Sunday, 15 March 2015

48 Hrs.


48 Hrs.
The Boys are Back in Town
Studio: Paramount Pictures ---------- Release Date: 10th December 1982
Director: Walter Hill ---------- Starring: Nick Nolte, Eddie Murphy
Budget: $12M ----------2015 Equivalent: $29.9M
U.S Box Office: $78.8M ---------- 2015 Equivalent: $196.8M

Jack Cates is on the trail of escaped convict and cop killer Albert Ganz, and his partner Billy Bear. After a hotel shootout leaves two more officers dead, Cates seeks the help of Ganz' former partner, Reggie Hammond, currently serving time for armed robbery. Released into Cates' custody for 48 hours, the duo might just be able to catch Ganz - if they don't kill each other first.


The history of the buddy movie can be traced back many years, starting off with the likes of Laurel and Hardy in the 1930s, and Abbott and Costello in the 1940s. Over time its make up has changed but essentially it consists of two often mismatched people put into a situation where they must work past their differences toward a common goal. While the 60s and 70s added further to the genre, splicing it with the road movie in the case of Easy Rider or the western as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it was the 1980s where it truly shone. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor may have scored big with Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, but it was Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. that ushered in a whole new age of buddy movie, that continues to this day.

Walter Hill was born in Long Beach, in 1942, and due to early childhood illnesses and an on-going battle with asthma, spent many of his formative years bedridden or house bound. Embracing this time alone, the young Hill learnt to read early on in his life, and devoured countless books and comics, as well as becoming an avid fan of radio serials, and later on, TV shows. In periods of wellness, he would venture to the local cinema, but generally avoided kid’s films, favouring the Western instead. By the age of fifteen, and having seemingly outgrown the asthma that had blotted his childhood, Hill thought about becoming an athlete, but the call of writing was always in his mind. He knew even then that regardless of what he did, he would at some point return to writing. After some time spent in Mexico, he wound up attending school in Michigan, studying literature and history. Upon finishing, Hill was drafted into the army, and returned back home to Long Beach to wait to be assessed. It was during this time he met up with friend Gene Waters, who introduced him to a group of people who made educational films for Encyclopaedia Britannica. When the army rejected him because of his childhood illness, Hill was offered a research job on the Britannica educational films. Within a short space of time he'd move from research to actually writing the scripts, and found directing them to be a natural progression.

When the contract came to end, he took on a job in the Universal Pictures mailroom in an effort to meet people who worked in the industry. He was writing in every free moment he had, and was fortunate enough to get on the Directors Guild training program, which in turn allowed him to work as an apprentice on various TV shows of the time. He'd spend over a year in TV, going between the likes of Bonanza and Wild, Wild West on a fortnightly basis.  He secured the role of second assistant director on The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt (for which he would be uncredited), before taking on a similar job on the Woody Allen feature, Take the Money and Run. By his own admission, he did little beyond administrative work on the picture - though did get to direct some of the re-shoots. A dabble with directing commercials for TV left him cold and made him realise that that wasn't a path he wished to pursue.  During this time he continued to write, but struggled to get scripts finished, estimating that at one point, he had twenty-six 'first acts' written. However, when he did finally complete his first screenplay, Lloyd Williams and His Brother, it sold quickly. Despite the studio renewing the option on it, the script remained unproduced, but it was enough to catch the eye of Warner Bros, who asked Hill to pitch something to them.

Hickey & Boggs, an old-school detective story was his idea. Warner Bros. liked it enough to fund a draft, but did little when the script was completed. In the meantime, Polly Platt, ex-wife of Peter Bogdanovich, read Hickey & Boggs and recommended Peter hire Hill to work on the script for The Getaway. At the time, Bogdanovich was directing What's Up, Doc, and in the downtime the duo worked on The Getaway. Having completely around 25 pages, they returned to San Francisco, where Bogdanovich was promptly fired by Steve McQueen. Rather than continue, HIll rewrote the script from scratch, and worked alongside newly-hired director, Sam Peckinpah. The Getaway was a smash hit, and led to more script work for Hill. He wrote The Mackintosh Man for Paul Newman, by way of settling a lawsuit with Warner Bros. that related to an unwritten screenplay contract and the sale of Hickey & Boggs. He was then hired to re-write The Drowning Pool, again for Paul Newman, but was let go when the producers objected to the direction his script took. All this set Hill up for Hard Times, a movie that would be his feature directorial debut.

Producer Larry Gordon had a script about a bare-knuckle fighter, set in San Pedro. When he moved to Columbia Pictures, he offered Walter Hill the chance to direct - if he would re-write the script. He agreed, and working for scale, re-worked the script and directed the picture. Hard Times went on to become a hit, and in his own words, 'turned out to be the best deal I ever made’ - Hill was still making money from it in 2009. He re-teamed with Gordon on The Driver, but their previous success was not repeated. When financing on a western they planned to make fell through, Gordon and Hill moved forward with The Warriors. The producer had secured the rights to Sol Yurick's novel when they lapsed from the previous rights holder. They pitched the film to Paramount, who gave them the budget and greenlight for production. Hill would clash numerous times with Paramount CEO Michael Eisner over the content of the picture, leading Larry Gordon to act as peacemaker on more than one occasion.

The Warriors, a violent action feature about a street gang attempting to get back to their own turf, was released with little fanfare in February 1979. When violence broke out before and after screenings, Paramount allowed cinemas to break their contract and pull the film. They went as far as removing trailers from TV and theatres, promoting the picture by way of small print ads. The notoriety helped The Warriors break out into the mainstream, and it went on to make $22M from a budget of only $4M. It was successful on the burgeoning home video market too, and spawned a short-lived TV show entitled The Renegades. In the meantime, Hill finally got the go ahead for a western, which would become The Longriders. He followed this up with the thriller Southern Comfort, about a troupe of National Guardsmen who find themselves fighting for survival against a group of Cajuns. Hill would also famously have a hand in the creation of Alien, the history behind which would fill many, many pages and is still contested by some of those involved.

It was Larry Gordon who had the original idea for 48 Hrs. back in the mid-70s. The story would see a violent criminal kidnap the daughter of the Louisiana governor, and strap dynamite to her head. If the ransom wasn't paid within the designated time, he'd kill her. Gordon envisaged the meanest cop partnering up with toughest prisoner (who happened to be the kidnapper's ex-cellmate) to bring the guy down. They'd initially despise each other, but a grudging respect would grow during the course of the story - each knowing they will benefit if the situation comes to a satisfying conclusion. Roger Spottiswoode wrote one of the earliest drafts, with the hope of directing it. HIll and Gordon encouraged him to 'Write himself into the job' but little came of it. Another draft was crafted by BIll Kerby, and a third by Tracy Keenan Wynn when the project moved to Paramount. By the time filming began, at least six people had had a hand in the screenplay, including Steven E. de Souza (making his feature writing debut after working on a TV pilot for producer Larry Gordon) and Hill himself.

48 Hrs was initially seen as a vehicle for Clint Eastwood, but in something of a reversal, Eastwood wanted to play the criminal. Playing the cop, he argued, would spill over into the work he did as Dirty Harry. Even when the idea of Richard Pryor as the prisoner was put forward, Eastwood was still against playing the cop, and opted for a role in Escape from Alcatraz instead. The project slipped into limbo and Hill went off to shoot The Longriders and Southern Comfort.  Larry Gordon wouldn't let the project die, and called Hill out of the blue one day and asked if he'd be interested in directing Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs.

By the time Nolte was offered the role of Jack Cates, it was said that Burt Reynolds, Mickey Rourke and Sylvester Stallone had all passed on it, as had Kris Kristofferson. Nick Nolte had been acting for just over a decade when he won the role in 48 Hrs. He'd started his career off as a model, before moving into acting, though his first few roles were largely uncredited or one-off appearances in such fare as The Streets of San Francisco and Emergency! It was his turn in the TV mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man that bought him attention and critical recognition, and paved the way for his first major starring role in The Deep. He won further good notices for his work on Who'll Stop the Rain (1978) and North Dallas Forty (1979). When he took on the 48 Hrs. job he was coming off the back of romantic drama, Cannery Row, in which he'd starred opposite Debra Winger. A big, imposing figure, Nolte was perfect for the grizzled Jack Cates.

Having agreed to direct, Hill set about re-writing the script with the aid of Larry Gross. By the time they came to start shooting the picture, seven years had passed since Roger Spottiswoode had turned in his initial draft. A May 1982 start date was in place, with a view to release the film in December of that same year, but there was still the issue of casting the other lead, that of Willie Biggs. According to at least one source, Gregory Hines was initially cast in the role, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with The Cotton Club. Richard Pryor was the studio's number one choice, but he passed in favour of starring in The Toy. Both Howard E. Rollins Jr. and Denzel Washington were said to have also tried out for the part, but in the end, Hill found his Willie Biggs thanks to his then-girlfriend, a theatrical agent who represented a popular Saturday Night Live player by the name of Eddie Murphy.

Eddie Murphy was born in 1961 and discovered his talent for comedy when he and his brother spent a year in a foster home due to their mother being too ill to care for them. Devouring the work of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Jerry Lewis (to name but a few), the young Murphy began crafting his own short stand up routines and made his stage debut at the age of 15. He went on to play all manner of clubs, and expanded his routine when a manager of one such place offered him a dollar for every minute he was on stage. By 1980 he found himself playing Manhattan's Comic Strip club, further building his act and popularity. According to Neil Levy, a talent co-ordinator on Saturday Night Live, Murphy began calling him daily from September onwards in an attempt to get an audition for the show. Even after getting constant knock backs and the fact that "the black cast member had already been chosen", Murphy refused to give up and eventually got the chance to try out as an extra. Levy was blown away and fought hard for him to be taken on as a full-time cast member - going so far as threatening to quit if it didn’t happen. At the time SNL was faltering in the ratings, due in large part to the departure of its creator, Lorne Michaels, who had been unable to broker a deal with NBC. This in turn led to many of the regular writers and player quitting the show also, leaving the producers scrambling for talent.

Murphy, along with Joe Piscopo, saved SNL from the axe with a variety of sketches and characters that proved an instant hit with the public. His creations made him a household name and he would go on to be the second most popular actor on the show, after John Belushi. Yet even with such success, Murphy wanted more. He quickly grew tired of being referred to as his characters when meeting the general public, going so far as to kill off one of his creations as part of a SNL sketch. When his agent suggested him for 48 Hrs. the director and especially the studio, were more than happy to entertain the idea. For his part, Murphy was interested because he wouldn't have to carry the picture alone. He also liked the fact that it was action thriller with comedy elements, rather than being an out-and-out comedy role. In a 1982 interview given to Entertainment Tonight, the young comedian half-joked that he couldn't really lose. If the film was a hit, it showed he could be serious as well as funny. On the flip side, if it flopped, he could blame the fact that he was a comedian put into a film where he called upon to be serious, something he wasn't known for. The actor was also responsible for the character's name change, from Willie Biggs to Reggie Hammond.

The first complication was that Murphy was committed to Saturday Night Live, which would run over into when shooting on 48 Hrs. was set to commence. Rather than lose the actor, Walter Hill shuffled around the schedule, shooting some of Nolte's scenes first, along with those featuring co-stars Annette O'Toole, Sonny Badham, James Remar and David Patrick Kelly (the latter two having worked with Hill previously on The Warriors). After two weeks, Murphy was free from SNL (until the next season) and joined the production. Something that Hill hadn't figured on was finding himself no longer the right man for the job - at least in the eyes of the Paramount and Michael Eisner. When he signed up, 48 Hrs. was a violent action thriller with some comedy elements. Now Eddie Murphy was involved, the studio wanted to tone down the violence and up the comedy - and in Hill they saw a writer/director who could shoot great action sequences, but had never done comedy. They figured they’d rather lose the director than risk squandering Murphy.

Hill stood his ground, and got to work shooting the main sequences of the film now that all the cast was present. Having come from stand-up and SNL, Murphy had little acting experience, and a coach was hired to help him cover the basics. His energy and enthusiasm also went a long way, and he was easily able to hold his own against his far more experienced co-star. However, Eisner wasn't impressed and pushed Hill to make the film funnier. According to the director, Eisner couldn't comprehend or visualise how funny a scene would be when it was actually shot, with the addition of actions, gestures and sight gags. The chemistry between Nolte and Murphy was there for all to see in the dailies; Hill and Larry Gross continued to refine the script on a day to day basis to play to the actor's strengths and increasing confidence with each other. [Nolte claimed in the 2008 documentary No Exit that much of his and Murphy's dialogue was improvised, but Hill states they were writing and re-writing dialogue up to the very last day of the shoot]. Still Eisner passed down pages of notes via his executive, Don Simpson, who was simply biding his time before he could secure a production deal. Even then, Simpson’s lifestyle was making people nervous.

Initially Hill read the notes, but as time went by he became more and more insulted by them, eventually passing them straight on to the man that Larry Gordon had put in charge of the day to day running of the production - Joel Silver. Even he grew weary after a while and passed them on to his secretary to read over. 48 Hrs. would mark the first time that Silver received a full producer credit - the first of many. The issues weren't only with the amount of comedy either. When shooting got back to Los Angeles, the set was visited by a group of Paramount executives who sat through dailies from the hotel shootout sequence and deemed it far too violent. They felt that no matter how funny the film was after that, it would not recover, and told Hill he'd never make another picture for the studio again [When Hill did again work for Paramount, the executives had long since gone]. Despite his reservation, Michael Eisner did at least find edited footage of Murphy to be funny (though not funny enough for his liking). Some years later, Hill would reveal that Paramount wanted to fire Murphy - not because he wasn't funny, but rather that he wasn't 'Richard Pryor funny'. As the shoot came to a close, any doubts about Murphy were extinguished when they shot the 'Redneck bar' sequence. Even though he’d never appeared in a movie before, after that scene was completed, Murphy was a bona fide film star - something that didn't go unnoticed by Don Simpson.

Work began on editing the picture in time for its December release date. James Horner would provide the film's instrumental soundtrack, while The Bus Boys, who would open for Eddie Murphy's stand up shows, contributed two songs. As has been noted before, the cinematic landscape in the early 1980s was much different to how it is today. A wide theatrical release would top around 1,200 screens, and VHS was already being branded as the killer of cinema. In a move that would seem inexplicable to a studio executive today (or even ten years ago), 48 Hrs. opened up against two other major comedy releases - one of which (The Toy) starred Richard Pryor. There was other competition too (though not all direct) in the guise of First Blood, An Officer and a Gentleman and E.T the Extra Terrestrial, which was in its 27th weekend on general release and still making money. 48 Hrs. cost $12M to produce, so a good few weekends would see it home and dry. Reviews were incredibly strong, with many singling out Murphy's star making performance and the chemistry between the leads as being the highlights. The picture currently holds a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was one of the best reviewed films of that year.

48 Hrs. opened on December 10th 1982, and made an ok $4.3M during its first weekend. The Toy won the top spot with $6.3M, while Airplane 2: The Sequel slipped into second place, earning $5.3M. It's worth noting that The Toy was on over 530 screens more than 48 Hrs (and 200 more than the Airplane sequel) giving it a ready advantage. A week later another comedy joined the fray; Dustin Hoffman picture, Tootsie, knocked The Toy off the top spot and contributed to 48 Hrs. dropping down to fifth place. The studio weren't too concerned as it had already made back most of its budget in the first ten days, and word of mouth was white hot. The same couldn't be said for Airplane 2, which tumbled from second to sixth. A week later and Tootsie was still at number one, but 48 Hrs had crept back up the chart, and actually increased on the previous weekend's takings (without the aid of any extra screens). Over the New Year period the film dropped down the chart again, yet saw another increase in takings. At this point it had been on general release for a month and comfortably earnt back its costs. What not one realised at the time was that 48 Hrs. was just getting started.

An increase of seventy screens during the January 7-9 weekend helped push the film to its highest chart position yet, sitting behind Tootsie, which was doing incredible business. The two films would occupy those same positions for the next three weeks. Only in its ninth weekend, did 48 Hrs. drop down a place, when The Entity was released. By now the picture had crossed the $50M mark and The Toy was all but a distant memory. By the end of February, 48 Hrs. was still in the top ten and actually moved back up the chart just as it began its exit from screens. Tootsie finally gave up the top spot in its 14th week to the Tom Selleck actioner, High Road to China. The following weekend was almost an entirely new top ten, as studios released (or re-released in the case of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Sword in the Stone) eight films. Only High Road, Tootsie and Ghandi survived, and 48 Hrs. fell to eleventh place. All told, it stayed on general release for twenty weeks, finishing its North America run with $78M - almost eight times what it cost to produce. It was the seventh biggest film of 1982, and enjoyed a very long and successful run on video too. Eddie Murphy was nominated for a Best Newcomer Golden Globe, Hill won the Grand Prix award at the Cognac Festival du Film Policier and James Horner's score earned him a Los Angeles Film Critics gong.

48 Hrs. thrust Murphy from TV comedian to global superstar almost overnight. Paramount, now knowing what they had, moved to sign him onto an extended contract. Yet at the same time, they never gave Walter Hill much credit for his contribution. In fact, according to an interview he gave to the Directors Guild a few years back, Paramount (or rather its executives) actually took credit for the film's success, telling Hill it was only funny because they'd pushed him to make it funnier. He made his next two films, Streets of Fire and Brewster's Millions, for Universal Pictures.

Given how successful 48 Hrs. was, it didn't take long before talk of a sequel surfaced, but it would take eight years before it got to the screen. The two leads returned for the 1990 release, Another 48 Hrs, as did Walter Hill. In the interim Eddie Murphy had become one of the biggest stars of the decade, while Nolte continued to win solid reviews for his dramatic work. After receiving $450,000 for the first film, Murphy made between $7M and $9M for its sequel and took top billing (and a 'story by' credit). Nolte saw his salary rise from $1M to $3M. This time around, Jack Cates, facing a charge of manslaughter, recruits the newly released Reggie Hammond to help clear his name and apprehend villain The Iceman. Hill's initial cut ran for 145 minutes and was edited down to 120 minute for its release. However, after Total Recall stormed the box office a week before Another 48 Hrs. was to make its debut, Paramount panicked and hastily hacked another 25 minutes from the picture. Complete characters and sequences were removed and actors such as Brion James saw their roles drastically reduced. In a somewhat bafflingly move, the studio also cut the scene in which Cates explains to Hammond how he has only 48 hours to clear his name. The film performed well, doubling its production budget in North America, and making a total of $153M globally. Nevertheless, given Murphy's previous box office hits, it was seen as a disappointment and critics savaged it. Talk of a second sequel soon dried up.  

For much of the 1980s, Eddie Murphy could do no wrong. He followed up his debut with Trading Places, opposite Dan Aykroyd, to even greater success. His concert movie Delirious was also a smash hit on video, though its controversial content earned him protests and threats. Such was his appeal, after the Dudley Moore comedy Best Defence tested poorly, the studio had Murphy shoot a few scenes that they could insert into the picture. His part didn't feature any other member of the main cast (a scene he did share with Moore was later cut) and amounted to little more than a cameo but that didn't stop Paramount from promoting Best Defence as if Murphy was a fully fledged co-star. If the studio had been impressed with his box office so far, they were blown away by what he did next. Beverly Hills Cop was produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and became one of the most successful pictures in movie history. Even today, it remains the sixth biggest R-rated picture ever released - and that's without inflation being factored in. Only Titanic stayed at number one for more consecutive weeks. 1984 had some major releases, including Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Beverly Hills Cop topped them all.

For many, it marked the high point of Murphy's career - both critically and financially. He would have many other successes, such as The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Coming to America, but by the time he directed vanity project, Harlem Nights, audiences had moved on. After Another 48 Hrs. the actor tried various genres, with middling results. Romantic-comedy Boomerang did quite good business, but Vampire in Brooklyn and The Distinguished Gentleman sank quickly. A return to the Beverly Hills Cop franchise was a major failure in 1994, earning just $42M. However, The Nutty Professor proved a big success, as did his voice work on Disney's Mulan. Now with a family of his own, Murphy switched to PG-friendly pictures, much to the disappointment of his older fans. Success from a Nutty Professor sequel and Dr.Dolittle eclipsed previous (and future disappointments) Metro and Holy Man, though he did receive positive notices for his work on the comedy drama, Life, opposite Martin Lawrence, and Bowfinger with Steve Martin.

Shrek in 1999 became a major turning point and a huge success. Murphy provided the voice of Donkey, and went on to reprise the role in three further movies and numerous TV specials, but he continued to struggle with live action. While Daddy Day Care made over $100M, Showtime, I Spy and notorious (and hugely expensive) flop The Adventures of Pluto Nash could barely muster $75M between them. Many were surprised when he took on a dramatic role in the 2006 picture Dreamgirls, earning a supporting actor nomination in the process. Since then he's seen success again with Shrek sequels, and failure with Meet Dave, Imagine That and One Thousand Words, which sat on the shelf for some time before receiving a release. At the time of writing he is preparing to play Axel Foley once more in Beverly Hills Cop 4, due for release in May 2016 and may yet appear as Richard Pryor’s father in the Lee Daniels’ biopic on the comedian’s life.

NIck Nolte favoured drama moving forward, though wasn't adverse to comedy (Three Fugitives, Down and Out in Beverly Hills). He re-teamed with Walter Hill on Extreme Prejudice and again on Another 48 Hrs. He was nominated for an Academy award for his work on Prince of Tides (1991), Affliction (1997) and Warrior (2012). He remains an in-demand actor, appearing in eight features since 2012.

Walter HIll continued to direct, but his next picture, Streets of Fire, failed at the box office, though subsequently gained cult status. His work with Richard Pryor on Brewster's Millions saw him return to success briefly, before three disappointments in a row (Extreme Prejudice, Red Heat and Johnny Handsome) helped convince him to make the 48 Hrs. sequel. His 1992 picture Trespass, featuring Ice-T and Ice Cube remains an underrated gem, but his return to the western genre with Geronimo in 1993 and Wild Bill in 1995 failed to find an audience, likewise the Bruce Willis film, Last Man Standing. After the disastrous Supernova and boxing drama Undisputed, Hill switched to TV, winning awards for his work on Deadwood and Broken Trail. His latest theatrical release was the 2013 Sylvester Stallone picture, Bullet to the Head.

Don Simpson and his partner Jerry Bruckheimer would go on to make some of the biggest pictures of the 1980s and 90s, including the aforementioned Beverly Hills Cop (and its first sequel), Top Gun, Days of Thunder and The Rock. Similarly, Joel Silver became the action producer of the next two decades, having a hand in the likes of Commando, Predator, Die Hard 1 & 2, the Lethal Weapon series and The Matrix trilogy. He also produced Streets of Fire, Brewster's Millions and Bullet to the Head for Walter Hill.

Viewed today, 48 Hrs. still packs a violent punch that's offset perfectly by Murphy and Nolte's interplay. Many would argue that the original Beverly Hills Cop aside, Murphy has never been better, and it remains one of the strongest examples of the genre. Its influence ran throughout the 1980s and 90s and even today's action comedies owe it a debt. Despite changes in fashion and attitude, 48 Hrs. has aged incredibly well and remains not only a great comedy thriller, but also serves as witness to the making of a superstar.

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Aside from the usual IMDb and Wikpedia pages, this article couldn't have come together so well without a great interview I read courtesy of Film International, along with a 3 hour interview Walter Hill did for the Directors Guild.


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