Radio monologist Joe Frank died January 15, 2018 and several podcasts who have depended on the spoken word for their medium of choice remarked on his passing.
But, what seldom came up was the lawsuit.
Joe Frank sued the producers of After Hours for similarities to his monologue called "Lies." Details of the settlement have never been disclosed, but when you listen to "Lies" and you watch After Hours and it is obvious down to some very specific details that the movie's first portion is a bunch of "Lies." I mean, "bagel and cream-cheese paperweights?" That's the sort of detail that can't be dismissed as the coincidence of two competing "Earth-hit-by-asteroid" movies or "Truman-Capote-writes-"In-Cold-Blood"" movies.* That sort of "coincidence" is right on the proboscis.
|"My God, Marcy finally met Mr. Right"|
They talk about "Tropic of Cancer"—she likes it, can quote from it ("'This is not a book, it's a prolonged insult; a gob of spit in the face of art; a kick in the pants to Truth, Beauty, God' something like that...that's all I remember")—and it seems they have a lot in common...enough to continue the conversation. About the cashier "making these strange movements," about how she's going to her friend's loft downtown Soho and she's a sculptress making plaster-of-Paris paperweights of bagels with cream-cheese. She gives him her friend's phone number and later on, he calls her and she's had a fight with a friend and is feeling vulnerable—why doesn't he come over? She's glad he called.
And that's all it takes.
After a "Mr. Toad's wild-cab-ride" that is so violent he loses the $20 bill he was going to use to pay the fare, he goes up to the apartment of Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino), who is working on a sculpture of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." Marcy's not there; she's at the all-night drugstore ("She all right?" "It's under control") although she calls ("Well, of course he's here, you invited him...it's your problem, Marcy, I'm not gonna tell him...) and Kiki asks him to help with the sculpture. His shirt gets messed up and Kiki offers to launder it, giving him a replacement to wear for his "date". They talk about how the plaster is hard work and screws up your shoulders and Paul offers her a massage and after he mentions she has a good body, she agrees, remarking that she doesn't have any scars—"some women are covered with them head to toe...horrible, ugly scars...I'm just telling you now"). He brushes that off, starting a story of how, as a child, he'd spent a night in a burn ward and, before he can get to the meat of the story, she falls asleep. Then, Marcie walks in.
They retire to Marcy's room and her first question is "What'd you do to her?" which makes Paul defensive, and Marcy shrugs it off just as quickly. Saying that she's going to take a quick shower, she asks "I hope you don't have to get up early or anything. Because I think you're somebody I can really talk to. Tonight, I feel like I'm gonna let loose or something. I feel like something really incredible is going to happen here. I feel sooo..excited. I don't know why. I feel it. I'm glad you came." And she laughs semi-hysterically. And then she winks, which Scorsese emphasizes with a forward-travelling shot.
Marcy's phone rings and Paul hesitantly answers it: "She can't come to the phone now." "Tell her Greg called" and hangs up. Kiki appears in the door-way, stripping off her bra: "She back?" Paul can only lamely answer: "Yeah." She sulks away, and Paul can only shake his head. Weird. He takes advantage of Marcy's shower-time, to look at her bag—the prescription she got was an ointment for second-degree burns, then the shower stops, and Paul hurriedly puts the ointment back in the bag just in time to not be detected. It's then that the conversation takes on what Frank describes as "a slightly pathological cast." "Hey, I thought I told you to stay on the bed..." (she hadn't), then tells him to wait. At that, point Howard Shore's original score kicks in with a back-beat of ticking (Paul is constantly checking the time on his watch) as barely-registered whispers between Marcy and Kiki can be overheard in the next room.Marcy pokes her head in the doorway, looking troubled. "Did you say something?" (He hadn't) "I thought I heard you say something." (He didn't). Her mood changes and she tells Paul that she'd been raped in that very room. Paul is horrified. "It's alright, it was an ex-boyfriend of mine. I slept through most of it" A change of subject and venue seems called for and they go out for coffee at a diner, run by Peter (the late and sadly-missed Dick Miller), who knows Marcy well. Paul asks about "Franklin" the name on the door-bell of the apartment and she tells him that's her husband. Paul registers another pause, trying not to react—he'll do that a lot. Seems they weren't married very long, that he lives in Turkey and is a film-freak, whose favorite movie is The Wizard of Oz. In fact, on their wedding night, when they were making love, he kept yelling "Surrender, Dorothy!" "Naturally," she says, as he takes his hand "I don't like to talk about it." "Can we get the check?" Paul asks suddenly.
|Paul can't even go the Men's Room without being confronted with dread.|
Paul will spend the night as it ticks away in an increasingly threatening waking nightmare. During the course of the evening, he will lose $20.00, find another, and lose that and his apartment keys, discover a dead body by suicide and be suspected of murder, as well as being a burglar, a pervert, and nearly having his head shaved, on top of being chased by a vigilante mob who know him because his face has been plastered on ever corner light pole. The very boundaries of Soho are a trap that he can't reach, without being attacked, killed (or worse) being accused of something else, by an increasingly misunderstanding and self-obsessed citizenry.
What makes the screenplay (and resulting film) interesting—and what sets it apart from Joe Frank's original source—is its intricate machinations in setting up this Kafkaesque Soho-scape of incomplete information and missed opportunities. But, it does so in a limited scope where Paul Hackett is only one among the Soho nighthawks who knows the complete story (or as much as he can) and his very knowledge of what's going on in the moving, changing landscape is what makes him suspected of the activities that the people he encounters are sensitive to. He's the stranger in a strange land, walking into an established and tenuously connected environment that he, by his movements—and resulting twists of Fate—disrupts. Soho has a barely functioning cohesion to begin with, but Paul's presence sends it spinning off its axis. He may ultimately be blameless for what happens, but it might not have turned out this way were he not there—making him totally to blame. Consider him the anti-George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life, whose existence determines the difference between Heaven and Hell (or, specifically, Bedford Falls and Potterville). Maybe they should've called this "It's a Horrible Night."
** The first choice of director was Scorsese, but he was embroiled in pre-production of The Last Temptation of Christ, and so producers Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne turned to neophyte director Tim Burton, after they'd seen his short "Vincent." Plans to start went into place and then The Last Temptation of Christ fell through, which put Dunne and Robinson in an awkward position: how to tell Burton. When Burton was told that Scorsese was interested, he immediately responded: "I gracefully withdraw from the project. I do not want to stand in the way of anything Martin Scorsese wants to do." Burton would make his feature directing debut with Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985, and Scorsese released The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988.
*** A very After Hours section: "One can live in Paris—I discovered that!—on just grief and anguish. A bitter nourishment—perhaps the best there is for certain people. At any rate, I had not yet come to the end of my rope. I was only flirting with disaster. ... I understood then why it is that Paris attracts the tortured, the hallucinated, the great maniacs of love. I understood why it is that here, at the very hub of the wheel, one can embrace the most fantastic, the most impossible theories, without finding them in the least strange; it is here that one reads again the books of his youth and the enigmas take on new meanings, one for every white hair. One walks the streets knowing that he is mad, possessed, because it is only too obvious that these cold, indifferent faces are the visages of one's keepers. Here all boundaries fade away and the world reveals itself for the mad slaughterhouse that it is. The treadmill stretches away to infinitude, the hatches are closed down tight, logic runs rampant, with bloody cleaver flashing."