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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Seminara

A Diamond in the Trash My Bodyguard, 1979. 

George is still under the weather; some meds have knocked him for a loop. He apologizes for the excessive use of French words in this uniquely midwestern American story. Now, if we can only get that beret off his head, things might return to normal.

Two respective oeuvres were born from the Best Picture, Academy Award-winning producer of The Sting (Holy Crap!) Tony (what I really wanna do is direct) Bill's 1979 debut, My Bodyguard. The first is the Chicago-set teen/family film that would dominate the 1980s and early 1990s. What movies do you ask? Let's start with Endless Love, Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, Adventures in Babysitting, The Breakfast Club, Home Alone - 1,2,3 and 4, Ferris Bueler's Day Off, Weird Science, Pretty In Pink, DennisThe Menace, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Uncle Buck, to name a lot more than you would care to see again and only a drop of the films of this type that got produced. (Okay, I know there are a lot of John Hughes films here. I'll get around to talking about that guy one day.)

Note#1: Oeuvres!?! "We don't need no stinking oeuvres?" What kind of la-di-da word is that to use in a blog post anyway? It's a French word that means no, not eggs (That's œufs!). It means works, as in the body of work. Between 1979 and the mid-1990s, a massive body of cinematic work got made featuring children of varying ages living in the city or the near suburbs of Chicago. The list, as the last paragraph states, is unending. 

The second is the Matt Dillion film. For the first part of his career, ten years at least, Matt Dillon played a dumb ass! The cute idiot. Or sometimes the cute - not so bright - bully. They are the same side of the same coin. My Bodyguard is the crystallization of that character. It is his second film, and though he plays a teen with a certain lack of intelligence in his first film, Over the Edge, it is as Mooney or Big. M does he perfect the character that would define him until his first adult role, in Gus van Zandt's Drug Store Cowboy. (Even there, he's no genius.) Mr. Dillon has played every version of this character, from the romantic in The Little Darlings to the rebel without a cause in Tex, to the unfocused gang member who commits suicide by cop in The Outsiders to the young brother, Rusty James, trying the impossible to fill his older brother's shoes in Rumble Fish. 

Luckily for us, time passed, and Matt Dillon became an adult man.This allowed him to star in Drug Store Cowboy and find a character that has grown wise from his past as a cute young idiot. The later Matt Dillon, the handsome man of dubious background and judgment, found a fair amount of work and even earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in 1995s Crash. He should work more. He has some real talent, but we are concerned with the initial ten years here. (Also, his younger brother, Kevin Dillon, picked up some of his slack when Matt started to age out of cute dumb-ass roles. The younger has a je ne sais quoi of his own and is quite memorable in several films and series. Additionally, Kevin has appeared in more than three times the number of projects Matt has.)

But Matt Dillon accidentally created a cinema archetype, and no one has done it better or in more unique situations. 

Note #1: There's Something About Mary, Matt Dillon play's Pat, the Private Detective. He's still playing a dumb ass, but I'd love to see him play a real P.I. on a television series. Maybe a show set in Hollywood in the late 1930s featuring a private dick with just enough street sense to keep the lights on. (Why so specific? No reason.) In There's Something About Mary, he loses the girl to Ben Stiller (After Ben lost her to Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre). In real life, Matt and Cameron Diaz (Mary) hooked up for several months. (Jealousy seethes, and the blood boils!) However, as a work of art, the film only works for me because of the inclusion of Jonathan Richman—an essential musical artist to me.

Now to get you out of the weeds and back to the article. My Bodyguard is the directorial debut of the actor and Academy Award best-picture-winning producer of The Sting, blah, blah, blah, Tony Bill. My Bodyguard concerns Clifford Peache, a 15-year-old trying to adjust to a new inner-city high school. He lives in a penthouse apartment in the Ambassador Hotel at the top of Chicago's Magnificent Mile and mere blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan. Clifford is no rich kid, his dad, Larry, played with aplomb by Martin Mull, is the recently installed hotel manager. He may not make a lot of money, but they get perks! Besides the apartment, they get all their meals at the hotel and use anything a fancy hotel might have in 1979. In addition to his dad, he lives with his Gramma, who is played with all the enthusiasm the great Ruth Gordon can muster in her attempt to hijack the whole film.    

Another perk is that the hotel's limousine takes him to and from school. I can't imagine a bigger target for bullies than a kid showing up in a limo in front of an inner-city High School. It's a strange twist because the film's first five minutes, including titles, show Clifford touring all the Chicago landmarks on his bicycle. We will never see that bike again in this picture. With a target placed firmly on his back, Clifford quickly becomes the subject of abuse from a gang of bullies. Whose leader is Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon). They regularly extort protection money from various students to protect them from, well, from them. Another student, the surly and oversized Ricky Linderman, features in the extortion plan, but no one can protect them from Lindeman. According to school legends, Linderman has killed several people, including his kid brother. 

The first thing you notice about the classroom makeup is the size differential, the clothing, bad hair, braces, and chaos, the casual cruelty, exactly like I remember my tenth-grade class, even with that helmet head of hair on top of Clifford's skull. It feels like the wardrobe person just went to every kid's house and took the clothes they actually wore to school. Clifford is on the low side of average on the height scale. He befriends Carson in homeroom, who is at least a head shorter. Carson has spent his entire academic career being bullied by Moody and Co. It is through his incredulous and world-weary comments we pick up the specifics of the school. When Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin) walks his big hulking body into class late, he initially appears to be a 30-year-old man. A hush falls over the classroom as everyone fears his potential wrath except for the teacher, Mrs. Jump (Katherine Grody, aka Mrs. Mandy Patinkin), who calmly berates him for being late and calmly attempts to limit the chaos of the homeroom.  

Once you look at him, Linderman doesn't need a shave. He needs a shower. He doesn't look older, just bigger. He also has an energy that none of the other kids have or can understand. He is a black hole that forces all the students to give him a wide berth. To Tony Bill's credit, a considerable part of the story's success is in giving us one of the most honest presentations of high school ever committed to film. The central plot is to uncover the cause of Lindermin's dour behavior. 

After being shaken down by Moody and Co., Clifford discusses the situation with his father and Gramma. And it goes a little something like this:

Gramma:  If you wanna deal with them, just go for the eyes! Takes the

fight right out of them.

Dad:  Mother, I don't think blinding kids is going to help.

Gramma:  Then you should kick 'em in the ga-hoolies! 

Clifford wisely ignores Gramma's advice and approaches Linderman. First, he offers to help him with his schoolwork. Then with an offer of cash for protection from Moody. Linderman rejects both proposals. What happens next is one of the film's great scenes—a deus ex machina moment, if you will. Moody and Co are chasing Clifford through the streets due to a smart-ass comment Clifford can't help but make. If they catch him, it will result in a severe beatdown. Out of the blue, Ricky Linderman appears just as the bullies are about to pounce! After they slink off with their tails between their legs, Linderman tells Clifford it was a one-time gig and to piss off. 

Clifford is not a kid to just piss off, and he begins to follow him around. Eventually, all this puppy-dog following leads to a friendship. Ricky is rebuilding a motorcycle from scratch, and the two boys wander the endless junkyards of Chicago looking for parts. Eventually, they get it working, and the two boys joyride around town without helmets (I'm an adult, a parent, and why no helmet?) Ricky doesn't even need a license. But that's unimportant. Ricky comes out of his shell, proving to a few classmates that he's not the killer school rumors suggest. 

As Clifford, Ricky, and a few other friends from school eat lunch in the park. (This group of friends includes Carson, Shelly, the possible debut of Joan Cusack, her un-named friend, played by Jennifer Beals (She's a maniac, maniac on the floor. And she's dancing like she's never danced before) Moody and his gang approach. Moody has enlisted an older bully, Mike, to be his Bodyguard. Mike is like a mini-Vin Diesel when someone threatens his car. He intimidates and physically abuses Ricky, who refuses to fight. But he does stare daggers at them. It is a long simmer. 

Note #2: Joan Cusack is one of our great actresses. She may be a little too funny, err no, unique looking to be the next Meryl Streep, but she never phones it in. Joan earned her Oscar Nomination for In and Out in a heartbreaking and hilarious role. She finds out her fiancé is really-gay on her wedding day. But she lost to Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential. There have been times that there were ties in Oscar history. Why not 1991! One other tidbit from, In and Out, the fiancé who spends 3/4s of the film denying he's gay because a dumb-ass former student while accepting his best actor Oscar thanks him by name and outs him to the world. Who Plays him? Matt Dillon, dumb-ass actor extraordinaire!  

Mike realizes that Ricky Linderman is not going to fight. And vandalizes his motorcycle and allows Moody to roll it into the lake. When Clifford asks Ricky why he didn't fight, Ricky runs away, ashamed and angry. The camera remains on Clifford's point of view while Ricky runs a quarter of a mile and across a bridge—one shot. I didn't time it, but it's long. No movie today ever has a single static shot this long. But it works. It underscores the loneliness that Ricky must have felt during the period when everyone was afraid of him. 

Ricky later appears on Clifford's apartment's rooftop patio. He asks for money, which Clifford gives him, before leaving again via the fire escape. Of course, Clifford follows him. As he mounts the first steps, he looks down at the Miracle Mile and realizes it's a long way down. Hell, with that shot, we all know it's a long way down and feel Clifford's trepidation. Ricky tells Clifford to go home, but that's not his jam. He follows him to the elevated train platform. SPOILER ALERT! They argue, and Ricky finally reveals that he accidentally shot his brother while playing with their father's gun and lied about finding his brother after the fact. As a result, he is overwhelmed with guilt and remorse. As the train arrives, he stands over the smaller Clifford behind and almost whispers in surprise that he never told anyone that before and that Clifford should go home. As the doors close, he takes a subway train into the night.

This is a point of reference for you cine-maniacs out there. This scene is shot on the train line the City of Chicago allows for use in movies. Therefore, or ergot, this is the same train Tom Cruise and his furniture-stealing prostitute girlfriend, canoodle on in Risky Business. 

There is a ridiculous scene in which Craig Richard Nelson, master of Smarm, most notably in The Paper Chase and many other films. Is smarm the singular of smarmy? As the assistant manager, he tries to sandbag Martin Mull by formally complaining to the hotel chain's president about Gramma. The president arrives in the form of John Houseman and gets swept up in the hedonistic arms of Ruth Gordon. (This does not have the desired effect though Houseman may end up in traction!) 

Several Chicago actors appear in minor roles, Tim Kazurinsky, from SNL and the Police Academy Films, George Wendt, from Cheers and a million other films, and uniquely playing a teacher, we have Patrick Billingsly, who, if you have some free time is as noted for his books in advanced probability theory as he is for his acting chops. Also, I'd be remiss not to mention that Richard "Dick" Cusack is also in the film. He was an Emmy Winning documentarian, theater maven, father of John and Joan, and art enthusiast key to the founding of the Piven Theater Workshop that has nurtured actors, Like the Cusacks, Jeremy Piven, Aiden Quinn, and Lili Taylor, to name-drop just a few. 

Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Clifford and his friends are back at the park. Ricky is also there retrieving his motorcycle from the lake. Clifford runs over to help. Moody, hanging out with his hoodlums, notices and demands the bike. Ricky silently refuses to relinquish but replies with his intense dagger stare. Moody summons Mike, who explains that Moody owns the bike now and starts to push and intimidate Ricky—lots of staring from both of them. Finally, Ricky signals, "That's all he can stand. He can't stand no more!" he leaps at Mike and then engages in a prolonged fistfight, which Ricky ultimately wins, knocking Mike out. 

Moody and Clifford then split off into their fist fight after Moody tries to intervene in the battle between Ricky and Mike. Ricky urges Clifford to fight, shouting pointers. Clifford initially fights incompetently (he's a middle-class kid who lives in a nice hotel. What does he know from fighting?) The overconfident Moody taunts Clifford who finally lands several solid punches, the last of which knocks Moody down, breaking his nose. Moody sits on the ground, bleeding and whining, showing himself to be a coward. Ricky retrieves his motorcycle and jokingly asks Clifford to be his Bodyguard as they leave with their friends.

This climactic bare-knuckled high school throw-down is one of the most realistic I have ever seen in a movie. If you have ever been in a High School fist fight, you know a lot of it involves rolling around on the ground, and a lot of that happens here. Also, it's covered in many longer-than-average shots giving this battle a reality rarely found in teen movies. I'd put this up with the Eye of The Tiger scene in Rocky Three, where Rocky knocks Clubber (Mr. T, the new shill for Sketchers slip-ons) Lang out. That's how satisfying it is. These two bullies deserve their comeuppance. 

My Bodyguard is a heck of a debut. The National Board of Review had it on their top ten list. It was nominated for best screenplay by the Writer's Guild of America. Tony Bill shows some real promise, and what does he do with it? Not a whole hell of a lot. A couple of Dudley Moore films and a few others. His last project of note was 2006's Flyboys which features a very smoldering James Franco as an American pilot who yearns to battle the Hun in World War One. It was okay, and I saw it in the theater. I don't envy Mr. Bill's failings as a director. Directing films is hard work, but his career as a producer was stellar. Besides The Sting, he also produced 1975's Shampoo, 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and 1987's Less than Zero! And even with a couple of significant divorce settlements, he's probably not hurting. 

Note # 3: One last bit about Matt Dillon. I'm a comics guy too. I love comics, comic strips, and comic books. I love it. No, there wasn't a Matt Dillon comic strip. But Matt Dillon's Great Uncle was Alex Raymond, who created Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, Secret Agent X-9, and Rip Kirby and was one of the finest artists ever to draw a comic strip. That might be enough, but no, there's more. His second great-cousin (?) Jim Raymond was the artist who created the form and style of Chic Young's Blondie comics strip after Chic's passing. Flash Gordon and Blondie flow in his veins! Not only that, he is a keen collector of vintage jazz vinyl specializing in afro Cuban be-bop (a form of Latin-flavored Jazz), and that, my friends, is a very good time! 

Out Now!

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