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BOOK REVIEW

'Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies' by Michael Deeley

The film producer sheds light on the movie-maker's role and settles a few scores as he takes readers behind some classic scenes.

April 30, 2009|Lawrence Levi

Dissolute movie producers have told all in books like "The Kid Stays in the Picture" and "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again." But what about the less flashy producers, those staid men and women who anxiously strive to keep their budgets and directors under control?

That's the story Michael Deeley means to tell in "Blade Runners, Deer Hunters, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off: My Life in Cult Movies."

Deeley, an Englishman who produced "The Italian Job," "The Man Who Fell to Earth," "The Deer Hunter," "Blade Runner" and other memorable films, stumbled into a job as an assistant editor at 20 and within a few years began producing.

He's a proper gentleman: The most scandalous personal story he has to tell concerns making a nudie picture in the early 1960s. Beyond the memories, his book has two apparent goals: to explain what a producer does and to settle some scores.

The latter subject is, of course, much juicier. "Blade Runners" opens in 1979 with Deeley winning a best picture Oscar for "The Deer Hunter." Thirty years have done nothing to diminish the intensity of his loathing for that film's director, Michael Cimino.

"To this day," Deeley writes, "the only flaw I find in my Oscar is that Cimino's name is also engraved on it. I keep it on a very high shelf, so that I can see the award but not the unpleasantness minutely chiselled there."

Deeley refers to Cimino's "ruthless self-indulgence" and the "depths of malice and dishonesty lurking in this soft-spoken little man." The primary issue is that Cimino turned in a 3 1/2 -hour movie when Deeley wanted a two-hour one.

But none of this is news; Cimino's reputation was definitively flayed nearly a quarter century ago in Steven Bach's "Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of 'Heaven's Gate.' "

Other scores to settle?

Warren Beatty wanted Deeley to cut the sex scene between Donald Sutherland and Beatty's girlfriend Julie Christie from "Don't Look Now," but Deeley wouldn't budge.

Christopher Lee should stop whining that Deeley was "the man in the suit who took up scissors and ruined" the 1973 thriller "The Wicker Man."

It wasn't Deeley's fault that EMI Films, where he was president in the mid-1970s, backed out of funding Monty Python's "Life of Brian"; that was the doing of EMI's chief executive, Bernard Delfont.

Deeley's book gets tedious when he details the corporate skulduggery of the British film industry. When he offers on-set anecdotes, it's fairly entertaining.

The massive Turin traffic jam at the heart of "The Italian Job" (the original, with Michael Caine) was real, he explains, brought about by Deeley and his crew.

While shooting "The Knack . . . and How to Get It" in London in 1965, he remembers, "[W]e needed a crowd of nubile young girls." So he scooted over to the Lycee Francaise, where his daughters were students, and "recruited the prettiest" of "the sixth-form girls" -- which is how Jane Birkin, Jacqueline Bisset and Charlotte Rampling first appeared on-screen.

Naturally, the most compelling parts of "Blade Runners" are those involving titanic personalities and films that have become classics.

Sure, Sam Peckinpah was a coked-out monster while shooting "Convoy," but did you know that on the set of "The Man Who Fell to Earth," David Bowie was "happiest when secluded in his big trailer with his books and his milk"?

Even Cimino gets a little love for his careful direction of the bloody "Deer Hunter" climax.

"Blade Runner" is the film of which Deeley is proudest and rightly so. Its back story has been exhaustively detailed on recent "final cut" DVDs and in Paul M. Sammon's 1996 book, "Future Noir: The Making of 'Blade Runner.' "

So it is surprising to learn that the infamous voice-over narration that marred the original theatrical release was not written by professionals (as others have long asserted) but "knocked out in a very amateurish way" by Deeley, director Ridley Scott and two others "in a bar one night."

"We just worked it out between us, trying to cover the holes in the story," Deeley notes. Oops.

As for his beef with Cimino, what really seems to gall Deeley is the director's claiming credit for originating "The Deer Hunter." In his words, "I had the satisfaction of knowing that 'The Deer Hunter' had been made because I had caused it to be made. I found the script, I hired the writer, I hired the director, I hired the star and I sold the package to a major U.S. distributor."

Actually, that statement does a fine job of both settling a score and explaining what a producer does.

--

Levi is coauthor of "The Film Snob's Dictionary."

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