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A visit from the script doctor

Posted at 6:15 PM on February 22, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Script doctor extraordinaire Robert Towne came by the MPR studio's today. It was a tough interview in a way because with a writing history stretching back to the 1960's ("The Man from UNCLE" for heaven's sake!) it was hard to know where to begin. (A partial list of his movies: "Bonnie and Clyde," "Shampoo," "Chinatown," "The Missouri Breaks," "Heaven Can Wait," "Personal Best," "Greystoke," and both "Mission Impossible" movies.)

Anyway both Mary Lucia at the Current and I took a run at the challenge, and ended up with a couple of quite different interviews.

I got to ask about one of my favorite scenes, ever, which he wrote for "The Last Detail." It's the film where Jack Nicholson plays Billy "Bad Ass" Buddusky, a disgruntled navy regular who is charged with escorting a young recruit (Randy Quaid in his first film) to the brig to start a long sentence for stealing. When Buddusky and his co-escort Mule Mulhall (Otis Young) realize how green and inexperienced their prisoner is, they decide to take a side trip to show him a little action before sticking him in the slammer.

The scene in question is the frozen picnic they hold as the moment approaches when they have to drop him off. They stand in a snow-covered park trying to barbeque meat while drinking frozen beer. They are blue with cold, but keep at it, desperate to show they are unconcerned by the prison time ahead. As a viewer you get cold just watching it, and it's made worse by every swallow of beer. It's an incredibly emotive scene.

I asked him how they got that effect, and he said it was quite simple: they shot it in Toronto in the winter.

Serves me right I suppose.

February 2006
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