Prisoner and Escort

RIP Charles Grodin. When I found out Fiona hadn’t seen MIDNIGHT RUN, didn’t know what it WAS, we had to watch that, even though we don’t often do screenings of people who have just died. We’re more random.

I was struck by how this one has a perfect clip for the TCM Remembers and Oscars In Memoriam sections. But more important, it’s perfect in the film itself. George Gallo’s screenplay is very, very good.

It’s almost a variant on Raymond Chandler’s instructions for writing pulp fiction: “Whenever you get stuck, have a guy come through a door with a gun. (This could get pretty silly.)” Here, this being a road movie, the guy might drive up, and is generally more likely to emerge from a landscape. But the writer has given himself just the right number of things to play with: apart from our fugitive heroes Grodin and DeNiro, he has a rival bounty hunter, the mob and the FBI. That turns out to be just enough elements so that he can always surprise us with who turns up. The story is practically made of surprise entrances, including one borrowed, I think, from THE DRIVER, where suddenly a space is crowded with feds who weren’t there an instant ago and have somehow apported silently into position without the alert protagonist noticing them. So —

RIP Yaphet Kotto also. This was, shockingly, the last film I saw him in. I friended him on Facebook (or at least I think it was him) where he mostly talked about his UFO abduction.

Grodin, of course, is terrific. The film is really skillfully edited, too, so Grodin gets big laughs just with reaction shots. Comparing this to ELEVEN HARROWHOUSE, I’d argue that he was the great master of rupturing car chases with character moments. In the middle of 11H’s climax his voiceover comments flatly on the country estate where the life-and-death developments are occurring. “It was never a fun place. Oh, they had a pool and everything, but it was never fun.”

I suspect director Martin Brest had a camera on each of his stars all the time, so he wouldn’t miss any magic moments.

Since I like Gallo’s plotting and character stuff so much, it’s a shame I can’t watch BAD BOYS thanks to Michael Bay’s meaningless stylistic jerkery getting between me and the people.

12 Responses to “Prisoner and Escort”

  1. We watched it again last night too, and it holds up spectacularly well. I remembered Grodin’s excellence, but what surprised me this time around was DeNiro. This was his first big commercial comedy after “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” 17 years earlier — and I think it’s the only time he brought the focused intensity of his dramatic work to a comedy, without either mugging or coasting. He and Grodin have such palpable chemistry that I wish they had made more movies together.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Everybody seems to love “Midnight Run.” It’s OK but the late, great Charles Grodin is at his best in Elaine May’s First masterpiece “The Heartbreak Kid” Here it is in its entirety The Ben Stiller starred remake is awful. The May original has such matchless scenes as Grodin explaining to Jeannie Berlin (Elaine’s daughter in real life) that the fact that he’s leaving her — on their honeymoon — for Cybill Sheperd is a great plus for her. Also in his climatic confrontation with her father Eddie Albert does the greatest “slow burn” of all time.

    Being the genius that she is May used Grodin again in her Maudit Masterpice “Ishtar” Here’s a clip.

    And just as wonderful Here’s Grodin ON “Ishtar”

    To say he will be greatly missed is a vast understatement.

  3. Heartbreak Kid is astonishing, quite unlike any other Neil Simon joint. I wish there were more really great Grodin movies to see. Anybody got any obscure recommendations?

  4. According to my contemporary ratings, my favorite Grodin film (not counting ROSEMARY’S BABY) is THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER…

  5. Paul Dionne Says:

    I had friended Yaphet too – interesting fellow, with a heavy but humanistic Republican conservative viewpoint – he wrote the best post ever about Robert Mitchum ever in 2018, which has to be read in full – most unbelievable but totally believable Robert Mitchum encounter ever:
    ‘Yaphet F. Kotto
    JgtSaunuSpoaerfyh m2nSn7,smud 2o01anmir8edcu ·
    Kotto and Mitchum
    Robert Mitchum was regarded by many critics as one of the greatest actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood. No one seemed to know that he was more than just a film actor, director, author, poet, composer, and singer. Before the antiheroes in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was, he was. He was considered a forerunner of the antiheroes prevalent in film during the 1950s and 1960s…. and… He was probably my best friend. We had a few things in common. His father James Mitchum was crushed to death in a railyard accident, my father, Njoku Manga Bell was crushed and injured by a steel beam, eventually dying from his injuries on a construction job in Queens, New York.
    It was February of 1967, and the Beatles seemed to have caused the world to leave its orbit with the release of their “Penny Lane” & “Strawberry Fields” record. Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa begins 8-year jail sentence for defrauding the union & jury tampering. United States Marine Corps and ARVN troops launch “Operation Deckhouse Five” in the Mekong River delta. A Black Man, Edward W. Brooke (Senator-Republican-Massachusetts), takes his seat as the 1st popularly elected African American to the US Senate…and while “Respect” single recorded by Aretha Franklin made the Billboard Song of the Year, Yaphet Frederick Kotto signed a contract with producer Hal Wallis as a featured player in Paramount’s Five Card Stud starring Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.
    After about six weeks of heavy duty filming in Durango, located in the fourth largest state in Mexico and living with the cast and crew at the Mexican Campo courts. Movie legend, Director Henry Hathaway and his large Paramount army of crew and casts left the state that was bordered to the north by Chihuahua, to the northeast by Coahuila, to the southeast by Zacatecas, to the southwest by Nayarit, to the west by Sinaloa and journeyed for Estudios Churubusco, one of the oldest and largest movie studios in Latin America.
    Most of the cast Inger Stevens and Roddy McDowell flew to Mexico City, Mitcham decided he would ride and invited me to go along with him and his driver, it was a thrill to ride along with a super star like Mitchum. He told jokes about his Marijuana bust and his stay in a county jail and then 43 days on a prison farm for possession of marijuana. He laughed about it and seem to take it in stride—The slammer was “just like Palm Springs, but without the Jive” he’d punctuate many things he said by slapping me five—Bob was totally cool, I kept wanting to ask him are you a really white or are you a black man in disguise? When he told me, he had done time on a chain gang when he was 14. I knew he was street wise and a tough dude.
    The Mexican sun has cast its slanting beams upon the distant ocean, here and there visible through the trees. A wave of molten gold sweeps toward one and is gone, in a burst of crimson, purple, and turquoise. The moon climbs over a group of feather-duster palms, making the waterways in shadows even more mysterious. An alligator goes “plop” into deep water, a gull circles beyond. The great white moves out again and dives again into deeper, wider waters, all the earth is stilled in the twilight hush and the glow of the ocean’s harmony.
    The car moved slowly over the dust-covered streets. Bob Mitchum stared moodily out the window at the ink-black scenery as Jorge Javier steered the car. Jorge was also an limousine driver of Churubusco, in charge of the take Mitchum around department. We were on our way through Zacatecas from the Mexican Campo courts in Durango. We were at least 5 hours 28 minutes. Away from Mexico City. Realistically it was going to take longer, , with rest stops, gas, and food stops along the way…Mitchum told stories and played a dozen or more characters as we drove..Jorge and I were amazed..
    “Bob. Why don’t you bring these characters to the screen?” I asked.
    “Are you kidding? The minute I start to act, a dozen studio executives show up on the set asking for old Sleepy Eyes to go back to work!” …
    The scenery across the state line changed immediately It had shocked me the first time I had seen it and it still did. The clean, neat buildings and houses of Durango changed to the decrepit and decaying buildings of old Mexico. Even those built within the last six months seemed to have a sense of shoddiness about them. They always looked the same way from the time they were built until they collapsed or were torn down.
    The same smell of Durango was there too, that of burning meat in the streets from the vendors who cooked their hot tacos on the corners. Noise was everywhere–horns were blowing and people were screaming at each other for no apparent reason. Children were selling everything imaginable on the sidewalks and running up to the cars to thrust chewing gum, cashew nuts, and souvenirs right in the faces of the motorists.
    One boy not more than twelve, reached through an opened window of a parked dodge limousine and snatched something from the dashboard. The kid jumped in surprise as the driver ran from a two story hotel and slapped at him but he ran off into the crowd, laughing.
    “Stop the car, Jorge.” Mitchum said. “That’s an American limo, somebody’s in trouble.”
    “You must go for a priest, Manuel, pronto.” A stout housekeeper said to one of the men, as the long gaunt white man tumbled about on the crude shuck bedtick and moaned with his pain. “I’m dying. I can’t stand any more,” he moaned in despair. “Sweet Jesus, come and get me!”
    About a dozen Mexican people stood in the room and suffered with him. He used to be able to drink his ass off and just feel kind of tired the next day, but now he was waking up dizzy, vomiting with headaches. He was alone with his dizziness and his need to vomit, and the bitter taste to sour taste in his mouth, surrounded by a dozen of the hotel’s management team, praying that he wouldn’t die in their hotel room, the hospital of Saint Augustin, was seventeen miles to the nearest doctor which was an hour and a half away.
    “Just let me go to the Lord,” he told the housekeeper grimly.
    “This is all my fault.” She whimpered. “I should never have let him drink that last bottle of pulque.” She said, Pulque a is a milk-colored, somewhat viscous liquid that produces a light foam. It is made by fermenting the sap of certain types of maguey (agave) plants. In contrast, mezcal is made from the cooked heart of certain agave plants, for tequila, and is known for knocking many of strong men on their ass.
    Suddenly the American rolled out of bed and dropped to the floor. Before the sandaled feet of the people in the room, on his knees, he kissed the brown withered hand of the woman and begged God, not to send him to hell, at that moment the closed door of the bedroom opened and over the threshold stepped Robert Mitchum. He bulked in the doorway with yours truly right behind him.
    Slowly, he walked straight to the man kneeling before the housekeeper on the floor.. “What the hell’s going on, Jason? Mitchum said, as he reached for the drunk man’s arm, and lifted him off the floor like a sack of wet sand.
    “Bob! What the hell are you doing here? Can’t you let a man die in peace?”
    “You’re not dying, Jason, you’re drunk“
    “I am not drunk. I am dying! I’d appreciate it of you mind your business, Mr Mitchum! Can’t you see I’ve been given my last rites!”
    “Kotto…” Bob started when a wail of torment suddenly streamed from the throat of a guest across the hall from another room, it caught everyone’s attention. It was a bone chilling, desperate wail then caused everyone to lurch out of the dim hotel bedroom.
    “Get Jason down to his car, tell Jorge to look in the cantina for his driver and get a doctor!” He said this while passing the drunken man off to me and starting out of the room with the crowd of Mexicans.
    Being black, and helping a drunk ‘Americano’ to his limousine on the street, somehow seemed to equate to my being available for something crooked… I was hit on about every thirty feet I walked. I could only attribute the bad manners to masked inhibitions, assumingly due to the wide open party atmosphere.
    Within the hour I helped the drunk into the passenger seat of his limo, found Jorge and the diver in the cantina and returned to Mitchum who was now ministering to a tortured woman in a cheap room across the hall where we found ‘Jason’. It was late in the night when Jorge returned with a doctor, who leaned over the bed and examined the young wife casually.
    “The woman is in much pain, senore,” he said to Jorge. “She will have to live with it for these baby. ‘The time is near only a few hours now at most.”
    “Pero no puedo soportar más, doctor,” pleaded the suffering patient. “The pain is killing me. You must do something doctor, don’t let me suffer! I beg you!!!”
    “Why don’t you do something for her doc?” Mitchum’s words, too, were tough, fearful.
    “You want I give her the ‘twilight sleep’,” he mused. “That is what your Gringo medical men in the US call the new discovery. I warn you, it’s dangerous senore. It has been known to kill the newborn. Are you the husband of this woman.”
    “Its her decision, ace, not mine.”
    The hypodermic was given. The patient relaxed, and in two hours the baby was born. It was a tiny thing, blue as indigo, and lifeless. The doctor examined it doubtfully. Then he picked it up by the ankles and swung it rapidly to and fro with one hand, while with the other hand he slapped it vigorously on the back.
    There was a feeble gasp or two, then apparent lifelessness. For several minutes he blew into its mouth and nose. No sign of life came to reward his efforts. The mother slept peacefully. Finally, the doctor handed the baby to a nearby midwife and shook his head.
    “lo siento, mi amigo,” he said to Jorge, “but I am wasting your time. I have done all that can be done. The medicine she can preserve life when life is already there; but there is no power on earth can give back life when it is gone. The baby is dead.”
    “Maybe not,” Mitchum spoke up, who took the infant from Jorge’s hands, peering curiously into its expressionless blue face. “Maybe not.” With his face as impassive as Mount Rushmore, repeated the denial, this time as though he were addressing the words to himself, or to a movie character not present except in a screenwriter’s imagination.
    “Let’s not forget the good lord upstairs, doc. If he can give life, he sure as hell can give it back again.” With his Now, graying hair falling in little wings over his forehead he rumbled “Let’s see if he’s willing to get off his ass and give it back”
    “Jorge,” he said excitedly. Mitchum impulsively moves with the baby in one hand and drags Jorge toward the bedroom door
    “Get my Courvoisier out of the glove compartment., get me two pans o’ water quick, one middlin’ hot an’ the other’n cold.” He was trembling from his head to his feet; there was a strange insane light in his weird Droopy eyelids eyes that looked like he was getting ready for bed, Mitchum the pothead and two-fisted drinker. Mitchum the lady-killer started to sing a song in spanish toward the lifeless body of the infant in his arms.
    Jorge took an anxious glance back toward the dumbfounded doctor as the big movie stars singing fills the room. For an hour the man of medicine stood watching the curious manipulations of this curious, unscientific man of the movie screen, dipping the lifeless little form first in one pan and then the other. He worked nervously, abstractedly, his lips moving with his sing as though in prayer.
    “This is not a Hollywood movie, senore Mitchum,” the doctor told him finally. “There’s no happy ending here. There’s no greater medicine, than man’s medicino, no power Hollywood screen writer can make life where there is no life.” As he spoke he picked up his bag and turned to Jorge. “Sorry, my friend. Tell the husband his wife will be fine. But his infant is dead”
    Mitchum refused to listen to him, he knew there was is an invisible wall of divine protection enveloping us on all sides. It is unseen and consequently more potent than the visible protection that we receive. Mitchum was counting on this protection. The doctor who had made his ‘professional’ was denying the existence of that protection. Mitchum refused to believe that baby was gone.
    So he kept on administering to the infant, his body and hands moving to the rhythm of his spanish song. Mitchum behaved as if he had healed before and he was determined to heal again.
    “More water, Jorge,” cried Mitchum, put a little brandy in it continuing his furious manipulations, his inconsistent ministrations almost matching the rhythm of his feverish song in his throat. Another hour followed the doctor’s departure. Mitchum’s, perspiration now streaming down his face his eyes still burning with that insane fire, held the mother, myself and everyone in that room hanging desperately to a delicate thread of hope, even against his own reason and the doctor’s professional verdict.
    Patiently, ceaselessly the Hollywood movie star labored on an on with the pitiful little form of blue flesh, pausing only now and then to call out for more water and singing a brighter tune than the one he started with earlier. Then suddenly a flame of fever leaped into his face. The man, not having discerned the almost imperceptible pulse of life that flickered through the tiny body, grew momentarily fearfully for the woman’s mind. But before he could speak, the lips of the infant quivered. His eyes caught the faint movement almost as soon as did Robert Mitchum’s. He started to cry out; but before he could utter a syllable the joy that had choked him was checked in his throat by a tremendous gasp, which was promptly followed by a lusty wail.
    The child was alive!
    The people in the room exploded in applause and cheers, gathering around the movie star and pounding him on the shoulders and back. It was a celebration in that little, dingy hotel room with the women crying and shouts of ‘How did you do that sir? It’s a miracle….a miracle!!Praise the Blessed Mother and Madre Dios. It’s a miracle” When the mother woke, she found the little bundle of brown flesh lying in the crook of her arm, very much alive by now and sleeping peacefully.
    “You did it! I said excitedly. “How did you do it?”
    “Did what?”
    “You saved that baby’s life!”
    “How about that shit?” Mitchum growled as we started out of the room with the happy mother holding the baby in her arms.
    “Tell me something, Bob. Was that Jason Robards, I helped out of this room tonight, man?”
    “Jason who?”
    “Jason Robards…You know the actor in Long Days Journey into night…The iceman cometh.”
    “Never heard of him. Never saw him down here. How about you?”
    “Oh. Okay. No. I never saw him down here either.”
    “Cool, my man, real cool.” And with that he slapped me five and we left the room.’

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Charles Grodin and Miss Piggy were indeed a great movie couple.

  7. Mike Clelland Says:

    I lived in New York City in the 1980s, and into the early 90s. I was on the subway platform a few years after MIDNIGHT RUN came out. A guy lumbered towards the turnstiles, flashed his badge, and the man in the booth let him walk through a gate (I think all those gates are gone now). This cop was a big grumpy lookin’ black man in a rumpled trench coat. There were a bunch of teenagers on the platform, and when he flashed his badge they all yelled out: “Alonzo Mosely! Alonzo Mosely!”

    This guy’s expression was priceless, he sort of rolled his eyes like, “Yeah, you and everybody else.”

    Sadly, your post told me that Yaphet Kotto had died two months ago. I always liked the guy, he had a great presence on the screen. He talks about his lifetime of UFO experiences here:

    David, why did you put “alien abduction” in italic text?

    Mike C!

  8. chris schneider Says:

    Though I’ve been aware of it, over the years, I’ve yet to see MIDNIGHT RUN. Somehow the thought of a “male/male buddy comedy combined with a cross-country chase thriller” failed to fill me with excited anticipation. My reaction was always “sounds formulaic and eminently missable.”

  9. On paper, it’s very formulaic. It’s elevated by the good plotting, time spent on character, and the good acting — it’s notable for being one of the very few straightahead entertainments DeNiro has participated in where it doesn’t feel like a sell-out. It IS very guy-based, but Grodin’s accountant stops it being completely conventional tough-guy stuff.

    Paul, thanks for that incredible story. Kotto was quite a writer.

    As to “alien abduction,” I believe something’s going on, but I’m not certain it’s aliens. I don’t have a settled view. The quotes were just intended to indicate that Kotto had experienced something he called alien abduction, and which was consistent with what others have reported in the same line.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Kotto is at his best I the original “Alien” The scenes where he and Harry Dean Stanton are griping about their pay are priceless.

    The entire original “Alien” is wonderful. ALL the sequels are second rate. Ridley Scott had a great run back this: “Alien,” “Thelma and Louise” and of course “Blade Runner” Since then his output has been unaccountably spotty.

  11. Ridley Scott was ALWAYS spotty, David; in between the movies you mentioned, he also made “Legend,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “Black Rain.” As my old boss David Puttnam said, “Ridley’s a good shooter.” Give him a great script, and he’ll make a great movie. Give him a lousy script, and he’ll make a great-looking lousy movie.

  12. Scott also seems to have exerted a negative, incoherent influence over the script of Prometheus, which didn’t look very promising in its initial drafts but was not as dumb and muddled as the final film.

    Legend is a misfire, and I sort of forgive Someone to Watch Over Me as a “run-for-cover” project after the great plan to be the John Ford of fantasy cinema fell apart. Screenwriter Heny Bean said that, while Tony Scott, surprisingly, seemed very bright, Scott only evinced real intelligence when dealing with visual matters. “You could talk with him about abstractions and it was… okay…”

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