This review is dedicated to my beloved nephew Donny, who first introduced me to this movie years ago.
BLOODHOUNDS OF BROADWAY (1989) – Randy Quaid and Madonna as a romantic couple? Rutger Hauer as a pastiche of crime lord Arnold Rothstein? THE William S. Burroughs as a butler? Ethan “Neelix” Phillips as a wannabe gangster?
Yes, all that and more in this all but forgotten 1989 flop which deserved to be much better than it is and with work it could have become a New Year’s Eve viewing staple.
Four Damon Runyon stories were blended into a 93 minute movie that was released to just one theater … missing a reel. PBS Playhouse gave this romantic comedy its widest exposure before it fell down the memory hole. As of this writing it has only 8 reviews at IMDb.
Significantly, the film is set on December 31st of 1928, which was the last big New Year’s Eve bacchanalia of the Roaring Twenties but nobody knew it at the time. Before another year went by the Stock Market Crash would help usher in the Great Depression, making that 1928 New Year’s Eve blowout a figurative Mardi Gras before the austerity of Lent. The December 31st, 1929 celebrations were considerably subdued by comparison.
If you’re a Guys & Dolls fan, Mindy’s Restaurant is one of the settings for Bloodhounds of Broadway, just like in that much better known work based on Damon Runyon stories. At any rate, the four tales combined to form this rom-com are:
Naturally, Bloodhounds of Broadway, with Alan “Ferris Bueller’s friend” Ruck as John Wangle, the owner of the title canines who get to feast on steaks inside the establishment run by Mindy (Louis Zorich). Matt Dillon plays Regret, a hard-luck horse racing enthusiast, Anita Morris is “dance house” proprietor Missouri Martin and Jennifer Grey plays Lovey Lou, Regret’s lady.
Those characters and story elements intermingle with those from A Very Honorable Guy starring Randy Quaid as “Feet” Samuels, a minor gambler and numbers runner. Madonna of all people portrays Hortense Hathaway, the club singer that Samuels is in love with. Feet is so in debt from his run of bad luck that he has cut a deal to sell his body to science for a lot of money so he can show Hortense a good time, then kill himself in a way that keeps his body intact for the unscrupulous scientist who paid in advance for his corpse.
We also get figures and plot points from Social Error starring Julie Hagerty as Harriet MacKyle, a wealthy socialite who loves to slum with “colorful” underworld figures. Ethan Phillips is Basil Valentine, a wannabe gangster mistaken for the real thing by Harriet. Esai Morales plays Handsome Jack Maddigan, an up and coming criminal and Stephen McHattie plays safe-cracker Red Henry.
Josef Sommer is in the role of Waldo Winchester, Damon Runyon’s Walter Winchell-style reporter whose narration ties all the movie’s disparate storylines together as the chaotic New Year’s Eve rolls along and the characters all cross over with each other.
The fourth story incorporated into the film is The Brain Goes Home. Rutger Hauer plays the Brain, the aforementioned crime lord who is also a ladies man. When Feet Samuels uses some of his medical “proceeds” to pay the Brain what he owes him, the gangland chief uses a five dollar bill from the bundle to pay a poor peddler girl for a 5 cent apple. The girl is overjoyed by the extravagant $4.95 tip.
The Brain gets a knife in the chest from a rival gangster and is slowly bleeding out. Given his line of work he needs to avoid hospitals and has his driver Regret take him to several of his girlfriends’ homes, wanting to recuperate somewhere safe. For various selfish reasons each one of the ladies comes up with excuses for not letting him in, forcing the dying gangster and Regret to keep moving on to the next babe from the Brain’s little black book.
Ultimately the poor peddler girl from earlier that night lets him into her shabby little home. The Brain’s lawyer and doctor show up, since, being a gangster, he always sends for both of them in unison. The gang chief, after all the coal black humor about bleeding out all night long, passes away, but not before changing his will so that all his money will go to the peddler girl who helped him when all the women he spent extravagant amounts of money on turned him away.
Randy Quaid and Madonna cement their relationship and happy endings are in store for most of our other characters, too, as the interweaving stories all play out to their conclusions. The Brain’s long line of ladies wind up furious that his money will not be going to any of them.
Overall, Bloodhounds of Broadway looks really good and had a lot of potential, but somehow just lies there, spoiling before the very eyes of viewers. Damon Runyon fans who long to see some of his works dramatized in something besides Guys & Dolls or the time-worn 1930s and 1940s movie adaptations of his stories will likely enjoy this.
Personally I always root for the film, as if it will turn out better THIS time when I watch it compared to all the previous disappointing viewings. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember my obsession with seasonal movies, and that is what has kept me interested in Bloodhounds of Broadway all these years.
Madonna and Jennifer Grey sing a duet of I Surrender Dear and other names like Steve Buscemi, Tony Longo, Dinah Manoff and Johnny Crawford show up throughout this flick’s runtime. New York theater legend Black-Eyed Susan shows up as Minnie the Shrimp.
Some critics speculate that this film would have fared better if the four stories had been kept separate, making this an anthology movie, rather than mix all of them together and have them unfold all at once. I disagree. I find the often chaotic presentation to have a feeling of anarchic fun, like I’m watching a lost Marx Brothers film or something.
No matter how someone feels about Bloodhounds of Broadway it is fun to have a romantic comedy set during a hard-partying New Year’s Eve to watch at this time of year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! YOU PEOPLE ARE THE GREATEST!
FOR MY REVIEW OF SIX-STRING SAMURAI, A POST-APOCALYPSE SAMURAI FILM/ SPAGHETTI WESTERN, CLICK HERE.