Peter Hyam’s Busting is something of a hidden gem among the films on Elliott Gould’s resume ‐ those who’ve seen it, love it, but there just aren’t very many people who’ve gotten around to watching. It fits the buddy cop film formula in some ways, but Hyams and his two leads (Gould and Robert Blake) mix gritty violence and unfiltered cynicism in with the laughs resulting in an odd duck of a movie that’s not funny enough to be labeled a comedy but still humorous enough to make the drama unusual.
Kino Lorber recently released the film to Blu-ray with two commentary tracks ‐ one with writer/director Hyams, and one with Gould and moderator/critic Kim Morgan. The former is the more informative of the two, but the latter is far more entertaining. On the downside it’s a “selected scene” commentary totaling less than fifty minutes, but on the upside? Gould gives great commentary.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Busting commentary.
Commentators: Elliott Gould (actor), Kim Morgan (film critic)
1. The prostitute who gets drilled by the dentist is played by Cornelia Sharpe, and is married to producer Martin Bregman (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Adventures of Pluto Nash).
2. Gould was cast here after writer/director Peter Hyams saw him and his attitude on The Dick Cavett Show. He wore Converse low-tops and for some reason took one of them off mid-interview. “He [Cavett] sort of made a joke with the audience that my feet had an odor, which they didn’t. I was really taken back and so I insisted that Dick Cavett take his shoe off.” The host declined, but Gould pressed saying that he was offended and wanted them to be on equal footing.
3. Ron Leibman was originally cast as Gould’s sidekick ‐ “a fabulous actor, one of our finest and best actors” ‐ but Gould had him replaced. “I just had a sense that I don’t know if he’s the right partner for me,” he says. He went to see David Picker, the head of United Artists, and softly suggested as such, and Picker replied “I knew it! I knew it! When Ron Leibman plays tennis with my 11-year-old daughter he hits the ball back to her like a rocket!” He went on to suggest either Peter Boyle or Robert Blake.
4. Gould is thrilled that the film seems to be finding a new generation of fans, and Morgan adds “Oh yes, I know that Quentin [Tarantino] loves this movie.”
5. The courtroom scene was filmed in the actual courtroom where Charles Manson had his trial.
6. One of the two drag queens in the courtroom is played by Nick St. Nicholas from the band Steppenwolf. “Which one?” asks Gould. “I would assume the white one,” answers Morgan. “Looks a little like Chris[topher] Guest from here,” he replies.
7. Gould suggested to Hyams one of the following: a) that his character would exit the courtroom with a sarcastic sense of patriotism, b) that the hallway shot would be one long take, or c) that his character would shove the pimp in the hallway. It’s unclear which Gould is referring to exactly.
8. Morgan asks Gould about the choice of suit during his scene in the porn shop. “Well I think I had, well that hat I think I had that hat, and there’s that really wonderful actor [Michael Lerner] who’s been nominated for an Academy Award, and I really, I mean, I didn’t mean to really hit him, because there was also I believe the prelude to that scene where you see Keneely (Gould) walking in a sea of people downtown and then going into this place. That’s what we had shot and I had seen it that way.” So that explains the suit.
9. The hotel shootout involves a long, fast-moving single take down a hallway, and Morgan asks how they did it seeing as 1973 was pre-Steadicam days. Gould seems to think that’s not true, but she’s correct ‐ the Steadicam debuted in 1976’s Bound for Glory.
10. Once the chase exits the hotel onto the city streets Gould and Blake run after the bad guys for a couple blocks. Blake said afterward that Gould almost killed him forcing him to match pace with his taller co-star. “Bobby’s legs are much shorter,” says Gould.
11. The nighttime market shootout features a bad guy in sunglasses, and this still annoys Gould. “I just would have rather seen his eyes, but I mean, you know, who am I.”
12. Jason Schwartzman told Gould that he’s screened the film for some newer, younger directors, and they loved the market shootout scene.
13. Irwin Winkler called Gould’s bluff in a poker game during production.
14. “One day Peter [Hyams] came to me in my trailer, um, at lunchtime, and he said to me ‘If you fuck up my picture I’m going to throw acid in your eyes.’” “What, uh…,” interjects Morgan before Gould continues. “’And look at me in my eyes. I want you to see I’m serious.’” Gould doesn’t say what exactly precipitated Hyams’ comment except to suggest that he was cast as a wild guy without boundaries and maybe that leaked into his off-camera antics.
15. Gould hints that Hyams offered him the lead role in Outland. I’m a fan of the film and like Sean Connery in it, but hot damn this would have been amazing.
16. Hyams suggested Garry Marshall for the character of Carl Rizzo, but the idea apparently fell on deaf ears ‐ including Gould’s. It was nixed, but in retrospect Gould sees his error. “Garry Marshall in that part would be genius, would be a total fucking surprise,” he says. The role instead went to Allen Garfield, “and Allen, bless him, Allen is such a good actor but completely predictable.”
17. The club scene was filmed in a club called The Central, but it has since become The Viper Room, the bar made infamous after the death of River Phoenix. “I’m friendly with the Phoenix family now since Casey Affleck married into it.” Hollywood, amirite?
18. “I think Hollywood Blvd was a lot more dangerous in the ’70s than it is now,” says Morgan, but Gould is having none of it. “For some reason I disagree with you, but I don’t hang out there.”
19. Morgan sees similarities between this film and Inherent Vice and asks Gould if he’s seen the Paul Thomas Anderson film. “I’ve started it,” he says, “but I need to get another DVD player.”
20. Morgan praises the finale’s sad and cynical tone, and Gould recalls Blake’s unhappiness that the final shot focused exclusively on Keneely.
21. The voice-over of a man interviewing Keneely is spoken by Hyams.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- Gould: “Oh my goodness, I didn’t quite recall [this].”
- Gould: “Robert Blake is dangerous and unpredictable.”
- Gould: “Oh my god, I don’t remember this.”
- Gould: “That woman right there is so funny, looks like a French painting.”
- Gould: “Now Rizzo Rizzo Rizzo, even the name Rizzo Rizzo Rizzo a Tony Rizzo oh my god. I remember when my first wife and I went to see Bullitt, and I had already seen Bullitt at the Radio City Music Hall, but we were out here and so Barbra [Streisand] and I went to the Directors Guild to see a special screening of Bullitt, and Barbra was very shy about being photographed and about paparazzi, so we were leaving or trying to leave, and she was being hounded, and I said ‘Don’t you have enough pictures?’ My point being that the guy’s name was Rizzo.”
- Gould: “I wonder what they felt about this in France.”
Gould’s memory seems razor-sharp, but the same can’t be said for his focus as he jumps around and occasionally rambles his way into tangents. Sounds like a disaster, but he’s frequently fascinating and never less than engaging. Morgan is correct to point out the film’s many strengths and shows an immense knowledge of cinema along the way, and both speakers prove themselves as entertaining commentators who I’m hoping to hear more from in the future. The film and the commentaries are highly recommended.