Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tough Guys Don't Dance (Norman Mailer, 1987)

Oh, man! Oh God! Oh, man! It's time to stop beating around the bush and sit down, or lounge seductively with your shapely legs crossed in a manner specifically designed to drive all the men in the room wild with heterosexual desire, and watch Tough Guys Don't Dance, the Cape Cod set film noir from writer-director Norman Mailer, with the fullness of our attention. (It is?) Of course it is. It's got forthright women, the kind you meet in the back of Screw Magazine (the '80's version of Christian Mingle); femme fatales who used to have bright gold pussy hair back in high school; bland Italian women; southern dandies who use the word "imbroglio" unabashedly; blonde women in white gloves; and, for some sane reason, there's a woman who answers the door in nothing but a red thong. (Wow, this film sounds like a real winner.) You got that right. And get this, cocaine is ingested and heads are severed. In fact, some of the heads that are severed in this film were probably under the influence of cocaine when they were severed. (Looking over the list of things you cited as examples why this film needs to be watched, I couldn't help but notice a couple of odd choices. While there's nothing odd about savouring women in white gloves or forthright women with bright gold pussy hair, citing "bland Italian women" seemed a little strange. I mean, the words "bland" and "Italian women" don't really go together.) That's right, they don't. But Isabella Rossellini is surprisingly bland as an Italian woman who gets mixed up with a couple of losers. Or maybe she was just bland compared to the one woman saucy minx symposium Debra Sandlund was conducting in this movie as Patty Lareine, the southern belle who will shoot you in the mouth if you as much as look at her funny. Yeah, that was probably it. You would be a fool to try to compete with the uncut brand of southern-fried sexy/crazy Debra Sandlund (a.k.a. Debra Stipe) puts out there on a semi-consistent basis throughout this film; a fool, I tell you.

(Hmm, it would seem, judging by the words you have typed so far, that you were quite taken with the performance given by Debra Sandlund as Patty Lareine, is this an accurate statement?) Yes and no. Yes, I was quite taken with her performance; one minute, she's uncouth and vulgar, and the next she's the poster girl for elegance and sophistication. And, no. Wait a second, no? Forget I said no. There's no need for no. In other words, your statement is the very definition of accurate.

What I should have said was: Yes, it's true, I was quite taken with Debra Sandlund's performance as Patty Lareine, shameless gold digger/irresistible cutie pie. But the alluring and hella leggy Frances Fisher does give her a run for her money as Jessica Pond, a professional floozy/cocaine enthusiast with a glare so enticing, you will think you have died and gone to heaven the moment you dip your pinky toe in her azure whirlpool-esque eyeballs.

Welcome to Provincetown, Massachusetts, a small town located on the very tip of Cape Cod. Get comfy, we ain't going anywhere else. Seriously, we're not. Following the wacky misadventures of Tim Madden (Ryan O'Neil), a writer of some kind, the film, amongst other things, tries to explain why there's a severed blonde head in a bag tucked away in the place he likes to stash his drugs.

Starting somewhere near the end of the story, Tim limps downstairs one morning to find his father Dougy (Lawrence Tierney) in his kitchen. From there, Tim tells his father how he got himself in this sticky predicament, one that involves sultry blondes, cocaine parties, suave chauffeurs and Wings Hauser.

We're given a taste of three of those things almost immediately when we're ushered to a cocaine party at Tim's house being hosted by his sultry blonde girlfriend, Patty Lareine (Debra Sandlund). (Hold on, that's only two things.) Don't worry, Wings Hauser is about to make his presence felt. Knocking at the door, acting police chief Capt. Alvin Luther Regency (Wings Hauser) is greeted by a topless woman wearing a skimpy red thong. (I say, don't you think calling a thong skimpy is a tad redundant?) I guess, but there was hardly anything to this thong. I mean, it was barely there. (Fair enough.)

Falling in love with Patty Lareine the moment I laid eyes on her at the cocaine party, it's clear that Debra Sandlund is going to be my ticket to making it through this film unscathed. (Is it that grim?) No, it's not that. I just like to latch onto something, whether it be a sultry blonde, a leggy blonde, or a blonde who is both sultry and leggy, in the early going as insurance. And I think I might need some, some insurance, that is, for this film, as I don't know how much more I can take of Ryan O'Neil's mopey-looking mug.

A quick show of hands: Who wanted Wings Hauser's bug-eyed cop to punch Ryan O'Neil in the face? Interesting, that's more than I expected. What's even more interesting is that I bet most of you haven't even seen this movie. Meaning, his face is the very definition of punchable.

Wearing a yellow dress at the cocaine party, Patty Lareine, or I should say, Debra Sandlund, utters a chunk of dialogue that will cause your jaw to hit the floor.

My favourite chunk being Patty's response to when Tim informs her that she isn't a real blonde. All I'll say is two words: Bright gold!

After a séance, Patty, who is now wearing a white dress with white gloves and a white hat, leaves Tim for Lolo (Clarence Williams III), her chauffeur.

In order to keep track of how many days Patty's been gone, Tim writes the number in shaving cream on the bathroom mirror (the first number we see him write is 24). It's sad, but rather touching. It's also apt, as I would be crawling walls too if I had a woman like Patty Lareine in my life and then suddenly didn't thanks to some smooth-talking chauffeur.

Don't feel too bad for Tim, as he's about to meet the leggiest sultry blonde to hit Provincetown since, well... since Patty up and left. Drinking his problems away at the Widow's Walk, Tim spots a blonde named Jessica Pond (Frances Fisher) sitting cross-legged in a white dress at the other side of the pub. Hey, she's leggy and she's sultry, just like Patty. Yeah, and get this, she's wearing white gloves.

His face may be punchable, but his crotch knows first-rate legginess when he sees it, and wisely excepts her offer to join them. (Wait, join "them"?) Yeah, Jessica is with some guy named Lonnie (Stephen Morrow). But don't worry, he's a queer as a three dollar bill. And by "queer," I mean he's sexually attracted to men.

If he's so gay, why is he molesting Jessica's knee like that? Since when can't gay men molest Frances Fisher's knees? I don't want to live in a world where gay men can't feel up their gal pal's shapely knees in public.

Anyway, if you look closely, you'll notice that Frances Fisher is wearing white gloves when she enters the pub, yet they're conspicuously missing as the scene progresses. (Um, that's because she took them off.) Yeah, but, where did she put them? (That's a good question.) What are you talking about, that's a horrible question. The fact that I'm wasting everyone's time talking about Frances Fisher's gloves in Tough Guys Don't Dance is a bloody outrage.

When they finish their drink, Tim takes Jessica and Lonnie back to his place to enjoy some cocaine. And you know what that means? (Cocaine sex?) Exactly.

The next morning, a hungover Tim wakes up to find a tattoo on his arm, bloody clothes in his jeep and a severed head in a bag in the hole out in the woods where he keeps his stash. Now, I don't want to say what the tattoo said or whose severed head it was in the hole, but let's just say Tim's life is about to get complicated.

According to my research, "tallywacker" is slang for penis, so, when Patty tells Tim he's got a tongue like a tallywacker, she means his tongue boasts the same attributes that of a penis.

(Aren't you going to mention Isabella Rossellini?) Why would I do that? She's not blonde (he pussy hair was probably never bright gold), she's not sultry (she wears frumpy sweaters), she doesn't do cocaine (it's 1987, honey, do some cocaine), and she's not leggy (she wears pants in every scene). Ipso facto, you're not going to get any praise thrown your way. If, say, you looked and acted the way you did in Wild at Heart, that would be a different story all-together.

The majority of people who stumble across this film nowadays are probably not interested in Debra Sandlund, Frances Fisher, or even John Bedford Lloyd (he rocks as a southern dandy named Wardley Meeks III). No, I would say most folks are aware of this film's existence thanks to the infamous clip of Ryan O'Neil saying, "Oh, man! Oh God! Oh, man!" While that's as good as any reason to watch this film. However, I think the film definitely has more to offer than awkward Ryan O'Neil line readings. If you want to see an off-kilter film noir that takes place in a one of a kind location and is stuffed with sultry blondes of the leggy variety, make sure to make a date with Tough Guys Don't Dance.


  1. This movie is even more ludicrous than the book. Yes, I've read a book.

    1. I was surprised by the amount of book-related material I came across while going through the "Tough Guys Don't Dance" tag on Tumblr. I mean, it took me at least six pages of searching to find a "Oh Man Oh God Oh Man" gif that was to my liking.

  2. You might find my multi-hour documentary on the making of TGDD interesting...Death Is A Celebration! An Examination of Norman Mailer's TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE...