Quick Change (1990)

Tonight's episode:
The NYC of -
To date the only film (co)directed by Bill Murray.

"Three thieves successfully rob a New York City bank, but making the escape from the city proves to be almost impossible."

I really loved this film when it came out, but it wasn't my affection for it that nominated it for inclusion here but as a showcase of a bygone era of New York City. As mentioned last time (Night Shift), the Big Apple underwent a yuuuge transformation in the late 80s and early 90s from the city of Taxi Driver to that of Disney's Enchanted.  

Turns out, though, my memory has (again!) been playing tricks on me. Quick Change certainly does showcase some of the New York of its era but nowhere near as pointedly as I remembered. I was basically remembering one scene:

"Why do they keep doing this?"
and this one cutaway in-between police chief Robards' world-weary sighs:

And had inflated these to encompass an entire theme of the film that isn't really there. I think I was projecting my idea of Bill Murray unto it (70s New Yorker on his way out the door, shaking his head at the changes) even if that doesn't quite match the chronology of his career. Anyway: both Murray's character and Robards' character are cynical of the city's endless appetite for change, but mainly they don't really care, they're just ready to quit it altogether. Nevertheless, the film is a love letter to New York, in all its dysfunctional glory.

The novel it's based on by Jay Cromley is not. That's more of a comedic heist narrative. I wouldn't say the location is incidental, but it probably could have been any urban center.  I thought about doing the book/movie combo for a From Novel to Film entry, but while I enjoyed the book, I didn't have much to say about it. 

I don't have too much to say about the movie, either, but that's what makes it better suited for... The Scenic Route! (In my head, I just picture the Twilight Zone music everytime I type that. Or maybe National Geographic.) Without further ado:

NYC on the cusp of its big makeover.
Bill Murray's own Audemars Piguet. (Fun fact: he had them write the watch into the movie so he wouldn't have to pay the $150 the AP dealer charged to wind it for him while he took it off for the months on set.)
No word on whether Robards had the same problem with his Orientex.
And Randy Quaid's personal monster truck, written in for similar reasons.
Okay, that's not true.


Like, actual humans, not referring to that hub of disingenuous emotional claptrap gathering low hanging branches for an endless social media bonfire of "feels." The city (and explicitly its diverse, wacky populace) is very much a character all of its own. 

The crowds outside the bank robbery are an obvious callback to Dog Day Afternoon.


I can't seem to find it, but in some interview Murray talks about how expensive it would have been to get this cast together only five or ten years later. It's certainly got a wealth of familiar faces, some household names, some not. Let's have a look.

Bill's star improbably continues to rise; Geena's, not so much.
I was never a big fan, but she does well here. She and Bill play well off one another.
Few come back from the ledge Randy Quaid's perched himself on over the past few years. But if he can focus his general craziness into hashtag Hollywood-superwoke craziness, I'm sure he'd get an Oscar before you could say Hanoi Jane.
RIP, Finkelstein.
RIP, Saint Peter.
Tech Sargent Chen...!
Stanley Tucci. (Sorry, couldn't decide which of his characters to reference.)
If you see Randall Flagg stopped on the side of the road with an unfolded map, keep driving.
Richard Joseph Paul - familiar face if not name.
Bill Raymond (l) - ditto.
Mike "I miss ya so much Margie" Yanagita.
Red Forman or Clarence Boddicker, take your pick.
Paul Herman (r) the "you wanna see helicopters?" guy from Goodfellas, among others.
And Bob "Chris' Dad" Elliott. ("And then he pulled a knife... and I hate knives.")

As I always tell you in each and every post (re: the old school comics idea that every issue is someone's first issue) The Scenic Route celebrates the fashions, landscapes, cars, and vibes of a bygone age via the cinematic record. I also like to note some things that wouldn't work if the movie was made now. The central gimmick of the bank robbery in Cromley's novel (and in its two film adaptations: this one and the 1985 French film Hold-Up) is that a thief dressed as a robber, with two partners disguised as bank patrons already inside, can escape with all the money strapped to the three of them simply by removing the clown make-up and disguises and walking out. (In Cromley's introduction to his novel, he relays how Donald Westlake heard about this and tried to buy the set-up from him before the book was published. It was a big shot of confidence for the young writer to know a seasoned mystery writer like Westlake liked his idea so much he wanted to procure it for himself.) Then, once outside, the plan calls for the thieves to keep phoning the police commissioner from payphones, keeping him under the illusion he was still inside the bank. 

Ah, a world before cellphones, or Caller ID. Not to mention all the stuff at the airport. I like to be reminded of this stuff in old movies that hinge on plot points that require annotation for an audience of today.