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.



  1. (1) "He was all like, 'Up your butt with a coconut!' I don't think he had a coconut, though." I've been laughing over that one for decades. Plan to never stop.

    (2) I haven't seen this movie for years, but loved it. Me and my brother watched it on HBO when it debuted there, and cracked up over it. It always felt like a movie nobody else knew about, which made it seem more special, somehow. Do such movies even exist anymore? New ones, I mean? You can find people online somewhere to talk about literally anything with. That's probably good. So why doesn't it feel good when I think about how I found a movie like "Quick Change" back then? Probably on account of I'm a weirdo.

    (3) It might have been released in 1990, but visually, this one is as '80s as it gets. I think that's fine.

    (4) If that monster truck wasn't Quaid's, you know he wanted it to be. Same goes for the camper in "Christmas Vacation." In your heart, you simply know it's true.

    (5) I would like to find the person who came up with the idea of turning "feels" into a noun, and then pull his throat out. That's illegal, so I wouldn't. But I'd LIKE to, no doubt. (And yes, I'm sure this is what any number of grumpy old men have wanted to do when the slang of the era galloped past their willingness to keep up with it. I am aware. And yet...)

    (6) I always liked Geena Davis, but I never felt like she was much of an actress. But she was/is a pleasant screen presence, and there's something to be said for that. I don't even mean that in a(n exclusively) salacious way, either. I remember liking her a lot in this movie, and in retrospect, it was probably that chemistry with Murray that was responsible in large part for that.

    (7) God help me, but I watched that Randy Quaid video. I just ... I mean ... Nope, sorry, I got nothing. I know I should, but I don't.

    (8) Damn, that really is a heck of a cast. I wonder if that was the first place I saw Shalhoub and Tucci?

    (9) Kurtwood Smith will always be that sonofabitch from "Dead Poets Society" to me.

    (10) I'm sure that somewhere, somebody has already begun a podcast where they sit teenagers down and show them movie from the mid-nineties and before and let the snark and WTFLOLness pour out. Maybe it's great, but the idea wears me out. But that's okay, because I ain't gotta listen to it, and anyways, I got The Scenic Route. Not a podcast, granted. Sort of a visual podcast without sounds or moving images, whatever the hell you call that. Keep 'em coming!

    1. (1) "I think he was prepared to do it!"

      (2) I have a fond memory of seeing this at a friend's house after a more or less random rental from Major Video. We talked about it for years, specifically the part where Bill puts the gun in the dog's face. One of the few times Murray is upstaged on the silver screen! Anyway - it holds up, for me, but I wonder if a younger crowd would go for it.

      (3) I like to refer to those 89-91 years of any given decade as "brackish," where the waters of one era are still visible as they mix with the era/shore/new stream forming up. Any decade you look at seems to bear this out - 1971 has some of the 60s best music, and so on. It's an interesting phenom and works, too, for forward-looking stuff from the latter years of any decade. You can hear a lot of the 80s in '78-'79 music, for example, even if no one knew that was what it was.

      (5) Amen, brother.

      (6) I've got nothing against Geena but yeah, I think it's her chemistry with Bill that endears me here; I like them as a couple in "Quick Change." Murray brings a similar sort of warmth out of Andie McDowell in "Groundhog Day."

      (8) It was for me, for sure.

      (9) I had that one listed, too! But then I thought ok, just pick 2. I wonder how that movie holds up.

      (10) I hear you (and thanks for the kind words). Although Metal Hammer will occasionally post links of 8-10-year-olds being shown Motley Crue videos and such, and those things are friggin great. Of course, the innocent remarks/ wide-eyed confusion of a 10 year old is far more palatable than the eye-rolling snark and self-absorption of the adolescent of the species, at least for us over the age of 20. Nature designed it this way; nature is out to piss us off!

    2. (2) I'd say no actor is immune from being upstaged by a dog or an ape.

      (3) Absolutely.

      (6) Great point about McDowell.

      (9) My guess is it holds up pretty well, especially now that it's gained the unfortunate resonance of Williams' passing.

      (10) And nature mostly gets what it wants. But those Metal Hammer videos sound amazing. I might have to look one of those up.

    3. Here's a fun one:


      Good reaction faces in that one. "This sounds like an old man gone insane." I hear you, kid!

    4. God damn you, Dog Star Omnibus...I just watched, like, two hours of those in a row.

      The Metallica one is great, but there's one kid who may as well be Harold Lauder. Most of the boys seem like pussies, whereas most of the girls seem like badasses. A peek at the future.

      The Guns N' Roses one is great, too. "They look mean." "They look AWESOME."

      This, of course, led to Elders React to __________.