Twenty years ago today, on April 20th, 1990 the movie Miami Blues was released theatrically. My first exposure to it was in 1994 though. I was working in a video store during and after high school and this was my first exposure to Miami Blues and the works of Charles Willeford. This was the pre-internet days though and it actually took me quite a bit of research to find out who wrote the book that the movie was based on. But once I did I read as many Willeford’s as I could find.
All these years later I think that Miami Blues is still a largely underrated if not downright forgotten movie. The Willeford faithful and fans of darker crime fiction of course haven’t forgotten but even among the hardcore faithful it doesn’t come up as much as it should.
The story is brilliant in so many ways. Is it a comedy, is it satire, is it crime? Yes, it all of that and tied together and wrapped up in a heavy dose of absurdism. What greater social critique is there then a psycho who steals a badge and goes around town impersonating a cop and no one notices the difference.
The central cast is absolutely perfect. I can’t imagine anyone else in these roles. For any and all who are familiar with Alec Baldwin’s body of work check him out when he was lean and mean. Fred Ward is Hoke it’s just that simple. And Jennifer Jason Leigh as Susie. Maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed but so sweet that she becomes the emotional core of the movie.
If you’ve gone these past 20 years without seeing Miami Blues then don’t go the next 20 without.
Unfortunately my realization that today was the 20th anniversary came late in the day. I scrambled over the last few hours to get some others to chime in on the movie. If any others come in after I post this I will add them as they come in. Thanks to all who answered the call on such short notice.
Here is the opening of the movie that introduces us to Freddie and is taken directly from the book.
Miami Blues was a fabulous film with many memorable scenes – if only one had to be chosen it might well be Shirley Stoler’s scene in which she chops off fingers. Shirley’s appearance was a surprise and a delight to me. I loved her in Seven Beauties as the Commandant and the nut case in The Honeymoon Killers. Miami Blues was well-written, well-directed, and had over the top acting. Can a remake be far away?
…two great fucking scenes…Fred Ward loosing his teeth..or at least them choppers dropping out of his mouth as I recall and Alec Baldwin as the maniac Junior…Junior something, right? His fingers getting chopped off on one hand and he’s holding a gat and brushes them into his now good hand off a counter top. Great shit from the warped mind of Charles Willeford.
The “fingers” scene is below:
All I can say is that I loved that movie, mainly for Fred Ward, a very underrated actor. I always thought he’d be a great Dave Robicheaux.
“Price check on Uzi squirt gun,” and, “Never met a man who didn’t love my pies,” come to mind immediately.
It wasn’t till after I read the book that I appreciated the movie. When I first saw it, it seemed scattered, nonsensical. After reading the book fifteen years later, I saw that was Willeford’s intention. An intention that is intensified in New Hope for the Dead and Sideswipe, when he completely dispenses with the idea of Hoke being a cop with integrity. Would have been fun to see what Baldwin did with those scripts. I just didn’t get it until I got Willeford. And then it just zings along.
I do recall Miami Blues was the last movie I saw before I moved from Cincinnati to Oregon. At the time, I thought, “It’s gonna be a lot harder for me to get to Florida after I move, but maybe that’s for the best.” I loved the movie, but even more, I loved the fact it introduced me to Charles Willeford, whose books I went on to devour.
Don’t have much to say on such short notice apart from pointing out that all three times Willeford has been filmed his work has been respected. Miami Blues came out amazingly well, especially considering its mainstream studio origins…
The film that made an instant Jennifer Jason Leigh fan out of me. The scene where she sabotages her own cooking to test Freddie? And his reaction? And her defense of him to Hoke? Great stuff. My first exposure to Willeford as well and that’s a big debt to owe. Fred Ward was a producer and I’m sure he was hoping to get a series out of it, it’s hard to imagine anybody else doing Hoke better.
I thought the casting was just about perfect. Who better for Hoke Mosely than Fred Ward, who projects working class cynicism better than just about any character actor of his generation? And Jennifer Jason Leigh blends ditzy and world-weary in just the right amounts. Alec Baldwin was born to play a blithe young psychopath, alternately terrifying, funny and genuinely affectionate toward Jennifer Jason Leigh’s woebegone hooker. An excellent job capturing Willeford’s sunny, brutal world.