THE BOOTLEG FILES: “FORTY-DEUCE”

BOOTLEG FILES 179: “Forty-Deuce” (1982 indie flick starring Kevin Bacon as a male prostitute).

LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public screening of this film.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: It stinks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Ain’t likely in the near future.

I was first introduced to “Forty-Deuce” through an advertisement in the film industry trade newspaper Variety. This was back in 1982 and I was a mere freshman at Pace University (ah, old P.U.). The advertisement was somewhat peculiar to me, since it didn’t announce when the film was supposed to open. That missing piece of information was not an accidental omission – although the movie was completed in 1982, it was not pegged for theatrical release that year. In fact, it took 14 years before moviegoers had the chance to cough up their hard-earned money to see “Forty-Deuce.”

That gap between the production of “Forty-Deuce” and its belated premiere is remarkable since the film had two well-known creative artists involved in its creation: the cult filmmaker Paul Morrissey and actor Kevin Bacon. However, “Forty-Deuce” turned out to be such a mess that it is actually amazing the film wasn’t destroyed after it was completed.

“Forty-Deuce” had its origins in New York’s Off-Broadway theater. Playwright Alan Bowne was inspired by the presence of teenage runaways-turned-prostitutes in the Times Square section of the city that he fashioned a turgid drama about a group of sleazy-hunky rentboys and their unlikely misadventures with drug dealers, pedophiles and the after-effects of passing out in public restrooms. Incredibly, the Off-Broadway production was able to attract comic actor Orson Bean in the role of “Mr. Roper,” a pathetic john who is tricked into believing that he killed a 12-year-old boy that he leased for an evening’s playtime, thus resulting in an extortion shakedown by the other male prostitutes. Bean, who was best known for his wry humor on game shows including “To Tell the Truth” and “Match Game,” embraced this rare opportunity to show that he could do more than trade quips with Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly.

However, the bulk of the attention in this theatrical production went to a rising young actor named Kevin Bacon, who played the rentboy at the heart of the extortion scheme. Bacon had already been seen on the big screen in “Animal House” and “Friday the 13th” and on TV’s “The Guiding Light,” but his performance in “Forty-Deuce” was the first time he received career-building praise from the critics. He won an Obie Award (the Off-Broadway equivalent of the Tony Award) for this show.

Not surprisingly, Hollywood lacked enthusiasm for bringing “Forty-Deuce” to the big screen. The film’s raw and ugly setting, not to mention its frequent riffs into scatological racism, was deemed as lacking any commercial viability.

However, an independent production effort was put together and the original stage cast was recruited for the film. At the helm was Paul Morrissey, the indie filmmaker who gained a semi-legendary status for his off-kilter features made under the auspices of Andy Warhol (including “Trash,” “Heat” and the X-rated 3-D “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”).

Unfortunately, Morrissey came to “Forty-Deuce” during a period of creative inertia. He parted ways with Warhol following the 1974 “Andy Warhol’s Dracula,” but his work outside of the Warhol orbit was minimal and undistinguished: the 1978 “Hound of the Baskervilles” starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore and the 1981 “Madame Wang’s.” To be cruel, it appeared that Morrissey lost his touch.

For “Forty-Deuce,” Morrissey took two contradictory styles for the film’s visual style. The first part of the film made ample use of New York’s less-desirable attractions, including the fetid Port Authority Bus Terminal and the filthy subways. For a movie set amidst the city’s ugliest corners, Morrissey did a wonderful job in capturing New York at its worst. (And for those who recall the city from that era, it offers an unexpectedly strong reminder of the grit and grime of the pre-Giuliani era, before Times Square was sterilized into becoming one big neon mall.)

In the second part of the film, involving the shakedown of Mr. Roper, Morrissey kept the action in the fleabag hotel room where the lethal ruse transpires. But for no clear reason, Morrissey opted to shoot the entire sequence in a split-screen technique with full-reel takes. Perhaps it was cheaper and faster to shoot this way, or maybe Morrissey was trying to recall the similar technique employed in his first Warhol-backed effort, “Chelsea Girls” from 1966. Whatever the reason, it was a major mistake – the split-screen was visually confusing and only distracted from the action.

But the ultimate problem, however, was the source material itself. Whatever power “Forty-Deuce” possessed on stage may have been generated by the electricity of the live performances. But the camera magnified the genuine poverty of Bowne’s play: the racism and cursing became tiresome very quickly, the sensationalist nature of the subject matter became a bore, and the acting was not modified for the screen. Indeed, everyone involved (especially Kevin Bacon) seemed to be playing for the last row of the balcony instead of playing for the camera. As a dramatic ensemble, “Forty-Deuce” was strictly a big ham sandwich.

“Forty-Deuce,” as I mentioned earlier, was completed in 1982 and was promoted in Variety. But nothing happened. The finished film was so weak that no distributor wanted to release the film. Even when Kevin Bacon achieved A-list stardom via movies such as “Diner” and “Footloose,” “Forty-Deuce” could not find its way onto an American screen. Even the burgeoning cable TV market, which began to turn flop flicks into cult hits via endless repeats, passed on the opportunity to show this film.

“Forty-Deuce” wasn’t loaded into a film projector until New York’s Film Forum hosted a retrospective of Morrissey’s work in 1996. Stephen Holden of the New York Times was in a spectacularly foul mood after watching the film, and his review was merciless in highlighting its shortcomings. “There comes a point when art that strives to reveal the sordid truth goes so gleefully overboard that the degradation it exposes becomes a laughable caricature,” he wrote, calling the film a “a hyperkinetic mess” while noting “the artificiality of language that aspires to be a hard-boiled David Mamet-like fusillade and misses by a mile.” Holden also pointed out a significant technical problem that Morrissey never bothered to correct: “Poor audio renders a good portion of the film unintelligible.”

Other reviews of “Forty-Deuce” have been somewhat more sympathetic. Steve Puchalski of Shock Cinema Magazine praised the film for “several solid performances, colorful monologues, a believable stench of the city, and some gutsy experimental moves.” A TV Guide Online review (printed without a writer’s credit) saw the film as a commentary on “a squalid universe that symbolizes a microcosm of the sad, sordid underside of western capitalism.”

However, even at this late date “Forty-Deuce” remains a virtually unknown commodity to most filmgoers. The film’s problematic reputation has shooed away potential home entertainment distributors. Bootleg videos from a French source (complete with Gallic subtitles) can be located.

As failures go, “Forty-Deuce” isn’t particularly interesting. But if you’re a Morrissey completist or rabid Kevin Bacon addict, it is worthy of a peek to satisfying any lingering curiosity on this elusive entity.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on May 4, 2007 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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2 Comments on "THE BOOTLEG FILES: “FORTY-DEUCE”"

  1. Jim M. on Wed, 28th Aug 2013 11:22 am 

    Not true, as FilmThreat.com stated in its “The Bootleg Files” section, that “Forty-Deuce” (1982) “wasn’t loaded into a film projector until New York’s Film Forum hosted a retrospective of [Paul] Morrissey’s work in 1996.” I actually saw this film at the Boston Gay & Lesbian (now LGBT) Film Festival in 1989, at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Massachusetts. You may check with the theater to confirm this. The name of the person who booked this festival, at least back then, was David Mansour.

    I recall the film as being a rather engrossing and neo-nourish drama, with a bit of humor in a scene involving a turned trick, played by the rather well-known Orson Bean, he of Goodson-Todman panel game shows’ fame. It was also interesting to see Kevin Bacon, already a noteworthy actor by then, in one of his earliest screen appearances, as a sort of king of the male prostitutes. In this film Bacon was already a compelling screen presence, and one may definitely see a sample of his better works to come.

    For you film bookers out there, “Forty-Deuce” would make a fantastic feature on a double bill with Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho.” I have little doubt Van Sant was influenced by the former in making the latter picture.

    I would hate to think Bacon somehow had something to do with killing wider release of this film on account of his subsequent fame, or anything as nefarious as paying off Morrissey for the destruction of the film’s negative. But since FilmThreat concedes bootleg copies of the film survive, this film is obviously not lost to the ages. Still, would be nice to see some interested parties pay for a full restoration and negotiate a redistribution deal, so fans of this work (both stage & film), as well the newly-interested would have a shot at some fresh, crisp Bacon.


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  2. Jim M. on Wed, 28th Aug 2013 11:28 am 

    Not seeing an edit tool of your comments space, I will note in the first clause of the first sentence in the second paragraph it should read “neo-noirish dramas,” and not as mistyped


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