I am a film critic, but almost all of the movies I watch are new releases. That is going to change. With Jeff Bayer’s Remedial Film School a notable film critic or personality will assign me (and you) one film per month. Actor Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills, Compliance, No Way Jose, this season of Ray Donovan, and the upcoming Tales of Halloween) is our guest, and he chose The Pope of Greenwich Village (currently available on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime). Each section begins with a quote from the film.
“Honest work. Let me tell ya somethin’ about ‘honest work.’ When somebody says they got ‘honest work,’ you know what they got? They got a shit job, that’s what they got.”
Healy: The Pope of Greenwich Village was my gateway drug. The summer of 1984 was a big one for a 12-year-old (Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to name but a few of that summer’s releases).
I had known all my life I wanted to make movies and caught the performance bug acting in plays starting at around 8. But at 12, I hadn’t yet seen De Niro/Scorsese, Brando/Kazan or the gritty New York cityscapes of Sidney Lumet. So when Mickey Rourke appeared on screen in all his tough, cool, volatile glory … my fate was sealed. I not only wanted to be an actor, I wanted to be HIM. My late friend Jim Gandolfini had the exact same reaction. We enjoyed having this in common and discussed it at length when we met decades later.
My mom took me to see this in Youngstown, Ohio. It was halfway between the town we were living in New Jersey and our hometown of Chicago on a long road trip. I guess that made it special too. I’ve since seen Mean Streets a hundred times and all the other films that came before it. But The Pope will always be special to me. It was the moment my heart caught fire and my future began.
“I like you have balls. I don’t get too mad at that.”
Bayer: I think I love this movie because of how much I hate the lead character. I just finished watching it, and haven’t made up my mind yet. Somehow, I knew nothing about The Pope of Greenwich Village before you suggested it. I looked at the cast and figured they made a mistake by listing Roberts first. It actually took me a few seconds to recognize him because of that god-awful, can’t-look-away, I-kind-of-love-it perm. It even seems to play out that way in the beginning, with us following Charlie, not Paulie. Eventually though, if it’s not obvious during the process, then the very end seals the deal that this is Paulie’s world, Charlie and the rest of us are just (hopefully) entertained by it. It’s like the film focuses on Fredo instead of Michael Corleone.
In the ’80s, there is no one better at being the prettiest tough guy in all the land than Rourke. The Pope is right in the middle of Rourke’s Diner and 9 1/2 Weeks. Here, he’s a small-time hustler with big(ish) dreams. He also says things like “Tell me about it,” and “Capisce,” so we know he’s Italian. As soon as Charlie and Paulie talk, you want Charlie to slap him around. Thankfully, he does. But Paulie keeps winning Charlie over, even though he’s a pathetic weasel, who cries at the drop of a hat. He’s an absolute train wreck. Thankfully, he’s funny. “Artificial inspiration” is a brilliant line when talking about inseminating the horse. Plus, there’s the random adventure of getting an officer to shit his pants. Even when it looks like Charlie will save the day against Bed Bug Eddie (Burt Young), Paulie gets overly involved.
For a second it looked like Bunky (Jack Kehoe) and Mrs. Ritter (Geraldine Page) were another random adventure that should have been cut from the film. But then Page gives that amazing speech to the police, and even gets an Oscar nomination out of it. She’s only in the movie for two scenes in you’re scoring at home.
Daryl Hannah is strictly here to look incredibly hot and be in as few clothes as possible, right? For a while it seemed she would be the moral compass to push Charlie away from Paulie, but then she takes the money and runs. There is no more ’80s job for a woman in a movie than dance/aerobic instructor, and there is no one better suited for it than Hannah (yeah, you heard me Jamie Lee Curtis).
There are two “that guys” in this film worth mentioning. M. Emmet Walsh and Kenneth McMillan. Walsh is one of my ultimate “that guys.” While you’ve done great work as a lead, you’re a “that guy” right? How often do people ask you how they know you?
Since it’s a film older than three years, we’re allowed to talk remake. I’d like you to recast it, and you must give yourself one of the roles, and please explain why. Also, I was 8 in 1984, and saw all the other films you mentioned above. The Pope isn’t like those others. Do you feel like this was your first adult movie? And finally, Rourke’s shirt is the worst thing a cool guy has ever worn in a film. Agree or disagree?
Movie Score: 8/10
“My Walter was as tough as a bar of iron, and he didn’t get that from his father. Now, do you wanna fight, Officer? Or do you get the hell out of my house!.”
Healy: “I don’t get too mad at that.” I think I’ve stolen that line for every script I’ve ever written. Young is terrifying in this. When Kehoe reaches in to grab a calamari ring from his plate, and wipes his finger on the paper napkin hanging out of Young’s outer coat pocket, you think he might just rip his heart out.
I don’t know that Roberts is the “lead,” per se. It feels like Rourke’s movie, maybe because he’s so powerful. But then again, Harvey Keitel is the “lead” and top-billed in Mean Streets but De Niro walks away with it. As much as I always loved this movie, I didn’t always love Roberts in this. He seemed over-the-top at the time for a movie that felt so gritty and real. Now I think his performance inspired genius. In fact, everything Nicolas Cage has done since seems influenced by it, and Matthew McConaughey’s entire career seems to be an impersonation of Robert’s work in this (and the also terrific Runaway Train from the following year). I wasn’t alone in misjudging Roberts off-the-wall Paulie: Original director Michael Cimino was allegedly fired by Rourke for wanting to fire Roberts, and replaced by the terrific Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke).
I don’t think I’m quite a “that guy” yet. Give me a few more years. McMillan was always great, especially here and in Ragtime and True Confessions. Other than Rourke’s electricity blowing my mind, this is a character actor’s smorgasbord. Everyone gets a chance to shine.
I had seen many “adult” films long before this in the theatre and on television. My folks were pretty permissive. I had even seen Rourke in Diner and Body Heat and thought he was great in those supporting roles. But here he just explodes and continued to do so in Angel Heart and Barfly in the ensuing years.
Even though I’d never get the part, my Rourke-worship would make me petition for the role of Charlie. But I’d probably make a good Bunky. How great is the scene where the guy insults Rourke on the street by offering him a job as a waiter?
I remember thinking that shirt was weird in ’84. It’s not even like anything else he wears in the movie. In his defense, it is something he’s just wearing around the house after he gets out of the shower. He doesn’t even have his pompadour up yet! Did I mention after this movie I did my hair like that until around 1998?
Also, not a day goes by where I don’t say “This guy’s like a wackadoo.”
“Charlie! They took my thumb!”
Bayer: This has been so much fun. I feel like we could do another thousand words on you watching Angel Heart and Body Heat at a young age. The bravado of Rourke shines when he’s insulted by the offer of being a waiter. While I saw plenty of R-rated films when my parents weren’t looking, I feel like my enjoyment of adult films started with Dead Poets Soceity, The Untouchables, Silence of the Lambs, and Good Morning, Vietnam.
I love knowing that Cimino was (allegedly) dismissed for this thoughts on Roberts. Roberts is over-the-top, and there were plenty of times during the film that I felt like someone should have tried to reel him in. But when the movie is over, I’m glad they didn’t. It’s an “out there” performance, and we don’t get enough of them in this world. I feel like it’s almost a co-lead situation with Roberts and Rourke, but Roberts is top-billed, so the movie wants me to consider him the lead.
With everything you said, nothing compares to you coming to the defense of Rourke’s shirt. Sure, it’s just a “house” shirt, but it’s the shirt of an insane person. If I ever have the means, I’m getting you that shirt, and you’ll wear it every day at Fantastic Fest for the rest of your life.
Also, I’ve said this to Healy, but just in case anyone hasn’t seen Cheap Thrills, he’s amazing in it. It’s a very difficult role to pull off, with an amazing variety of comedy, drama, pain, pure joy, guilt, and what looks like genuine, raw emotion. It is easily one of the best five performances of 2013. Pure wackadoo. I was lucky enough to interview Healy about that role, and after seeing the film, everyone reading this, should listen to that.
Your Next Assignment: Guest critic Joana Robinson from Vanity Fair selected A Room with a View (1985). It is currently available on Netflix Instant, and to rent on iTunes. Your due date is Thursday, August 27.