Sunday, January 04, 2009

Who should play Dortmunder in the movies?

Steve Lewis of the Mystery File blog is reposting reviews of movies made from Donald Westlake's comic John Dortmunder novels. He's put up Why Me? and The Hot Rock so far, and both reviews have naturally pondered the weird surgery that movie producers perform on the books.

I mean, producers know better than anyone else what makes money, but here's what Westlake answered when asked what Dortmunder would have done had he not become a thief. Dortmunder is eternally 44 years old, Westlake said, and:

"I doubt John would have chosen a profession. He might have run a grocery store in a changing neighborhood where nothing really works out, or run the construction office for a large inept builder corporation constantly being ripped off by the employees. `Hey, where you goin with that plywood?' `It’s mine, I brought it with me this mornin.' `Oh, okay.'"
And you're going to have Christopher Lambert, Robert Redford and Martin Lawrence play this guy? OK, I can understand casting big names, but why violate the books' charm? Dortmunder is a downmarket type of guy. He slouches. His girlfriend May helps herself to bags of groceries from her job, and Dortmunder's gang always have to scramble for places to sit when they meet in his apartment. Yet the Dortmunder character in the movie Why Me?, for some reason called Gus Cardinale, lives in a clean, sunny apartment that appears full of gorgeous, blond-wood furniture. Why?

So, here are your assignments: If you don't know Dortmunder and his gang, make their acquaintance immediately (You'll find excerpts here, here and here). If you do, who should play Dortmunder on screen? A younger Harry Dean Stanton? Elisha Cook Jr.? Woody Allen? You tell me.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Labels: , ,

23 Comments:

Blogger Gerald So said...

I'd go with Jon Lovitz for Dortmunder, Andy Richter for Andy Kelp, and I think I'll quit while I'm ahead (or behind, as the case may be).

Speaking of Westlake at the movies, I enjoyed PAYBACK and the DVD-released director's cut PAYBACK STRAIGHT UP with Mel Gibson as "Porter". The latter features an interview with Westlake.

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lovitz might not be bad if he could keep the clowning tendencies under control and could try to look a bit less like a schlepper. Dortmunder is probably a difficult role to cast if one wants to be faitful to the book. He's not exactly a nebbish, and he's not exactly a tough guy or an Everyman either. I'd say someone midway on a continuum with Lovitz at one end and Harry Dean Stanton at the other would fit the bill. Andy Richter is a terrific choice for Kelp.

The Payback director's cut might make worthwhile viewing, especially the Westlake interview. Mel Gibson is reputed to have been especially ham-fisted in his insistence on script changes. The result is not a bad movie, but the changes make Parker/Porter less the hard, amoral character of the book, and more someone who appeals in a routine way to viewers as a good guy. There's a lot more Hollywood-style heartstring-tugging in the movie than Westlake, Parker or, for that matter, Lee Marvin or John Boorman ever engaged in. I'd be interested in any discussion of the changes from book to movie.

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Juri said...

Bruce Dern?

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

Peter, Hollywood doesn't recognize charm when charm wacks it across the forehead with a Louisville Slugger then bends down and says, "Hullo, allow me to introduce myself."

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Juri, he might not be a bad choice. People think of him as plaing just distrubed characters, I think, but he wasn't bad in Family Plot.

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

I admit I've read few if any of the Dortmunder books (I'm going to correct that!), but from the descriptions I'd say the same actor who plays him should play Bernie Rhodenbarr in the unlikely chance that anybody makes movies of Lawrence Block's "The Burglar Who..." books. The characters seem to be similar.

Captcha - pusining. A Korean version of Sing Sing.

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just don't think producers get Dortmunder. At least Robert Redford seemed to understand that the character was not a clown, even though he was an odd choice for the part.

There are all kinds of reasons for this weirdness, at least one of which may be of sociological interest. Movie producers may be afraid of putting downmarket-type characters on screen unless they are noble sufferers.

Weird movie versions of Dortmunder were my introduction to Westlake. I read a capsule review in a local paper that said movies had never quite captured the flavor of Donald Westlake's comic Dortmunder caper novels, and I thought, hmm, who is this Dortmunder? Who is this Westlake?

January 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I haven't read much Rhodenbarr, but that might not be a bad comparison. I think Rhodenbarr is a bit more upbeat than Dortmunder, though.

It would not surprise me if Block and Westlake discussed this very question more than once over poker games with Otto Penzler.

January 04, 2009  
Anonymous Jerry House said...

Linkmeister should be warned that Whoopi Goldberg played Rhodenbarr in the movie Burglar. Whoopi as Dortmunder? Hmmm. I can the H'wood producers now: "It's fresh. It's new. What a great twist! But can't we get somebody younger? I've got -- we'll make Dorkburger, or whatever his name is, twins. Lindsay and Paris aren't doing much now, call them!" "Great idea, Boss! And if we tell them it's a sure-fire hit, we can get them to show some skin! That way we won"t have to bother with a plot."

January 05, 2009  
Blogger Donna said...

Hmmmmmm - tough one Peter. I'm a big Dortmunder fan and really crap at casting anything at all. I toyed with a few - Enn Reitel (too old?), Nicholas Lyndhurst (possible but too young?), Trevor Eve (too suave?), Bob Hoskins (too Bob Hoskins?) and finally settled on Alun Armstrong who's been in loads of stuff (from Get Carter to several BBC Dickens films. He plays a nicely understated lugubrious comedy in the BBCs 'New Tricks'. Here's a picture:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/people/alun_armstrong_person_page.shtml

But, as I say, I'm notoriously bad at casting - I went off on a musical tack and even toyed with both Tom Waits and Bad Seeds' Nick Cave for a while :o)

Donna

January 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jerry, you'd better be more cautious. Someone in Hollywood might read your comment and decide that Lindsay and Paris would be splendid as Dortmunder and Kelp.

January 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Donna, I know nothing about casting, but I suspect that Dortmunder would probably be a difficult role to cast for any prodicers trying to stick fairly closely to the books.

I took a look at pictures of all your choices. Unfortunately for him, Nicholas Lyndhurst happened to be smiling in the photo I saw, not a good thing for anyone auditioning for Dortmunder to do. Alun Armstrong may have too strong a face for Dortmunder, who I think should be outstanding for his anonymity.

But any of that group would be better than Martin Lawrence, Christopher Lambert or Whoopi Goldberg.

January 05, 2009  
Blogger Donna said...

I agree he would be very difficult to cast. Here's a non smiley Nicholas Lyndhurst:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/murderinmind/

And Alun Armstrong can look surprisingly nondescript - but it's mostly due to his acting. He can sort of sink into the background even when he's centre stage...if that makes any sense :o) It's a tough one.

Donna

January 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It does make sense. I read some anecdote about Laurence Olivier and some American actor, perhaps Dustin Hoffman, who was twisting himself into all kinds of knots preparing for a role. Sir Laurence said something like, "My dear boy, why don't you try acting?"

Nicholas Lyndhurst's sunken eyes in that photo would be good for Dortmunder, I think -- if only some producer got interested in casting a good one.

January 05, 2009  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I'm coming late to the party, so I don't know if anyone's going to see this, but I always saw Steven Wright as Dortmunder. He'd just have to cut his hair. Also, David Spade for Andy Kelp. He'd just have to not act like David Spade.

January 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comment, and welcome. I'm skeptical about David Spade for the same reasons you are. But Steven Wright is a hell of a choice for Dortmunder. That's probably just what the part needs: a comedian who can play a role straight. I just might be prepared to call Wright's agent and have him sign the contract now.

January 08, 2009  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh, you are there. Cool.

In my mind there's a third member of the Steven Wright/Dortmunder troika:

Eeyore.

January 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dortmunder has certain Eeyorian qualities, but he's a pretty capable guy at crunch time. He's not a complete loser, in other words, which may be part of why producers seem to have so much trouble with the character. They see the comic side but not the rest of it. That's one reason Robert Redford was not a disastrous Dortmunder, as strange a choice as he seemed to be for the role.

January 08, 2009  
Blogger Matthew E said...

True... but he seems like a complete loser, in the same way that Eeyore does. Westlake's novels are full of otherwise intelligent people who can't for the life of them see any aptitude at all in Dortmunder.

January 09, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The perfect Dortmunder would have to understand that Dortmunder is Parker's offspring and still has a bit of Parker in him.

January 09, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitively Ken Jenkins even he can be considered too old to play Dortmunder. Jenkins has this ability not to smile and remaining funny, with his cold blue eyes, his faces...

option 2 : Gene Hackman.

June 28, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too late?
How about David Strathairn?

September 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's never too late. I was so out of it that I didn't know who David Strathairn was, but I just looked at some pictures of him, and I;d say he could look gray and put-upon enough to play Dortmunder. Thanks.

September 16, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home