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Kasdan: Hi-yo, 'Silverado'


"It's insane--it's repugnant to me! It's like putting ketchup on ice cream." Grimacing, Lawrence Kasdan shook his head, as if to empty it of the two words he'd just heard.

Yuppie Western.

The term cropped up last year, almost immediately after Columbia Pictures announced that Kasdan--the writer/director/co-producer of "Big Chill" fame--planned to re-cast three alumni from that film (Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum and Kevin Costner, whose part as Alex was cut from the film) as cowboys in his new project, "Silverado."

Silver-spurred Topsiders? Designer chaps? Racquetball at the OK Corral?


Kasdan had no intention of parodying the Old West. His honest-to-genre Western (which opens Wednesday and also stars Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Hunt, Brian Dennehy and John Cleese) is a story of four unlikely heros and their adventures in and around the 1880s frontier town of Silverado.

Kasdan's project is the last (and most expensive, at $23 million) of three Westerns to be released recently. "Rustler's Rhapsody," a parody of "B" Westerns, went thataway almost immediately. Clint Eastwood's "Pale Rider" looks promising after grossing $9 million on its opening weekend.

Ironically, "Silverado" opens shortly before the publication of "Final Cut," the blow-by-blow account of the making of the last big-budget Western, "Heaven's Gate," by former United Artists executive Steven Bach. Michael Cimino's $40-million-plus movie was a financial disaster that led to UA's absorption by MGM in 1981.

Even before "Heaven's Gate," Westerns were unpopular undertakings at movie studios. Should this year's offerings fail to make dents at the box office, the genre could be retired . . . permanently.

It's High Noon for Westerns in Hollywood--and nobody is more keenly aware of that fact than Larry Kasdan.

"I don't know whether audiences are really resistant to Westerns--that's the inherent question 'Silverado' will test. It's obviously what has scared Hollywood all these years."

Kasdan's smile was a tolerant one; it certainly wasn't the first time he'd responded to the question. However, Kasdan seemed itchy for the answer during an interview in his cozy Studio City office, simply decorated with foreign language posters and assorted memorabilia from his other films.

The bearded, jeans-clad director also gave the good-natured but candid impression that he was dying for another opportunity to beat Hollywood at its own game--predicting what audiences want to see.

"When they made 'Star Wars,' science fiction was considered dead. They quit making sports films--until 'Rocky' came out. You wonder how long it takes the studios to realize that people will go to the movie that's offbeat and interesting."

Kasdan shook his head, bemused. The pleasant surprise about Larry Kasdan is that he's kept a well-developed sense of humor--and irony--about a business that has buffeted him about considerably. Ever since the screenwriter ("Continental Divide," "The Empire Strikes Back," "Raiders of the Lost Ark") made his directorial debut with "Body Heat" (the steamy 1981 film noir starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner), he's clashed repeatedly with studio executives over the commerciality of his projects.

Sherry Lansing put "Body Heat" into turnaround during her Fox tenure (it was picked up by the Ladd Co.) and every studio in town passed on "The Big Chill" (it was produced by Johnny Carson's film company and released by Columbia).

When Kasdan and his brother Mark turned in "Silverado" script, with a projected budget of $25 million, to Columbia Pictures, the studio's reaction was predictable.

"It was a combination of two things they don't like--a high budget and a Western," Kasdan explained. "Columbia had been supportive about the script, but they were very nervous about the genre."

Most studios are. Given the failure of most Westerns at the box office over the last 15 years, the theory prevailed that space adventures such as "Star Wars" had become the Westerns of a new generation, which had no interest in horses and sagebrush. Kasdan disagreed.

"My theory was that we weren't doing it quite right. The Westerns which have come out of Hollywood in the last 15 years have mainly been about the end of an era--the closing down of the frontier. All these movies had the first car, the first airplane, and that drove me crazy."

Kasdan wanted make a new version of the true Western. "When I was a kid, what excited me was that Westerns were about potential, about expansion, about a land that was completely unformed and which you could do anything with and be almost any kind of person."

Surprisingly, after a $2-million budget cut and a trip by several Columbia executives to New York to convince the studio's board of directors about the project, Kasdan was given the go-ahead.

"I don't have a history of great relations with studios," Kasdan reflected, "but Columbia has been absolutely faultless on this movie. They were absolutely supportive."

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