Tough Guys Don't Dance (film) - Reception


The critical reception was less than stellar. Hal Hinson of the Washington Post said that the film was "hard to classify; at times you laugh raucously at what's up on the screen; at others you stare dumbly, in stunned amazement." Roger Ebert, in a 2½ star review in the Chicago Sun-Times praised the cinematography, the Provincetown setting, and said that the relationship between Tim and Dougy was the best aspect of the film, but also had to say that "what is strange is that Tough Guys Don't Dance leaves me with such vivid memories of its times and places, its feelings and weathers, and yet leaves me so completely indifferent to its plot. Watching the film, I laughed a good deal."

However, the film had at least two supporters. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, said "Norman Mailer's best film, adapted from his worst novel, shows a surprising amount of cinematic savvy and style." Also, "He translates his high rhetoric and macho preoccupations (existential tests of bravado, good orgasms, murderous women, metaphysical cops) into an odd, campy, raunchy comedy-thriller that remains consistently watchable and unpredictable--as goofy in a way as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Where Russ Meyer featured women with oversize breasts, Mailer features male characters with oversize egos, and thanks to the juicy writing, hallucinatory lines such as "Your knife is in my dog" and "I just deep-sixed two heads" bounce off his cartoonish actors like comic-strip bubbles; even his sexism is somewhat objectified in the process." Vincent Canby of the New York Times said that "Not the high point of the Mailer career, but it's a small, entertaining part of it."

The film did poorly at the box office, making only $858,250, nearly a fifth of its $5 million budget. It (as of May 12, 2011) holds a 39% "rotten" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

In the years since the film's release on video, the film has become a cult classic in bad film circles. Channel 4 Film said "The overkill is strangely compelling and Mailer's disregard for taste and convention ensure his film is a massive but spectacular and unmissable folly." The film apparently got enough of a following for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who owns much of Cannon's film library, to release an anamorphic widescreen DVD of the film on September 16, 2003. The disc contained an interview with Norman Mailer, a tour of Provincetown and the film's trailer.

This film also includes the unofficially-proclaimed "worst line reading ever", wherein O'Neal's character Tim Madden reads a note from his ex-girlfriend Madeline informing him that his wife was having an affair with her husband, whereupon he exclaims "Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God! Oh man! Oh God!". This scene has become a popular internet meme. Norman Mailer, in an interview featured on the DVD release of the film, said that he was counseled to cut the ending of the scene due to O'Neal's poor performance, but kept it in because he thought the poor line-reading actually added something to the picture. O'Neal, who had been friendly with Mailer, turned on him as he felt his reputation could be jeopardised by the scene (O'Neal had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor several years previously).

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