo O’Bannon, died on 16 Jan 1989. Two days before the start of production, English actor Albert Finney was cast as Wilson’s replacement and took on an Irish accent to match Byrne’s. Although “Johnny Caspar” was written as a man in his fifties, thirty-nine-year-old Jon Polito lobbied for the role, and the Coens re-wrote him as a younger character.
       Principal photography began 27 Jan 1989, as noted in a 7 Feb 1989 HR production chart, and concluded on 28 Apr 1989, according to the 26 May 1989 HR. The film was shot in and around New Orleans, LA, on locations including the International House, a private club which stood in for the “Shenandoah Club”; storefronts on Magazine Street; Picayune Street, where Tom Reagan is seen walking with “Verna Bernbaum” on a rainy night; Church Street, the setting for a shoot-out outside the Shenandoah Club; and Gallier Hall, New Orleans’s former City Hall, which stood in for Johnny Caspar’s great room and “Mayor Dale Levander’s” office. The Louise S. McGehee School provided Caspar’s home exteriors, and the “Miller’s Crossing” woods, shot on Fuji film stock for more muted greens, were filmed at a farm ninety minutes outside New Orleans. Sets were also built in a garage on Annunciation Street.
       According to the Coens, the film cost “substantially less” than $14 million, the average cost of a studio film at the time. However, a 6 Dec 1988 DV item cited the budget as “nearly” $14 million, and stated it was financed through Bank of California. An estimated $5-$6 million was spent in the state of Louisiana.
       A 14 Feb 1990 Var brief noted the release was rescheduled for Aug 1990, but the film did not open until late Sep 1990. A direct-mail campaign was used to promote Miller’s Crossing, at a cost of roughly $60,000, as noted in a 10 Sep 1990 NYT news item. 150,000 brochures, featuring full-color still photographs and biographies of the actors and their characters, were sent to New York City residents starting in early Sep 1990, according to a 29 Sep 1990 Screen International brief. In addition to radio and print advertising, the film was also screened “extensively” at college campuses to promote word-of-mouth, and a press junket was held at the New York Film Festival, where Miller’s Crossing was featured as the opening night screening on 21 Sep 1990. The following day, a limited theatrical release began at the Coronet Theater in New York City, and on 24 Sep 1990, a benefit screening took place in Washington, D.C., with proceeds going to FilmFest DC. An item in the 5 Oct 1990 HR announced that Twentieth Century Fox was expanding the release to fifteen cities on roughly seventy screens, with a wider release planned for 19 Oct 1990.
       Critical reception was mixed. An article in the 21 Oct 1990 LAT deemed the film a “near-masterpiece” and the Coens’ best script, while the 21 Sep 1990 NYT review described it as “weightless” and “without much point at all.” According to an 18 Nov 1990 LAT item, the film grossed only $4.5 million in fifty-one days of release and would soon be pulled from theaters.
       Miller’s Crossing marked Marcia Gay Harden’s feature film acting debut.

      End credits include “Special Thanks” to: Señor Greaser, AT&T, Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing – New York, Stephanie Samuel and Tesa La Violette, Frank Toye, Kurt Woolner, Alex Albanese, Sue Ney and Hilary Ney.

              Although no literary sources are credited onscreen, writer-director Joel Coen acknowledged in a 7 Oct 1990 Washington Post article that he and his brother, writer-producer Ethan Coen, took inspiration from the works of novelist Dashiell Hammett. Specifically, The Glass Key (New York, 1931) inspired the story’s corrupt urban setting, and from Red Harvest (New York, 1929), the Coens borrowed the story of an older mob boss and his younger advisor, who love the same woman. The script took one year to complete, a long time for the “generally very fast writers,” according to an 8 Jul 1990 NYT article. During a three-month-long period of writer’s block, the Coens stepped away from the project and wrote their next film, Barton Fink (1991, see entry), in only three weeks. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
6 Dec 1988.
---
Daily Variety
20 Aug 1990
p. 2, 12.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Feb 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 May 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1990
p. 14, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1990.
---
LA Weekly
27 Apr 1990.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Oct 1990
Calendar, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
21 Oct 1990
Calendar, pp. 26-28.
New York Times
8 Jul 1990
Section A, p. 23.
New York Times
10 Sep 1990
Section D, p. 9.
New York Times
16 Sep 1990
Section A, p. 19.
New York Times
21 Sep 1990
p. 1.
Screen International
29 Sep 1990.
---
The Washington Post
7 Oct 1990
Section G, p. 1.
Variety
14 Dec 1988.
---
Variety
14 Feb 1990.
---
Variety
3 Sep 1990
p. 75.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Circle Films presents
a Ted and Jim Pedas/Ben Barenholtz/Bill Durkin Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Prod mgr
Unit mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Co-prod
Line prod
Exec prod
Cost asst
WRITERS
Wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Cam dept asst
Steadicam op
Steadicam asst
Prod still photog
Key grip/Dolly grip
Rigging grip
Best boy grip
Rigging gaffer
Elec
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
Art dept asst
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Asst dec
Des consultant
Key set dresser
Set dresser
Leadman
Const coord
Const foreman
Lead carpenter
Lead carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Shop asst
Lead scenic artist
Scenic artist
Stand-by scenic
Swing crew
Swing crew
Set painter
Set painter
Set painter
Set painter
Set painter
Prop master
Asst prop master
2d asst props
Props asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Asst cost des
Ward supv
Set cost
Cost const supv
Seamstress
Seamstress
Seamstress
Cost shop asst
MUSIC
"Danny Boy" sung by
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Musicians contractor
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Prod sd mixer
Dial supv
Foley supv
ADR ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Dolby consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff P.A.
Spec eff P.A.
Main and end titles des and prod by
MAKEUP
Make-up
Hair stylist
Hair and make-up asst
Hair and make-up asst
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Loc mgr
Prod auditor
Asst auditor
Prod coord
Post prod supv
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Loc intern
Scr supv
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Driver - Prod van
Picture car coord
Picture car mechanic
Picture car mechanic
Picture car mechanic
Key prod asst
Key prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Asst prod coord
Prod secy
Office asst
Animal trainer
of Animal Action
New Orleans casting
Extras casting asst
Loc projectionist
Craft services
Craft services
Craft services
Nurse
Payroll services
Dailies runner
Post prod services
Livestock and equip furnished by
Vintage automobiles furnished by
Loc equip by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
"Decatur Street Tutti," written and performed by Jabbo Smith, courtesy of MCA Records
"Come Back To Erin," by Claribel (a/k/a Charlotte Allington Barnard), performed by John McCormack, courtesy of Arabesque Records
"King Porter Stomp," by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, Sonny Burke and Sid Robin, Edwin H. Morris & Co., a division of MPL Communications, Inc.
+
SONGS
"Decatur Street Tutti," written and performed by Jabbo Smith, courtesy of MCA Records
"Come Back To Erin," by Claribel (a/k/a Charlotte Allington Barnard), performed by John McCormack, courtesy of Arabesque Records
"King Porter Stomp," by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, Sonny Burke and Sid Robin, Edwin H. Morris & Co., a division of MPL Communications, Inc.
"Runnin' Wild," lyrics by Joe Grey and Leo Wood, music by A. Harrington Gibbs, courtesy of EMI Feist Catalogue, Inc., Cromwell Music, Inc. and Redwood Music, Ltd.
"Goodnight, Sweetheart," sung by Frank Patterson, written by Rudy Vallee, Ray Noble, James Campbell and Reg Connelly, courtesy of EMI Feist Catalogue, Inc.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
22 September 1990
Premiere Information:
New York Film Festival screening: 21 September 1990
New York opening: 22 September 1990
Los Angeles opening: 5 October 1990
Production Date:
27 January--28 April 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
27 September 1990
Copyright Number:
PA480215
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed with Panavision® cameras & lenses
Duration(in mins):
114
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30173
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a prohibition-era American city, Irish mob boss Liam “Leo” O’Bannon meets with Johnny Caspar, the owner of several illegal drinking and gambling establishments. Caspar suspects bookkeeper Bernie Bernbaum of leaking information, causing the odds on Caspar’s fixed boxing matches to plummet. Caspar intends to kill the bookkeeper, but Leo reminds him that Bernbaum pays Leo for “protection.” Caspar leaves in a huff with his heavy, Eddie Dane, insisting he will kill Bernie with or without Leo’s blessing. Tom Reagan, Leo’s trusted advisor, warns his boss against picking a fight with Caspar, but Leo, who is in love with Bernie’s sister, Verna, stands his ground. He offers to clear Tom’s gambling debt with a bookkeeper named Lazarre, but Tom refuses the offer. That night, Tom gets drunk and loses more money in a card game. He reunites with Verna Bernbaum, with whom he is having a secret affair. With Verna asleep in his bed, Tom answers the door to find Leo, who is fretting over Verna’s disappearance. Leo claims he hired “Rug” Daniels to follow Verna, and now Rug has disappeared too. Tom advises Leo to break up with Verna, who is a “grifter” just like her brother. At Leo’s club, The Shenandoah, a nervous bookkeeper named Mink approaches Tom, delivering the message that Bernie Bernbaum wants to see him. Tom warns Mink against mingling with Bernie, as long as he is in cahoots with Johnny Caspar’s man, Eddie Dane. Tom walks in on a meeting between Leo, Mayor Dale Levander, and Police Chief O’Doole, wherein Leo gives orders for police to raid Caspar’s clubs. Again, Tom advises against starting a war with Caspar, but Leo ignores ... +


In a prohibition-era American city, Irish mob boss Liam “Leo” O’Bannon meets with Johnny Caspar, the owner of several illegal drinking and gambling establishments. Caspar suspects bookkeeper Bernie Bernbaum of leaking information, causing the odds on Caspar’s fixed boxing matches to plummet. Caspar intends to kill the bookkeeper, but Leo reminds him that Bernbaum pays Leo for “protection.” Caspar leaves in a huff with his heavy, Eddie Dane, insisting he will kill Bernie with or without Leo’s blessing. Tom Reagan, Leo’s trusted advisor, warns his boss against picking a fight with Caspar, but Leo, who is in love with Bernie’s sister, Verna, stands his ground. He offers to clear Tom’s gambling debt with a bookkeeper named Lazarre, but Tom refuses the offer. That night, Tom gets drunk and loses more money in a card game. He reunites with Verna Bernbaum, with whom he is having a secret affair. With Verna asleep in his bed, Tom answers the door to find Leo, who is fretting over Verna’s disappearance. Leo claims he hired “Rug” Daniels to follow Verna, and now Rug has disappeared too. Tom advises Leo to break up with Verna, who is a “grifter” just like her brother. At Leo’s club, The Shenandoah, a nervous bookkeeper named Mink approaches Tom, delivering the message that Bernie Bernbaum wants to see him. Tom warns Mink against mingling with Bernie, as long as he is in cahoots with Johnny Caspar’s man, Eddie Dane. Tom walks in on a meeting between Leo, Mayor Dale Levander, and Police Chief O’Doole, wherein Leo gives orders for police to raid Caspar’s clubs. Again, Tom advises against starting a war with Caspar, but Leo ignores him. Tom places a bet on a horse race with the bartender, Tad, then finds Verna in the ladies’ room. He accuses her of manipulating his good-hearted boss on behalf of her brother, but she sees nothing wrong with dating Leo to ensure Bernie’s protection. They kiss, but Verna pulls away and punches him. Tom throws his drink at her, and she saunters out of the bathroom. Bernie sneaks into Tom’s apartment, and offers to help Tom with his debts by facilitating a bet on a fixed fight. Tom agrees to consider it. Later, he visits Caspar at one of his clubs. Caspar also offers to clear Tom’s debt with a $1,500 check, in exchange for learning Bernie’s whereabouts. Tom does not make any promises, prompting Caspar to bring in his thugs, Frankie and Tic-Tac. However, police raid the club, and Tom is rescued from a brutal beating. Outside, Police Chief O’Doole complains about the needless feud between Leo and Caspar. Meanwhile, Rug Daniels, who was trailing Verna, is found dead. Tom suspects Verna of killing him, since he would have uncovered her affair with Tom. Verna denies murdering Rug and accuses Tom of being jealous. Caspar sends several men to kill Leo O’Bannon at home, but Leo outwits his attackers. At his office at the Shenandoah Club, Leo informs Tom he plans to marry Verna, and reiterates that he will not kill Bernie. Hoping to dissuade him, Tom reveals that he has been sleeping with Verna, and Leo retaliates by slugging him multiple times, sending him tumbling down a staircase into the main room. Later, Verna comes to Tom’s apartment with news that Leo broke up with her. She says that she and Tom are “about bad enough to deserve each other” and tries to persuade him to leave town with her and Bernie. Tom tells her that Bernie is no longer safe, and offers to warn him. Verna discloses Bernie’s whereabouts at the Royale Hotel. Tom seeks out Caspar, informs him he is no longer working for Leo, and discloses Bernie’s location. He also states that Bernie is in a homosexual relationship with Mink, who is known to be Eddie Dane’s boyfriend. Tic-Tac and Frankie kidnap Bernie and take him to Miller’s Crossing, a wooded area outside town. There, they give Tom orders to kill Bernie, but Tom takes pity on him when they are alone in the woods. He fires two shots into the air and tells Bernie to disappear, then calls Mink and instructs him to hide out until Caspar calms down. Tom lies to Caspar that Bernie named Mink and Eddie Dane as his true enemies, explaining that Mink and Dane were the ones who leaked the information about Caspar’s fixed fights, but Caspar cannot believe Dane would double-cross him. Meanwhile, Dane trails Tom and sees him meeting with Verna. At her apartment, Dane informs Verna that Tom killed Bernie, then fends off an attack by two of Leo’s men who were hired to guard her. As Dane defends himself, Verna escapes. That night, Bernie Bernbaum breaks into Tom’s apartment and threatens to come out of hiding if Tom does not kill Caspar in the next two days. Tom seeks out Tad, the Shenandoah bartender, and asks if any unusual bets have been made in the past couple of days. Tad names Clarence “Drop” Johnson, a dull-witted fighter who recently made a $2,000 bet. A police raid interrupts, proving that Caspar has become the most powerful gangster in town. Unwilling to believe Tom’s loyalty to Caspar, Eddie Dane insists Tom show him Bernie’s dead body at Miller’s Crossing. A distraught Tom vomits as Dane, Tic-Tac, and Frankie search the woods, but he is relieved when they find the decomposing body of a man who was shot in the face. Later, Tom goes to Drop Johnson’s apartment, elicits a confession that Bernie was behind his $2,000 bet, and sends a message for Bernie to get in touch with him. Tom finds Caspar at the mayor’s office and presents the following theory: Eddie Dane pretended to suspect Bernie was alive so he could continue to double-cross Caspar and leak tips about the next fixed fight. At home, Tom speaks to Bernie on the phone, correctly guessing that Bernie shot Mink in the face at Miller’s Crossing, and that Mink killed Rug Daniels. He demands a delivery of $2,000 at 4:00 a.m., or he will make sure Caspar knows Bernie is still alive. Outside his apartment, Tom is beaten by thugs, who have come to collect his gambling debts. Tom goes to Caspar’s home, tells Caspar that Mink has promised to come by his apartment at 4:00 a.m., and warns that Dane must be dealt with that night. Dane appears and attacks Tom, but Caspar retaliates with a fireplace tool, then shoots Dane in the back of the head. Caspar vows to kill Mink when he shows up at Tom’s apartment. Later, Verna finds Tom on the street. Believing he killed her brother, she holds him at gunpoint but cannot bring herself to shoot. At 4:00 a.m., Tom returns to his apartment building and sees Caspar’s driver outside. He sends the driver away just before gunshots are fired. Inside, Tom finds Bernie laughing over Caspar’s dead body. Tom takes the cash from Caspar’s wallet, then takes the gangster’s gun and surprises Bernie by pointing it at him. Although Bernie begs for mercy, Tom shoots him dead and drops the gun on Caspar’s body. Tom calls Tad the bartender, promises to settle his debt with Lazarre, and places a bet on that night’s fixed fight. Later, he finds Leo O’Bannon and Verna Bernbaum in the woods where Bernie is being buried. Verna rides off without waiting for Leo, and Leo happily informs Tom that Verna proposed marriage. He offers his forgiveness and asks Tom to come back to work for him, but Tom refuses and bids him goodbye. +

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

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