Same Title, Different Story; Also Real Bloodhounds
I read Runyon once. I know I read at least one of the stories presented in this movie, but it was many years ago, and I don't know about the rest of them. I also know that the original short story doesn't end the same way as it does in the story, at least not entirely. Unfortunately, neither IMDB nor Wikipedia seems terribly inclined to tell me which stories this movie is based on, any more than either was inclined to tell me which stories the other [i]Bloodhounds of Broadway[/i] was based on. Somehow, this does not strike me as fair. I'm guessing somehow that Damon Runyon is not as popular as once he was. The problem is that his style is, well, stylized. While it's true that a lot of his slang has in later years inhabited the language--it seems "shiv" was popularized through his work, and words like "snoot" and "noggin" as well. But we're talking about a man who essentially never used any tense but the present and essentially never used contractions, and it gets a little challenging. A little wearing, too, I think. But this is still not fair to a talented writer, that nobody reads his writing now.
It is New Year's Eve. 1928. We are starting in Mindy's, because it always starts in Mindy's. Our cast of characters includes criminal boss The Brain (Rutger Hauer), a popular sort of fellow. Working for him are Regret (Matt Dillon), named for the only horse he ever won a bet on, and Crunch Sweeney (Tony Longo). Regret is crazy for Lovey Lou (Jennifer Grey). Likewise, there is Feet Samuels (pre-crazy Randy Quaid), who is in love with Hortense Hathaway (Madonna). Only he doesn't think Hortense can love a man who doesn't provide her with diamonds, so he agrees to sell his body to Doc Bodeeker (Robert Donley), who wants to do experiments on his feet. Only it turns out that Hortense maybe can love him after all, so he doesn't want to kill himself for science anymore. The Brain gets stabbed, and Crunch Sweeney hauls him all over town looking for someone who will take him in. Those bloodhounds go chasing Regret all over town, because the cops think he maybe kills a man. There's a party at the house of Harriet MacKyle (Julie Hagerty), and Lovey Lou and Hortense Hathaway work at the club of Miss Missouri Martin (Anita Morris).
It's really kind of astonishing that I first heard of this movie just a few months ago. I mean, think about this. This is a Madonna movie, for starters. No, okay, Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Grey, Matt Dillon, and Steve Buscemi weren't quite headliners, even in 1989, but they weren't nobodies. It got released into a single theatre in New York, and it essentially vanished from public notice. It got as near to direct-to-video as is possible, and I'm not entirely sure how it came to my attention. Richard Roeper, possibly? Which would mean I'd heard of it before but not gotten around to looking for it. It's an astonishingly obscure movie, and I don't know why. I mean, there were a lot of worse movies in 1989 with a lot of more obscure actors, so what's with this? No, okay, Madonna has never been much of an actress, though she's really only playing a variation on her general persona here and therefore didn't much have to. Yes, a lot of the performers are B-list at best, but it's not as though that's completely unusual. It happens all the time, and movies don't vanish in quite the same way.
In its theatrical release, no one noticed that an entire reel was missing. This is an incredible statement. I mean, okay, the movie really is just a bunch of stuff that happens. Large amounts of it just involves The Brain and Crunch Sweeney driving around, looking for someone who will take him in. Because of course none of his girlfriends are interested in being caught up in a murder investigation when The Brain dies. This is as close as I think we ever get to consequences from crime in a Runyon story other than the moderate whimsey of Regret's failure to win money to buy nice things for Lovey Lou. There's the unpleasant and unnecessary figure of Hotfoot Harry (Fisher Stevens), who doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything. I must admit that the four stories don't always blend the best--The Brain interacts with the characters only a very little at the beginning, and the bit with Harriet's wanting to be part of the mob scene feels . . . off. Still.
There is a certain snobbery to finding and loving more obscure art, and this may well fit into that category. For one thing, it's a movie where Madonna gives a decent performance. (Though I think it's more popular to pick on her than it is necessarily accurate to do. There are worse actresses who make more movies.) For one thing, Damon Runyon doesn't deserve to fade away as he has done. Yes, the work is dated. Yes, it glamourizes those criminals who form the heart of his stories. Yes, it can be a bit to get through, given the way Runyon wrote. However, for all that, he's worth exploring at least once, and more than just by watching [i]Guys and Dolls[/i]. And if you're only going to watch one movie based on Damon Runyon stories and called [i]Bloodhounds of Broadway[/i], this is the one more worthy of your time. Not, of course, that much of anyone has ever been so limited, as I admit. But you might want to consider giving those stories a go, too.