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The Best Movie You Never Saw: Quick Change

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at QUICK CHANGE!

THE STORY: A fed-up New Yorker (Bill Murray) robs a Manhattan bank dressed as a clown, and then has to make his way across the city to catch a flight out of JFK with his girlfriend (Geena Davis) and hare-brained accomplice (Randy Quaid) in tow.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid & Jason Robards. Written by: Howard Franklin. Directed by: Howard Franklin & Bill Murray.

“A lot of people will say, if you really want to see where the turn came, the turn where he became the guy in Rushmore and Lost in Translation, it’s Quick Change. I agree with that.” – Howard Franklin – Entertainment Weekly Interview

THE HISTORY: When GHOSTBUSTERS came out in 1984, it made Bill Murray a household name, but the actor didn’t take all that well to fame and, following the box office disaster of his pet project THE RAZOR’S EDGE, fled to Europe where he apparently spent years watching films at the Cinematheque Francais and studying. He was enticed back for SCROOGED and then GHOSTBUSTERS 2, but Murray clearly wanted to spread his wings a bit – leading to QUICK CHANGE.

“You know we couldn't get anyone we liked to direct Quick Change? We asked [Jonathan] Demme, and Demme said no. And we asked Ron Howard, because Ron Howard had made something that I thought was funny. He made a funny movie back then—I can't remember what it was. And he said he didn't know who to root for in the script. And I was like, Hooooooo. He lost me at that moment. I've never gone back to him since.” – Bill Murray – GQ Interview

Based on a book by Jay Cronley, which had previously been made into a Jean-Paul Belmondo flick, HOLD-UP (shot in Montreal!), Murray apparently had a hard time finding a director with the right sensibility for the job. In the end, he co-directed (making this his only directorial credit) with the screen-writer, Howard Franklin, with many calling the resulting film Murray’s best work up to that point as an actor. Sadly, audiences were indifferent to the hard to categorize comedy, and the film grossed a meager $15 million, a disaster considering how big of a star Murray was at the time.

WHY IT'S GREAT: Those that have heard of QUICK CHANGE generally regard it as one of Bill Murray’s best movies – but very few folks know of it. Given that WB only released it on DVD late in the game and never put it out on Blu-ray, it hasn’t been in heavy circulation for years. I suspect that those of us who love it likely caught it on cable in the early nineties and deliberately sought it out, remember how good it was.

It's great. It's a great piece of writing. And how about the cast? You couldn't get that cast together for all the tea in China right now. I mean, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub… - Bill Murray – GQ Interview

It really is a superb vehicle that captures the modern Murray persona better than his more formulaic comedies of the era. It felt like the stepping stone, or rather a glimpse of things to come when you look at his edgier period, which kicked off with RUSHMORE following the nadir of his career (LARGER THAN LIFE & THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE – both coincidently reteaming him with Howard Franklin). It’s a cool role for him, trading on both his wise-guy repartee (“what kind of clown are you?” “The crying on the inside kind I guess”) and larger than life persona. He’s always seemed like a pretty bright guy, and that’s the kind of anti-hero he plays here, with him ably supported by the always great Geena Davis (a year away from THELMA & LOUISE) and pre-crazy Randy Quaid (who used to be one heck of a character actor).

More than anything, QUICK CHANGE works in several different genres, being funny enough to be taken as pure comedy, but also grounding itself enough to work as a legit thriller, with dynamic lensing by Martin Scorsese’s DP of the time, Michael Chapman, and a who’s who of character actors, including Jason Robards as a world-weary cop in a mostly straight performance. Also keep your eyes peeled for a young Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci- with (some) hair!

BEST SCENE: Bill Murray has always seemed like the kind of guy who can’t help being a few steps ahead in every situation, and this memorable bit, where he talks himself out of trouble at a Mafia hideout and even scores a nice pay day, is a classic example of that. Notably, ANALYZE THIS (directed by Murray’s long-time associate Harold Ramis) did a riff on this scene that doesn’t work quite as well.

SEE IT: While it’s not on Blu-ray, an HD copy of QUICK CHANGE is available on iTunes for $9.99. Buy it – I sure as heck did.

PARTING SHOT: If you haven’t seen QUICK CHANGE, you’re in for a real treat. This is Bill Murray at the height of his ability, fully engaged and playing off a memorable cast who’ve brought their A-game. It’s a long-neglected classic, and worth a blind-buy if you’ve never seen it.

Source: JoBlo.com

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