Tough Guys Don't Dance

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Oh man! Oh god, oh man! Oh god, oh man! Oh god, oh man! Oh god, oh man! Oh god!”

Want to find the worst line reading in the history of cinema? Then look no further than Tough Guys Don’t Dance and the above dialogue. To be sure, any actor would find it hard to wrap their mouth around such shit, but Ryan O’Neal somehow makes it extra pungent. He speaks it like he’s a being who is only aware of verbal communication as a concept – it hasn’t yet been proven to his satisfaction that it’s a reality.

Confounding the scene is Norman Mailer’s direction. He begins the scene with some appropriately lush, soapy music and then asks Ryan O’Neal to open a letter while standing on a cliff that overlooks a beach. Waves crash below and O’Neal reads the note. In time honoured soap opera fashion, the author of the letter begins talking. We then find out, via some incredibly over the top Isabella Rossellini voiceover, that O’Neal’s wife is having an affair with Rossellini’s husband and that she wants O’Neal to murder the pair of them. The music then reappears full blast. However, instead of lush orchestration, we now get the musical equivalent of a police siren going off. Because you know, potential murder must be signalled with klaxons and flashing lights. And after O’Neal repeats those horrible words, the camera goes around in circles. Oh the dizzying confusion! Oh the mental anguish! O’Neal’s head is in a spin! Do you see? DO YOU SEE?!?

I also like the way that O’Neal decides he has to drive all the way to the beach in order to read this letter. After all, Rossellini hands the note to him in person. So he could, you know, read it in his car. Or he could read it on the sidewalk after Rossellini closes the door in his face. Or he could even take it to his house. But no, he decides that a letter of this magnitude must absolutely be read on a cliff that overlooks a beach. Nothing else will do. He needs the waves, the ocean spray and the sand dunes. This is the perfect backdrop to a good old bit of letter reading.

Tough Guys Don’t Dance tries to be a tough film noir in The Big Sleep mould but instead comes across as a big budget Days of Our Lives. All the blood and all the sex in the world can’t disguise the tasteless camp of the whole enterprise.

I first knew that Tough Guys Don’t Dance was going to be something special when O’Neal’s redneck wife appears in a skimpy outfit playing a trumpet. She then responds to a comment O’Neal makes about her collar and cuffs not matching with the following wisecrack. ‘Ah used to have golden blonde pussy hair until ah scorched it with tha football team’.

Soon after this is a scene where O’Neal, his wife and a couple of friends decide to have a séance. For some reason, O’Neal’s wife and one of their friends see something bad happening in the future. What follows is not only a close-up of two hysterical people screaming, but one in deep focus – you get two melodramatic screamers sharing the same frame. Most excellent.

Would you believe it, the bad omens come true. O’Neal’s wife leaves him and he finds not only one severed head – he finds two! Oh god, oh man!

The story that follows is both dense and senseless. Therefore it’s better to enjoy Tough Guys Don’t Dance as a series of lurid vignettes. The plot as a whole is a fucking mess.

One of the funniest scenes is when O’Neal picks up a woman and her lover. O’Neal then tells them that he feels demented – that he could fuck the woman with the man watching. Demented? It seems like such a strange choice of words. But maybe it would make some sense if it weren’t for O’Neal sitting there like an impassive slab of meat. He doesn’t seem to have the imagination to be demented.

But this revelation of supposed dementia turns the woman on and she begins to perform a slobbering blow-job. And just when you’re tittering in amusement, you jump cut to O’Neal fucking the woman in a parking lot while the lover stands there crying. ‘Would you let me speak?’ he says. ‘In the name of decency would you let me speak!’ What is it that you want to say, mate? That the sight of the puffy Ryan O’Neal puffing your old lady with his puff-puff is distressing you? Yeah, you and me both.

Another favourite scene is a lousily choreographed fight sequence. The fisticuffs make the actors look like a couple of drunken squirrels duking it out. We even have one character throw dirt in the eyes of the other. But despite this apparent lack of lethality, a man manages to stab and kill O’Neal’s dog. This leads to the film’s second best piece of dialogue. ‘Have a heart,’ says a dying thug. And then O’Neal responds, in his gravest tones, ‘Your knife…is in my dog.’ The delivery is just so unconvincing that I was doubled up with laughter. And then exacerbating my laughter was the thug’s reaction. ‘I’m sorry, man, I ain’t got nothing against your dog.’ Yeah, me and Rex were pals. Many was the time we used to shoot the shit over a bowl of Pedigree Chum. I’m sorry I had to gut him.

The third best line is when O’Neal’s dad dumps the pair of heads in the sea. He comes back from his errand and tells his son, ‘I just deep sixed two heads.’ It’s not every day that you get to say that. I mean, if you’re really pushed, you might be asked to deep six one head in your lifetime. But to deep six two heads? That’s some heavy shit, man.

But despite the grisly nature of this task, O’Neal’s dad is non-plussed. He’s just happy that O’Neal didn’t grow up to be a damn poofter like he thought he’d be. I mean, O’Neal’s character wanted to be a writer. That’s some gay shit right there, isn’t it? And so deep sixing a couple of heads to prove that you’re Barry Big Bollocks is the least you can do.

Another choice scene occurs towards the end. You see, there’s this corrupt Police Chief that’s married to Isabella Rossellini’s character. But he’s a bit pissed off because Rossellini used to fuck O’Neal and O’Neal screwed up her reproductive organs when they had a car crash some years back. And so at the end the Police Chief confronts O’Neal. But then the Police Chief headbutts a door and has a stroke. Woah. No fight. No knife attack. No gun shots. The villain just hits his head on a bit of wood and has a stroke. Wonderful.

But it gets better. The evil Police Chief, now with half of his face disabled and his speech impaired, has an argument with his wife. He tells her that he made her come sixteen times a night. She then says that none of the orgasms were good. And his reply? ‘That’s because you have no woooooooomb!’ This came so far from left field that I think I squirted water out of my nose. The mad, howling delivery of the word ‘womb’ combined with the childishness of the insult had me in stitches. I do believe I watched that bit more than once.

By the way, did I mention that the crazy Police Chief confesses that he’s the sort of man who has to come twice a day? He says he has to use both nuts to hump two women each day otherwise he doesn’t sleep too well. And in an earlier scene he tells a story about a serial killer who took photos of his victims. He says that the story turns him on. Yeah, insane doesn’t quite describe the character.

But then the whole film is insane. Everything here is exaggerated and over the top. I mean, for fuck’s sake, in this film Penn Jilette gives Isbabella Rossellini a series of thundering orgasms. You don’t see that every day. And so what little enjoyment you can take out of this turd of a film is that it actually got made. Honestly, if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, just watch this movie and realise that people handed cash over to make it. Oh god, oh man.

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  1. Oh man! The only thing I remember about this tawdry film was some girl who took her clothes off as soon as Wing Hauser came to the front door of the party.

    The rest of the film was so boring that I fast-forwarded most of it. Had I knew that this was in the "So bad that it's good" camp like "The Mighty Peking Man" I would have actually checked it out over a keg of beer!