Reversal of Fortune (1990)

R | 110 mins | Comedy-drama | 17 October 1990

Director:

Barbet Schroeder

Writer:

Nicholas Kazan

Cinematographer:

Luciano Tovoli

Editor:

Lee Percy

Production Designer:

Mel Bourne
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HISTORY

The film begins with voice-over narration by Glenn Close, who plays “Sunny von Bulow.” Title cards with the following statements appear at the end of the film: “Claus von Bulow is still married to Sunny von Bulow. He is presently living and working in London. The Johnson brothers remain on death row. Sunny von Bulow has not spoken since she fell into her final coma. This film is based on Alan Dershowitz’s book ‘Reversal of Fortune’ and public records. Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.” Although spelled von Bulow onscreen, several contemporary sources listed Claus and Sunny’s surname as “von Bülow.”
       According to an article in the 30 Sep 1990 LAT, co-producer Elon Dershowitz was working as Edward R. Pressman’s driver and production assistant in 1986 when Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case, written by Elon’s father Alan M. Dershowitz, was due to be published by Random House. Elon gave Pressman a galley proof of the book, and roughly three months later, a 2 May 1986 NYT brief announced Pressman had optioned film rights, with Elon Dershowitz set to be associate producer, and Alan Dershowitz hoping to act as technical adviser. Elon was ultimately given a co-producer credit, while Alan did not receive a technical adviser credit. According to the 7 May 1986 Var, Pressman paid $500,000 for the option.
       A 22 Oct 1986 Var article reported that director Stanley Kramer was considering the project as a potential starring vehicle for actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, who would play “Claus von Bulow.” Dustin Hoffman was ... More Less

The film begins with voice-over narration by Glenn Close, who plays “Sunny von Bulow.” Title cards with the following statements appear at the end of the film: “Claus von Bulow is still married to Sunny von Bulow. He is presently living and working in London. The Johnson brothers remain on death row. Sunny von Bulow has not spoken since she fell into her final coma. This film is based on Alan Dershowitz’s book ‘Reversal of Fortune’ and public records. Dialogue and certain events and characters contained in the film were created for the purposes of dramatization.” Although spelled von Bulow onscreen, several contemporary sources listed Claus and Sunny’s surname as “von Bülow.”
       According to an article in the 30 Sep 1990 LAT, co-producer Elon Dershowitz was working as Edward R. Pressman’s driver and production assistant in 1986 when Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case, written by Elon’s father Alan M. Dershowitz, was due to be published by Random House. Elon gave Pressman a galley proof of the book, and roughly three months later, a 2 May 1986 NYT brief announced Pressman had optioned film rights, with Elon Dershowitz set to be associate producer, and Alan Dershowitz hoping to act as technical adviser. Elon was ultimately given a co-producer credit, while Alan did not receive a technical adviser credit. According to the 7 May 1986 Var, Pressman paid $500,000 for the option.
       A 22 Oct 1986 Var article reported that director Stanley Kramer was considering the project as a potential starring vehicle for actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, who would play “Claus von Bulow.” Dustin Hoffman was mentioned as a contender for the role of “Alan Dershowitz” in an 18 Jun 1986 HR brief. The following year, a 6 Jun 1987 Long Beach Press Telegram item noted that Hugh Hudson was attached to direct, although Hudson was committed to shooting a film titled Wall Time for Orion Pictures, causing Reversal of Fortune to be delayed. Nicholas Kazan had already completed a draft of the script, which Pressman considered to be near-finished.
       Kazan based the screenplay on Alan Dershowitz’s book as well as the attorney’s 100-page appeals brief used in the 1985 trial and transcripts from the previous 1982 trial, in which Claus von Bulow was initially found guilty. The screenwriter also used two interviews between Barbara Walters and Claus von Bulow, which had aired after each trial, in addition to a 2,000-page 1987 deposition provided by Claus von Bulow in a civil suit filed against him by Alexander and Ala von Auersberg, Sunny von Bulow’s children from her first marriage.
       An 11 Jun 1989 LAT news brief reported that Japanese corporation Shochiku Fuji would invest in two of Edward Pressman’s upcoming film projects, including Reversal of Fortune. A 1 Mar 1989 Var item cited Shochiku Fuji’s investing $8-$10 million in the two-picture deal, and stated that production on Reversal of Fortune was expected to begin in Aug 1989.
       According to a 22 Jan 1989 NYT article, Barbet Schroeder, who was brought on to direct sometime after Hugh Hudson dropped out, decided against meeting Claus von Bulow during preproduction because he wanted “to be in love with all [his] characters.”
       Glenn Close’s casting as “Sunny von Bulow” was announced in the 27 Apr 1989 LAHExam, and her $3 million “pay-or-play fee” was reportedly paid by Pressman, using his own money, as the producer had not yet made a studio deal for the film, according to an 18 Oct 1990 DV brief. Coincidentally, Glenn Close had met Claus von Bulow through mutual friends a few years earlier while living on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The actress was quoted in the 30 Sep 1990 LAT as saying she had been “put off” by Claus’s tendency to “hold court” at dinner parties while his second trial was underway.
       The film marked a re-teaming of Close with Jeremy Irons, after appearing together in Mike Nichols’s Broadway production of The Real Thing, which opened on 5 Jan 1984 at the Plymouth Theatre, as stated in production notes in AMPAS library files. According to a 7 Apr 1991 LAT item, Irons decided prior to shooting that Claus von Bulow was innocent; however, the actor waited to reveal his stance on von Bulow’s innocence until after the film’s release.
       In preparation for the role of Alan Dershowitz, Ron Silver met with Dershowitz and studied courtroom footage of the lawyer in which he argued Claus von Bulow’s appeal.
       Prior to filming, Alexander and Ala von Auersberg, who had previously tried to stop Alan Dershowitz’s book from being published, were given copies of Nicholas Kazan’s script for comment. Although the LAT quoted Ala as calling the film “a gross exploitation of [her] mother,” Pressman stated the children had only a “couple of objections” and the filmmakers were taking great care to avoid anything that would be “legally incorrect.” Due to the likelihood that they might be sued, Pressman was forced to obtain the costliest insurance he had ever had on a movie, and script revisions were routinely sent to a team of lawyers for review. A 22 Oct 1990 HR news item later reported that the von Auersberg children had not seen the film but, based on the screenplay, denounced it as an “injurious and erroneous” portrayal of their mother.
       Principal photography began 14 Aug 1989, as noted in a 10 Oct 1989 HR production chart. A 13 Sep 1989 NYT brief listed the Westbury Estate on Long Island, NY, as the location for “Clarendon Court,” the von Bulow’s Newport, RI, home. Shooting also took place in New York City.
       According to a 14 Oct 1990 NYT article, Alan Dershowitz appeared in an uncredited role as a Rhode Island Supreme Court judge, while several Dershowitz family members served as extras in courtroom scenes. A 27 Oct 1989 HR item stated that filming had concluded the previous week, and Warner Bros. Pictures had acquired domestic distribution rights.
       Reversal of Fortune debuted at the Telluride Film Festival in early Sep 1990. A premiere screening followed at the Toronto International Film Festival on 12 Sep 1990. The film’s Wednesday, 17 Oct 1990 release took place on seven screens: three in New York City, two in Los Angeles, CA, one in Chicago, IL, and one in Toronto, Canada. The five-day opening weekend gross was a promising $237,619. By 9 Nov 1990, the platform release was set to expand to 800-850 theaters, according to a 24 Oct 1990 HR “Hollywood Report” column. After four weeks in release, the Dec 1990 Box review reported the film’s cumulative box-office take as a mediocre $1.8 million.
       The film was well received by critics, who routinely pointed to Jeremy Irons’s performance as a standout. Irons won the Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama. Reversal of Fortune also received Academy Award nominations for Directing and Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director – Motion Picture, and Best Screenplay – Motion Picture.
       Sunny von Bulow died on 6 Dec 2008, twenty years after Claus von Bulow agreed to divorce her as part of a settlement in the $56 million civil suit brought against him by Alexander and Ala von Auersberg, as noted in the 7 Dec 2008 NYT. Claus also renounced all claims to Sunny’s $75 million fortune in return for his and Sunny’s daughter, Cosima von Bulow, receiving an inheritance.
       End credits include “Special Thanks” to: Lynn Pressman Raymond; Lyndhurst, a property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; City of New York, Edward I. Koch, Mayor, Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, Patricia Reed Scott, Director; The Movie/TV Unit of the New York City Police Department, Lt. Gasperin; Pepper O’Brien and New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture and Television Development.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Dec 1990.
---
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1990
p. 2, 13.
Daily Variety
18 Oct 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jun 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1990
p. 10, 18.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1990
p. 4, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 1990.
---
LAHExam
27 Apr 1989.
---
Long Beach Press-Telegram
6 Jun 1987.
---
Long Beach Press-Telegram
6 Dec 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Jun 1989
Section N, p. 5.
Los Angeles Times
4 Sep 1990
Section F, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
30 Sep 1990
Calendar, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
17 Oct 1990
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1991
Section E, p. 7.
New York
31 Jul 1989.
---
New York Times
2 May 1986
Section C, p. 12.
New York Times
22 Jan 1989
Section A, p. 18.
New York Times
13 Sep 1989
Section C, p. 17.
New York Times
14 Oct 1990
Section A, p. 15.
New York Times
17 Oct 1990
p. 13.
New York Times
7 Dec 2008
Section A, p. 42.
Variety
7 May 1986
p. 8, 509.
Variety
22 Oct 1986
p. 124, 154.
Variety
1 Mar 1989.
---
Variety
17 Sep 1990
pp. 97-98.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. Presents
An Edward R. Pressman Production
In association with Shochiku Fuji Co. Ltd. and Sovereign Pictures
A film by Barbet Schroeder
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Stills
Key grip
Dolly grip
Best boy grip
Best boy elec
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dept coord
FILM EDITORS
Post prod supv
1st asst picture ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Key set dresser
Scenic artist
Const coord
Prop master
Asst prop
Set builder
Selected set dressings by
Selected set dressings by
Selected set dressings by
COSTUMES
Cost consultant
Asst cost des
Key ward
Asst ward
Spec ward for Jeremy Irons by
Custom tailoring for Glenn Close by
Selected apparel for Mr. Irons by
Fine jewelry by
MUSIC
Mus supv
Mus supv
Mus ed
Solo electric guitar performed by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd ed
ADR ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Rerec eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and opt eff by
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hairstylist
Make-up artist to Jeremy Irons
Make-up artist to Glenn Close
Hair stylist to Glenn Close
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Project consultant
Scr supv
Prod coord
Prod accountant
Loc mgr
Extras casting
Asst loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Asst prod coord
Office coord
Loc asst
Teamster capt
Teamster co-capt
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Prod aide
Publicity coord
Unit pub
L.A. prod aide
L.A. prod aide
Asst to Mr. Schroeder
Asst to Mr. Pressman
Asst to Ms. Close
Tiger trainer
Dog trainer
Craft services
Parking coord
Dailies adv
Post prod facilities
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Reversal of Fortune: Inside the Von Bülow Case by Alan M. Dershowitz (New York, 1986).
SONGS
"Tristan Und Isolde," performed by Eva Marton with the London Philharmonic, written by Wagner, arranged by Arpad Joo, courtesy of Sefel Records, Division of Phoenix Entertainment Inc.
"3 Strange Days," performed by School of Fish, written by Josh Clayton-Felt and Michael Ward
"Sonata In A Major," written by Mozart, arranged by Lee Ashley, courtesy of Ole Georg/Group Pro., Inc.
+
SONGS
"Tristan Und Isolde," performed by Eva Marton with the London Philharmonic, written by Wagner, arranged by Arpad Joo, courtesy of Sefel Records, Division of Phoenix Entertainment Inc.
"3 Strange Days," performed by School of Fish, written by Josh Clayton-Felt and Michael Ward
"Sonata In A Major," written by Mozart, arranged by Lee Ashley, courtesy of Ole Georg/Group Pro., Inc.
"Sing A Happy Funky Song," performed by Miz Davis, written by Paul Politi, courtesy of Original Sound Records Co., Inc.
"Gimme A Little Sign," performed by Brenton Wood, written by Jerry Winn, Alfred Smith and Joseph Hooven, courtesy of Original Sound Records Co., Inc.
"Sea Gull," courtesy of Lyrichord Discs Inc.
"Hot Shot," performed by Karen Young, written by Andy Kahn and Kurt Borusiewicz, courtesy of Walter Kahn/Scully Music & Sunshine Entertainment Corporation
"Quartet, Opus 64, No. 5, Minuet," written by Haydn, arranged by Les Peel, courtesy of Ole Georg/Group Pro, Inc.
"Quartet," written by Haydn, arranged by Les Peel, courtesy of Ole Georg/Group Pro, Inc.
"Late Night Goings On," written and performed by Les Hooper
"Sugar Me," written and performed by Conroy Smith, courtesy of Pow Wow Records
"The Mercenaries," performed by The New Concept Orchestra, written by Dennis Farnon, courtesy of Promusic, Inc.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
17 October 1990
Premiere Information:
Telluride Film Festival screening: early September 1990
Toronto Film Festival premiere: 12 September 1990
Los Angeles and New York openings: 17 October 1990
Production Date:
14 August--late October 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Reversal Films, Inc.
Copyright Date:
10 December 1990
Copyright Number:
PA499404
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Lenses
Panaflex® camera and lenses by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
110
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Japan, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30148
SYNOPSIS

Millionairess Sunny von Bulow lies in a hospital bed in a persistent vegetative state. She recalls the two comas that put her there, and the seemingly apathetic response of her husband, Claus von Bulow. After the second coma on December 20, 1980, Alexander and Ala von Auersberg, Sunny’s two children from her first marriage, became suspicious and hired attorney Robert Brillhoffer to conduct an investigation. They searched the von Bulows’ Newport, Rhode Island mansion and found a host of drugs in Claus’s closet, as well as a needle encrusted with insulin. Claus was also found to be having an affair with a soap opera actress named Alexandra Isles. While his assets only amounted to $1 million, he stood to inherit $14 million from Sunny, thus providing Claus with a motive for murder via a fatal insulin injection. Claus was tried and found guilty on two counts of attempted murder on March 16, 1982. Sometime after, Harvard Law professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz receives a call that the Johnson brothers, two young African-American men he has been defending on a pro bono basis, have been sentenced to death. Meanwhile, hoping to appeal his conviction, Claus von Bulow approaches Dershowitz for representation. The attorney agrees only if Claus pays an excessively high fee, which will help him continue to fight for the Johnson brothers. After going over the case, Alan tells his son, Elon, that he believes Claus is guilty based on the testimony of Maria, the von Bulows’ maid, who claimed that Claus neglected to call a doctor for several hours as Sunny lay in bed unconscious on the day of her first coma in December of 1979. ... +


Millionairess Sunny von Bulow lies in a hospital bed in a persistent vegetative state. She recalls the two comas that put her there, and the seemingly apathetic response of her husband, Claus von Bulow. After the second coma on December 20, 1980, Alexander and Ala von Auersberg, Sunny’s two children from her first marriage, became suspicious and hired attorney Robert Brillhoffer to conduct an investigation. They searched the von Bulows’ Newport, Rhode Island mansion and found a host of drugs in Claus’s closet, as well as a needle encrusted with insulin. Claus was also found to be having an affair with a soap opera actress named Alexandra Isles. While his assets only amounted to $1 million, he stood to inherit $14 million from Sunny, thus providing Claus with a motive for murder via a fatal insulin injection. Claus was tried and found guilty on two counts of attempted murder on March 16, 1982. Sometime after, Harvard Law professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz receives a call that the Johnson brothers, two young African-American men he has been defending on a pro bono basis, have been sentenced to death. Meanwhile, hoping to appeal his conviction, Claus von Bulow approaches Dershowitz for representation. The attorney agrees only if Claus pays an excessively high fee, which will help him continue to fight for the Johnson brothers. After going over the case, Alan tells his son, Elon, that he believes Claus is guilty based on the testimony of Maria, the von Bulows’ maid, who claimed that Claus neglected to call a doctor for several hours as Sunny lay in bed unconscious on the day of her first coma in December of 1979. Nearly a year later, three weeks before the second coma, Maria stated that she found a bottle of insulin in a black bag belonging to Claus. With only forty-five days to file an appeal, Alan assembles a team of law students to help him with the case. In his lavish New York apartment, Claus begins to tell Alan his side of the story. He describes Sunny’s excessive alcohol and pill habit and her dislike of doctors, which kept him from calling an ambulance any earlier on the day of her first coma. Later, Alan meets with his team and argues that evidence in Claus’s conviction was found by Alexander von Auersberg during a private search which should have involved police. He also says that prosecuting attorney Robert Brillhoffer’s notes were illegally withheld from Claus’s defense team, and instructs Sarah, a member of the team and also his ex-girl friend, to solicit the notes from Brillhoffer. A potential witness named David Marriott reaches out to Alan, and confesses that he made several deliveries of drugs to Alexander von Auersberg, who claimed that some of the drugs were for his mother. Alan tells Marriott that his criminal activities make him an unreliable witness. Regardless, Marriott remains in contact with the defense team and offers to help collect evidence in exchange for a nominal payment. While interviewing Claus again, Alan asks about accusations that Claus killed his mother and aunt, but Claus nonchalantly dismisses them as rumors. Comatose Sunny von Bulow recalls her bad habits, admitting that she took excessive amounts of laxatives, ate a lot of sweets despite her hypoglycemia, popped aspirin like candy, took Valium, and spent most of her time in bed. Claus goes to lunch with Alan’s legal team, who question him about a possible suicide attempt in which Sunny overdosed on aspirin. Claus does not give a clear answer on what could have motivated her, but says he presumes she was unhappy. He later admits that Sunny knew about his affair with Alexandra Isles and had been threatening divorce, although Claus wanted to remain married to Sunny. Sunny also disapproved of Claus’s desire to get a job. After she revived from her first coma, Sunny reprimanded him for calling a doctor and suggested he would be better off if she had died. When he describes Sunny’s second coma as a “more dramatic affair,” Alan accuses Claus of being insensitive. Claus argues that not everyone shows his or her emotions. Later, Alan’s team proves the insulin-encrusted needle used as evidence in Claus’s case may not have contained any insulin. Alan suspects the needle could have been part of a frame-up orchestrated by Sunny’s children. David Marriott shows up at Alan’s house, claiming his affidavit is not accurate. He asserts that he delivered drugs directly to Sunny von Bulow once. After asking for more money, Marriott goes to the bathroom and checks to make sure his surveillance wire caught the conversation. He later edits the tape to make it sound like Alan was paying him to be a witness and submits it to the prosecution. After Claus details the day Sunny fell into her second coma, Alan becomes convinced of his innocence and tells his team that he will ask the judge to overturn Claus’s conviction based on insufficient evidence. Later, Sarah and Alan discuss the circumstances leading to Sunny’s second coma, when she was found face down on her bathroom floor with the windows open in zero-degree weather. Sarah makes a convincing argument that Sunny may have attempted suicide again, but Claus also knowingly allowed her to fall into a coma before calling for help. Claus’s conviction is overturned. Alan finally receives Robert Brillhoffer’s notes and notices several discrepancies that would only strengthen Claus’s defense if he were to be tried again. Alan goes to Claus’s New York apartment to give him the good news. However, while he acknowledges it was a legally important victory, he tells Claus, “Morally, you are on your own.” Claus is eventually tried a second time and acquitted, while the Johnson brothers, whom Alan believes to be innocent, remain on death row. +

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

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