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Sunday, November 8, 2020

This week's episode of Fargo (season 4, episode 8) includes a shootout filmed at Chicago's Union Station, which, according to at least two episode recaps posted tonight, overtly calls back to Brian De Palma's The Untouchables:

Keith Phipps, Vulture

And so we’re off to Kansas City’s Union Station for a big shootout. And if it looks a little familiar, that’s because Fargo shot the scene at Chicago’s Union Station. Even if you’ve never been there, if you’ve seen Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, you’ll recognize it as the setting of a gunfight that gives the movie its most famous set piece. It’s no accident that the battle in this episode evokes that famous scene, from its long set-up to its exaggerated soundtrack to its strategically deployed slow motion. (There’s no baby carriage rolling down the stairs Battleship Potemkin-style, however.) If the scene doesn’t come close to topping its inspiration, it gives the episode yet another moment that complicates our feelings toward its colorful criminals.

Scott Tobias, The New York Times

It’s probably unfair to chide “Fargo” for ripping off a major set-piece from Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” since De Palma himself has been knocked for ripping off Alfred Hitchcock. And the set-piece in question, a shootout at Chicago’s Union Station, nods to the famed Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin.” Nevertheless, the quotes around quotes around quotes somewhat diminish the impact of a show that can seem, at times, like a shallow pastiche without the undergirding of original ideas or thematic purposefulness. Its pleasures are mostly on the surface.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For the most part, this episode was an entertaining jumble of loose ends and Plan Bs, full of characters who are scrambling to figure out how to act when their schemes have been blown up. With various subplots zipping every which way, there’s not any single unifying idea that binds the hour together, but at this point in the season, there’s just too much narrative business that needs to be resolved.

The main part of Tobias' episode recap ends with this paragraph:
The chaos that ensues from the Union Station operation — with Deafy and Swanee dead and Zelmare still on the loose — adds an encouraging volatility to the final batch of episodes this season. No one is in a comfortable spot here: Oraetta has to worry that Dr. Harvard will pursue attempted murder charges; Loy has to worry that the Faddas are finally uniting against him; the Faddas have to worry about Milligan; and everybody has to worry about Zelmare, who will surely be coming back to town, eager to settle some scores. Sounds like one or two more De Palma set pieces waiting to happen.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Thursday, November 5, 2020


Francesco Francavilla pays tribute to Phantom Of The Paradise

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, November 6, 2020 12:28 AM CST
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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Yesterday at Vulture, Keith Phipps chose "15 Essential Conspiracy Theory Movies" to write about:
"In his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” historian Richard Hofstadter identified a “sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that served as a recurring pattern in American history (though not exclusively in American history). Writing in 1964, Hofstadter connected the dots between eruptions of panic about the Illuminati and Freemasonry through anti-Catholic conspiracy theories up to the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy era. Writing today, Hofstadter would have have little trouble extending that line, from the Kennedy assassination theories that started to crop up immediately after the president’s death the previous November through internet-fueled conspiratorial thinking that has become a prominent part of the 2020 presidential election thanks to QAnon.

Movies have had a complex relationship with conspiracy theories. Misleading — and often outright false — documentaries have been used to push everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to COVID-19 disinformation to alleged UFO cover-ups to whatever nonsense Dinesh D’Souza is trying to push on any given day. Yet the same elements that can make for irresponsible journalism — and conspiracy theories have a tendency to fall apart upon close examination — can prove irresistible to storytellers. The sense that we live in a world filled with dark forces and sinister plots can be queasily intoxicating. (And for this list we’ve kept the focus on conspiracy theory movies with political implications. You won’t find Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for instance, even though it feeds off the paranoid mood of the era, or stories of corporate conspiracies, real or fictional, like The Insider and Michael Clayton.)

What might not literally be accurate can still be metaphorically true. Here’s Hofstadter again: “Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content.” In the right hands, conspiracy theory–inspired movies tap into a deeper sense of unease and distrust. They can also feed into it. Would our distrust of the government have deepened quite as intensely after Watergate were it not for the Watergate-inspired films that followed it? We may never know. But we can explore the question via some compelling films inspired by the deepest, darkest pockets of political discourse.

Following that introduction, Phipps presents a ranked list of 15 conspiracy theory films, with Blow Out at number 5. "A riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup that finds a murder hidden within sounds rather than images, Blow Out casts John Travolta as Jack Terry, a sound technician working for a grubby Philadelphia film producer. While recording some atmospheric noise he witnesses, and records, a presidential hopeful’s fatal car accident, an event Jack comes to suspect is actually an assassination. Propulsively directed by Brian De Palma, Blow Out combines elements of the Kennedy assassination, the Chappaquiddick incident, and post-Watergate paranoia into a potent mystery that suggests even a serial killer’s seemingly random acts of violence might be part of larger plot, building to a climax that’s almost nightmarish in its despair."

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 5, 2020 7:38 AM CST
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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

On Saturday, following the news that Sean Connery had passed away, his Untouchables co-star Kevin Costner tweeted, "I, like the rest of the world, was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Sean Connery this morning. Sean was a crafted actor who was enormously proud of his body of work, particularly his work on stage. And although he was a very no-nonsense person, he was incredibly inclusive with me professionally and personally. He was the biggest star that I ever worked with and I will be forever grateful to be linked with him on film. Sean Connery was a man’s man who had an amazing career."

Robert De Niro, who, of course, played Al Capone in The Untouchables, also issued a statement on Saturday, according to Deadline's Alexandra Del Rosario. "I’m very sorry to hear about Sean’s passing,” De Niro said. “He seemed much younger than 90; I expected – and hoped– he’d be with us much longer. See you up there, Sean."

Posted by Geoff at 10:07 PM CST
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Monday, November 2, 2020

Today at The Hollywood Reporter, Andy Garcia recalls working with Sean Connery on The Untouchables, and also shares photos, such as the one above. "I was one of the four, so we were together a lot," Garcia tells HR's Tatiana Siegel. "His sense of humor was always prevalent. He had a very dry, sort of sarcastic, observational humor that I very much appreciated." Here's a bit more:
It was destiny that I got to work with him in The Untouchables. God works in mysterious ways. It was a great privilege for me. It was one of those things you think that someone will put a hand on your shoulder and say, “Wake up. It's all been a dream.”

We rehearsed for a week or so before we started [shooting] in Chicago. I remember during rehearsal, he was jabbing me with a clipboard that he had in his hands with the little metal part right in my ribs. And I remember knocking it out of his hand. And then he was like, “I like that. Let's do that in the movie.” So that's why it's in the movie like that because Sean was provoking me to get a reaction. Once I did, he said, “Good. I like this kid.”

We were doing a scene where I had to go down the hallway. The camera was looking down the hallway, and he was off camera. It was me answering the phone and having a conversation with him. But he was ready to go play golf right after the scene would be over. So I went in there to answer the phone, and Brian De Palma said, “Cut.” And I walked back to where they were, and Brian said, “Andy, we didn't see your face.” And then there was a discussion about how I’d answer the phone. I didn’t want it to look corny. And Sean looked up to me and said, “Come on, kid, it's not Hamlet: just answer the phone, turn around; let's get out of here.” So. I did another take. Brian says “Cut. Andy, we only saw one eye.” And Sean, with his great sense of humor, said, “You saw two eyes. They’re just very close together.”

His sense of humor was so quick, and you could be the butt of his humor very easily. And he would take it as well as he could give it. I would riff with him and try to hold my ground. And that was my relationship with him in the movie as well. I had to always come back with something. He wanted you to come back. He didn't want you to lay down. I made him laugh, and he treated me very warmly. He loved kids. He loved the fact that my kids were around on the set, and he would play with them. That showed the warmth of his character.

Sean took his work very seriously. He was a consummate actor, and he was highly prepared, so he set the bar very high. As soon as he walked into the room, he was ready, and you had to be ready around him. You had to show up ready to go. He had this masterful touch, imaginative, a sense of interpretation that he had with all of his parts going back to the early Bond.

The last time I saw Sean was at a tribute that we did at the AFI [in 2009], and I was honored to speak about him. After the event, we went together to an afterparty and sat together. We had a cocktail or two, and it was a beautiful thing. I never saw him after that. He lived in the Bahamas. He said, “Come to Nassau. We’ll play some golf.” I thought to myself, “Yeah, I gotta go do that.” I never did. It's a regret I have.

Raise your glass for him. It's never too early to toast Sean Connery.

Posted by Geoff at 8:46 PM CST
Updated: Monday, November 2, 2020 8:50 PM CST
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Sunday, November 1, 2020

"Sean Connery was more than James Bond to Chicagoans, thanks to The Untouchables" -- that's the headline to an article posted yesterday by Richard Roeper at The Chicago Sun-Times. "For many a movie fan and for Chicagoans in particular," the sub-headline continues, "when we think of Sean Connery, we think of the savvy and world-weary Irish cop Jimmy Malone in the The Untouchables, telling Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness how to get Al Capone." Here's the first part of Roeper's article:
“Do you know what a blood oath is, Mr. Ness?”


“Good. Cuz you just took one.” — Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone, shaking hands with Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in “The Untouchables.”

Virtually every tribute to the late Sean Connery led with his signature role as the original James Bond, and rightfully so. But for many a movie fan and for Chicagoans in particular, when we think of Sean Connery, we think of the savvy and world-weary Irish cop Jimmy Malone in the “The Untouchables,” telling Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness how to get Al Capone. As Malone and Ness kneel side by side at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica in East Garfield Park, Malone asks Ness, “What are you prepared to do?”

“Everything within the law,” comes the reply.

“And THEN what are you prepared to do?...You want to get Capone, here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. THAT’S the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone.”

There are certain movie moments where an actor clinches an Oscar, right then and there — and that was one of those moments. Connery had won the Oscar for best supporting performance of 1987 before Jimmy Malone and Eliot Ness left that church.

Brian DePalma directed the highly fictionalized and enormously entertaining “The Untouchables,” but it was David Mamet who gave the film its voice with his brilliant screenplay, and it was Sean Connery who turned Jimmy Malone into one of cinema’s great and lasting characters.

And what a Chicago film it was! DePalma and his production team made great use of the city, from the lower pedestrian deck of the Michigan Avenue Bridge where Ness meets Malone to the canyons of La Salle Street in the Loop to the Blackstone Hotel to the magnificent foyer of the Chicago Theatre standing in as the entrance to the Lexington Hotel. (Jimmy Malone’s apartment has been replaced by University of Illinois-Chicago buildings.)

The Untouchables” featured an outstanding ensemble cast — Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith — and of course Costner was the leading man and hero, but it was Connery as Jimmy Malone that gave the movie heart, that gave it a big-shouldered Chicago personality. He owned every moment he was onscreen.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Sean Connery has died following a long illness at the age of 90, accoring to a BBC News report, citing his family. Connery, beloved as the original on-screen James Bond, won an Oscar for his role as Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables (1987), which was directed by Brian De Palma from a screenplay by David Mamet.

In the wake of the news today, Mamet shared two personal stories about Connery with The Hollywood Reporter's Seth Abramovitch:

Sean Connery, who died on Saturday at age 90, was nominated just once for an Oscar — and won.

It was for his work in 1987's The Untouchables, in which he played Jimmy Malone, a veteran Irish-American cop who teams up with federal agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) to put Al Capone (Robert De Niro) behind bars.

Malone's most famous Untouchables monologue — and arguably the most memorable line from the film — involves a scene in which he advises Ness: "You want to know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way."

The author of those words, Untouchables screenwriter David Mamet, shared two stories about Connery with The Hollywood Reporter.

The first is a reminder of Connery's dry and self-effacing wit.

"I met Sean [for the first time] on set," says Mamet. "Me: 'I am very pleased to meet you.' Sean: 'I never made a dollar off of James Bond.'"

The second story involves a gesture of kindness by Connery that forever stuck with Mamet.

"During post-production [Sean] was in Majorca, and we made a date to speak on the phone," he recalls. "Before our scheduled call my cousin called. She was in Ohio with a failed marriage, a husband who'd just lost his job, and, no doubt, the attendant kids down sick."

"In any case," he continues, "she was beyond despair. I told her I'd have to get off the phone as I was expecting a call from Sean Connery, and I'd call her back after the business call."

"'Give him my love,'" the cousin implored. "'Please; I adore him. Tell him first thing.'"

"Then Sean called. I said, 'My cousin adores you.' He asked about her, and I sighed, and told him the tale of her troubles."

"'What's her number?'" was Connery's reply.

"I gave it to him, he rang off, called her in Ohio, and chatted for half an hour. Rest in Peace," Mamet says.

Connery's James Bond debuted in Dr. No (1962). He would go on to play Bond in six more films, while also working on other films in between. In 1964, he was cast in Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie, and he also made several films with Sidney Lumet (The Hill, The Anderson Tapes, The Offence, Murder on the Orient Express, Family Business). Other movies he appeared in include John Boorman's Zardoz, John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King, John Milius' The Wind and the Lion, Richard Lester's Robin and Marian, Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas' Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, John McTiernan's The Hunt for Red October, Fred Schepisi's The Russia House, Philip Kaufman's Rising Sun, and Michael Bay's The Rock, among many others.


Posted by Geoff at 5:21 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, October 31, 2020 5:36 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 29, 2020

In an essay at Film Freedonia, Roderick Heath discusses Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill:
Kate’s movements are necessarily the camera’s hunt, supplanting the usual tactic of the giallo and slasher movie styles where the camera viewpoint becomes rather that of the killer. The audience is presumed to be aware that we’re watching a thriller but the hunt here has no obvious sense of suspense beyond the depiction of Kate’s blend of anxiety and excitement in seeking out a lover. The act of picking up/being picked up is transformed into a thriller experience in itself, the surging tides of contradictory emotion becoming the essence of the sequence rather than the appeal to displaced eroticism attached to the killer’s desire to tear the beautiful illusion to pieces that drives the more standard slasher movie. De Palma weaves in visual gags, some overt – Kate’s immediate position before a painting of a woman staring back sceptically at the beholder as if challenging to action, neighbouring a painting of a reclining gorilla aping her current opinion of her husband and which reminds her to write in her shopping list “nuts.” Others slyer, like positioning Kate in a frame with the bottom half of a female nude, keeping in mind both her sexual need and De Palma’s smirking satire on the disparity of painting’s sanctioned comfort for nudity and the penalisation of filmmakers who offer the same.

Kate’s dropped glove both grazes standard romantic fiction lore, the lost personal item that presents the opportunity for a gallant gesture, and giallo movie protocol, where gloves are totems of a killer’s presence. The pick-up artist touches Kate’s shoulder whilst wearing the glove, trying to make the first association work but instead provoking the second. Meanwhile photographer Ralf D. Bode’s camera tracks and moves with sinuous care around the museum corridors, illustrating Kate’s roving through a system of gates and passages, stops and permissions, at once sexual and algorithmic, echoing Peter’s computer with its capacity to both hold and carry binary numbers, whilst also recalling the jokes about computer dating in Greetings. The gestures that finally resolve the tension of the sequence as well as signalling something else in the works again involves Kate’s gloves: Lockman waves one to her from the waiting taxi window whilst the other one, the camera panning from Kate’s fce over to the captured object: only to the repeat and attentive viewer does a vital detail emerge, the sight of a long-haired woman wearing sunglasses and a black raincoat in the midst of this shot, on the pavement between steps and car. Kate has already thrown down her other glove in vexation. As Kate is drawn into the taxi by Lockman, her expression of affected gratitude smothered in a violent kiss, the dropped glove is retrieved by an unseen person.

This whole sequence might well be counted as De Palma’s single greatest achievement, a multivalent piece of filmmaking that piles up meanings as plot-enabling suspense sequence, character study, extended sex joke, essay on cinemagoing and art appreciation, and lecture on film grammar and history. In the taxi, the movement resolves with a transgressive act as Kate’s world is rocked by Lockman’s deftly seductive touch which nonetheless has a resemblance to a crime – the sudden silencing, being dragged into the cab and molested, Kate’s moans of excitement. Meanwhile De Palma weaves in the first of several nods to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976), a film De Palma was initially slated to direct, as the cab driver ogles the spectacle unfolding on his backseat, part of the texture of a film that gleefully perpetuates the mythology of New York in its bad old days as a place where all kinds of human perversity spilt into the streets. “There’s plenty of ways to get killed in this city if you’re lookin’ for it,” Dennis Franz’s quintessential Noo Yawk cop Detective Marino states a couple of reels later, and Kate’s search for Eros is also naturally stalked by Thanatos.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, October 30, 2020 12:56 AM CDT
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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Earlier this month, the podcast Light The Fuse (hosted by Drew Taylor and Charles Hood) interviewed David Koepp about his work on Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. Listen for some good discussion of how the sceenplay was developed, some fun stories, and Koepp's lovingly-rendered and highly amusing "De Palma" voice. The interview is podcast in two parts. I haven't yet listened to Part 2, which delves into "several further unrealized reunions with Brian De Palma," but here's a bit of a transcript from Part 1:
Were you brought onto the project by De Palma?

Yes. Brian and I had done Carlito's Way together a couple of years prior to that, and we had gotten along great. And I was about to do... I had just finished Lost World, I think... and I was about to start, I was gonna do Shock Corridor. Remember the Sam Fuller movie? Yeah. Uh, somebody was going to remake it at Disney. I can't remember the producer. And is there's one thing that seems perfectly suited, it's Shock Corridor and Disney. [laughter] And I... but I had an idea for, you know, a journalist who goes in and can't get out. You know, I thought it was going to be kind of cool. And I think we were negotiating, or talking... somebody was trying to convince somebody to do it. And, I got a call from Brian, who said, you know, it was pre-cell phones, or mostly pre-cell phones. So I remember calling him back from a restaurant. And I said, "What? What is so urgent?"

He said, "What are you doing?"


I said, "I'm eating."

And he said, "No, no, what are you writing?"

"I think I'm going to write Shock Corridor at Disney."

And he said, "Huh!? Shock Corridor? That's a terrible idea!"

I said, "Brian, did you just call me to berate me? I'm eating!" You know.

And he says, "Mission: Impossible. Tom Cruise. I have to see you in the morning."


And, uh, the rest is history.

Was there any material at that point? Because we've heard that, you know, Sydney Pollack and some other people had been flirting with the idea before.

Yeah, there were several pieces of material. There was a script that Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz had written. And then subsequent to that, there was a treatment that Brian had done with Steve Zaillion. But Zaillion had to go, because he either... but I've never asked him directly... either he had to go because he had another commitment, or he had to go because he got a whiff of [starts to laugh] what it was going to be like working with Tom and Brian, and perhaps a certain lack of freedom that he might have enjoyed. And so he left. But I came in and then Brian and I reworked the treatment, because it had been a first draft, but also I had some other ideas. Nobody could ever just do somebody else's thing, you gotta wreck it, so Brian and I worked through another treatment and then I wrote some scripts.

Did you read that original script?

Which original one?

The Katz? Sure! Yeah, I did. It wasn't the direction that I wanted to go. But it had a lot of good things in it.

Did any of it manage to make its way into the movie? Anything from that draft?

Uh, I don't believe so, no.


Oh, wait, his first name. I think he was Ethan in their draft. But I think he... he remained Ethan, and Hunt was mine, because Hunt seems like a cool name. But that wasn't the coolest name-- I was very happy with Luther Stickell. It's one of my favorite character names that I've made up. That was Ving Rhames' character.

And it's hung around for a long time now.

Yeah, there's a funny story about that-- yo want to hear it?


I figure this is the place, right? So, we were in Prague right before shooting. So we were doing rehearsals. And it was fascinating, because Prague had just reopened in the mid- '90s, you know, after the fall of communism. And so we were staying-- Brian had this room at a hotel that we were all staying in that was like where the politburo must have stayed when they came to town. You know, it was this gigantic room with a huge conference table with a giant map of Europe at the end of it. And I mean, you could just picture, you know, like Brezhnev up at the map, you know, talking about where they wanted to go next. It was a really cool room. So anyway, we were rehearsing, and we got to the end, and the, yo know, the script had been through its turbulent life, and, you know, there's more turbulence to come. But it was in a pretty good state, and everybody was pretty cool at that point and we were ready to start shooting. And we were finishing our rehearsal, and Brian said, "Anybody got anything else?"

And Ving Rhames said, "Yeah, I got a question."

We said, "Okay. What's the question?"

He said, "How come the black guy gotta die?"

And we said, "Well, you know, a number of people die. You know, it's not just him."

And he said, "Yeah, yeah, but, how come the black guy always gotta die?"

And we were like, "Oh. Okay, Ving, you're right." So we kept him alive. And what I think is hilarious about it is seven movies later, Ving's still there. He was not only right about the note, but he also, in terms of career longevity, was right about staying alive.

Yeah. Where was he supposed to die in the script? Do you remember?

On the train at the end. It was all very exciting.

Well, should we start talking about the turbulence of this script?


So why was it turbulent even before you told Ving Rhames that he got to live? I mean, where was it at that stage?

There was... you know, there's two very strong personalities at the center-- well, more than two, but the, you know, the two dominant personalities at the center of the movie were Tom and Brian. And they liked each other very much, and they also disagreed a lot. You know, Brian has a really clear viewpoint on things. You know, he is an auteurist, no question. Brian gets to be called an auteur because he writes half his own stuff, but even on the stuff he doesn't write, it's an extremely clear point of view and he's one of the few directors where you can look at a shot and say, oh, it's a Brian De Palma movie. And that's rare. And you hire somebody for that, and then you... it's very hard for them to just give it up. And Tom, I think, both wanted to respect that and struggled with it, because he didn't always agree with the viewpoint. And he had a very clear idea, and he was producing the movie and also had a very clear idea about what he thought it should be. So you know, you just had two brilliant guys who a lot of the time would get along great and were great allies, and sometimes wouldn't. I think Tom also felt quite a bit of anxiety about it. It was going to be a great big expensive movie, and he was producing the movie, which he was doing with Paula Wagner, for the first time. And so there was a, you know, really high degree of personal responsibility for it. And as personally responsible as Tom Cruise feels about every single thing he does and every single person that he meets throughout his entire life, if you could multiply that by a few, for this, the first giant movie that he was producing and starring in and creating a franchise from... you now, there's a certain level of attentiveness there.

And so Brian and I had done a thing together, and we had a relationship where we trusted each other. And so, there was a dynamic. Maybe he felt it was two-on-one. Now granted, there was two of us, and then there was one of Tom Cruise, so, it could have been 50 of us, it wouldn't necessarily have mattered. He's got an extremely strong personality and point of view. And then I think what happened is the studio made a sort of... Sherry Lansing was running the studio at the time, and she made what I think was a tiny bit of a mistake in terms of working with Tom, which was to say, at a certain point, "We love the script-- we don't have any notes."

And I think that makes a person nervous. Especially of you're a person who's used to working on something exhaustively. You know, Brian and I had no intention of stopping, but I think he heard, "We don't have any notes," and he thought, oh, they're just going to try to jam me into this and get it out, because it's a title, you know, it's a big thing. And so at that point then he wanted to bring in Bob Towne to work on it, and I didn't like that, you know. Because I was also young, and I didn't like anybody touching my stuff, and I didn't realize that perhaps you shouldn't work on hundred-million dollar movies if you don't want anybody touching your stuff. [Laughter] And so, you know, there was a lot of back-and-forth at that point-- the next several months, as Towne did his thing, and then I'd come back and do more of my thing, and then a some point, we're both on the movie, but at different hotels in London. You know, the studio's maybe going to shut it down, or maybe they're not, there's pages flying everywhere, I was staying up for three days at a time trying to combine things. And it was sort of chaotic. It was chaotic-- it wasn't sort-of-chaotic.

That was leading up to the production? All that?

Yeah, that was all before cameras ever rolled. Once cameras rolled, it settled down, as things tend to. There were still, you know, last-minute rewrites and things like that, but there wasn't the sort of... it didn't have that feeling, a little bit of the wild west prior to production.

What was the biggest logjam, in terms of... was there a set-piece or something that caused that caused all this to happen, or was it just rewriting the script again and again? Or what was the hold-up?

Just rewriting the script again and again. And I think because it was a complicated plot, and we all wanted it to be a complicated plot. But you kind of have to all agree on what the complicated plot is, and how much complication is too much. And I remember one day we had... there was an opening, you know, which was quite extensive, and jam-packed full of exposition and death and reversals and set-ups-- you know, it's a very complex piece of writing that starts, you know, with a story inside a story that turns out to be a fake, and then these people are all running a thing, but somebody's running a thing on them. And I remember getting into a disagreement with Tom about... there was one security guard who had no lines. He had to push a button.

And he said, "Well, who's that guard?"

I said, "That's... the guard, who works there."

And he said, "No, no, no, but who is he really?"

And I said, "No, he really is the guard who works there."

And he said, "Yeah, but wouldn't it be better if he wasn't the guard who works there, but he's actually somebody else, and we find out who it is, and Ethan figures out that that's who it is because of..."

And I'm like, "No, it wouldn't be better, because Ethan just needs to walk through the door!"


You know, and then that would lead to an hour of discussion.


He might-- but, I'm sure he doesn't remember, but if he did, he might tell the story in a different way. But, you know, we all have our opinions.

What did you think when the movie came out and people said it was still too complicated?

[Laughter] That's a... Brian called me the day after it came out and he said, "Dave! [can't stop laughing] There's a one-word buzz on this movie. 'Incomprehensible.'"

[more laughter]

"No, no. no, it's supposed to be complicated. This is okay. People are gonna love it. And..."

[more laughter]

Well, you have this amazing archive on your website of your old scripts. A lot of scripts, and you have multiple drafts of Mission: Impossible, and we had a chance to take a peek at them. So I wanted to just ask a couple questions about how certain things evolved. I mean, I think maybe the biggest thing is the romance between Ethan and Claire. And, you know, it was more explicit in earlier drafts. I think in the earliest draft you posted on your website, the two of them are having an affair right from the beginning, and it's hidden from Phelps, and Ethan's deciding whether or not, in the opening of the movie, "Should I..." You know, he's trying to grapple with whether or not he wants to to reveal that to Phelps.] And then as more drafts come in, that gets shaded back. And then, to the final shooting script, then it's obviously very close to what ended up in the movie, except for one thing, is that they have sex on the train. They make love on the train. It's implied they do, in the middle of the movie, right before the Langley heist, I think is when it happens. So I just wanted to ask you about the evolution of the Claire-Ethan romance, and what decisions went into why it was scaled back, and stuff like that.

It was a little while ago, so I, you know, I may not remember clearly why. I remember that that's how it was originally. I'm not sure I remember how I lost that fight. Because I liked them having an affair. I liked that they were sleeping together, and I liked that he was morally compromised. And I thought that that was going to be fascinating. And, you know, having an affair with the wife or girlfriend... I can't remember, I think wife... the wife of your mentor-- that's not so good. And it gets into some... you know, Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, there's some very nice triangly stuff in there, and I love t write triangles. I think that, you know, somebody involved maybe didn't want to play that. So I think in the end the thinking was, no, no, they're not having an affair, but Phelps' treachery and jealousy actually causes the thing to happen that he was most afraid of, which is that they end up together.


Which is fine, too. And obviously the movie did well, and no one was injured during filming, so that's good. [laughter] I liked that he was having an affair. I thought that would have been kind of fun.

Did they shoot the scene on the train? Did they shoot that, where the two of them consummate their romance before the Langley heist?

I don't believe so. Before the Langley heist, in the middle of the movie, maybe.


It's on that train. Right.

Yeah, it's on the train where we first meet Krieger and Luther...


And they run down the whole scheme of what they're going to do, and then there's a scene in the train there in the shooting script that you have on your website that the two of them have a little conversation after that scene, and then they...

Yeah. I thought the best sequence in that section of the movie-- that I hope was in the first draft that you read-- was the rounding up the team sequence.


Was that in there, where he, you know...

I think that's in your second draft.

Yeah, somebody's busted out of a prison in India.


Yeah, there's an extended seven or eight page rounding up the team sequence, when, after, you know, Ethan's team's all been killed, and he's off now on his own, and he has to go figure out who's done this and why, but of course, he needs people to help him. So he, you know, every great team movie has a rounding-up-the-team sequence. You know, it's Guns Of Navarro, and it's, well, it's a million of them. So, Brian and I had come up with what we thought was fun and funny and adventurous, and had some good size to it. And it just died in the last minute, because of budget. You know, it was a very expensive sequence, but it made me so sad because I particularly liked the prison break in India. I thought it was a great idea for how to bust somebody out of prison. You go see them, you shoot them with a dart that they don't even know about so they think they're dead. And then the prison takes them up to the roof to cremate them and you rescue them with a helicopter. It's great! Because a guy wakes up in a coffin and he's sliding toward flames. That... [laughter] that seemed like a lot of fun to me.

There was also another team member, right?

Yes, who was it...

Paul... I want to say Mitnik?

Oh, right, the computer guy. Sort of combined names with Luther Stickel. Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. As one of those Spider-Man movies came to call him, the guy in the chair. I like to think that we had an early guy in the chair in Luther.


There's always a guy in the chair. Yeah, it was a shame we lost that sequence. Imagine how well the movie would have done if we'd had it. [laughter]

Meanwhile, Christopher McQuarrie, currently in Rome filming the seventh Mission: Impossible film, posted the picture above today on his Instagram page, with the following caption:

There is no escaping the past…*

*With us strictly by chance, the lens used to shoot Ethan’s meeting with Max some 25 years ago in Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2020 12:33 AM CDT
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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Posted by Geoff at 11:30 PM CDT
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