Sony // 1989 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // July 1st, 2004

A box office failure in 1989, Howard Brookner's final film (he died during post-production) is better than its reputation suggests. It's a breezy, entertaining comedy that keeps the viewer satisfied long after the final frame. After being out of print for almost ten years, Bloodhounds of Broadway has been resurrected by Columbia for the ever-growing DVD market.

Facts of the Case

Set in New York on the night ushering in the year 1929, the film is a mosaic intertwining several unique characters:

• Miss Missou (Anita Morris, Ruthless People)—owner and proprietor of the best speakeasy in New York; also in love with the Brain

• Regret (Matt Dillon, Tex)—local shyster always looking for the big score—both financial and emotional

• Lovey Lou (Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing)—Regret's ex-girlfriend, who is still upset that he stood her up to go to the races

• Waldo Winchester (Josef Sommer, Reds)—a top New York newspaperman who serves as both narrator and Greek chorus

• Hortense Hathaway (Madonna, Dick Tracy)—Waldo's niece, a showgirl who is unsure of what she really wants in life

• Feet Samuels (Randy Quaid, The Last Picture Show)—hopelessly in love with Hortense; sells his body to a mad doctor to get enough money to shower his love with expensive baubles

• The Brain (Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner)—a local gangster struggling to survive an attempt on his life

• Harriet MacKyle (Julie Hagerty, Airplane!)—a ditzy socialite who adores her rare parrot and lavish parties

• Handsome Jack (Esai Morales, La Bamba)—on the run for killing Harriet's prized parrot with a gun

The Evidence

Bloodhounds of Broadway was made as a production for the PBS series American Playhouse. In the mid-'80s, PBS decided to branch out of public television by providing financing for a series of intelligent, atypical films that would have had a difficult time being made elsewhere. The series included Horton Foote's 1919, Victor Nunez's A Flash of Green, and Ramon Melendez's Stand and Deliver. By the time of our movie, the series was all but over, as the films made little impact at the box office.

It's a shame the stench of failure still surrounds Bloodhounds of Broadway, because I think it's the best adaptation of Damon Runyon's writing to date. The screenplay, by Brookner and Colman de Kay, shows no signs of having been stitched together from four short stories. The two writers have managed to create one coherent, well-written story from a patchwork without compromising the flavor of Runyon's work. Moreover, the visual look of the film is astonishing. Brookner and his creative team have worked together to recreate the New York of the late '20s, and no detail has been spared. This is a living, breathing world that is not only gorgeous but plausible.

What plagued previous adaptations of Runyon's works was poor casting. Guys and Dolls (1955) suffered from the presence of an ill-suited Marlon Brando in a role he had no business being cast in. Neither film version of Little Miss Marker fared much better. There is a significant difference between those films and this one, however: While the aforementioned pictures were major studio productions, Bloodhounds of Broadway was an independently made film utilizing funds from PBS. As a consequence, Brookner had the freedom to make the film the way he saw fit, free from executives raising their leg to lay waste on every aspect of his work. Brookner assembles a hell of a cast. Each role is cast with great care and, more important, with the right actor. While actors such as Matt Dillon and Randy Quaid are usually reliable actors to begin with, it's a minor miracle to see Madonna doing career-best work. Her work here is a reminder of the promise she showed in her early film work. Ditto for Rutger Hauer, who had lost his way doing junk like Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987) instead of playing the better roles he was capable of. While Jennifer Grey's agent must have wondered if Bloodhounds of Broadway was the right career move, the fact that she chose to do this ambitious film instead of generic pap shows that she cared about more than stardom.

Bloodhounds of Broadway has been available in widescreen before. It was part of the inaugural batch of RCA/Columbia VHS tapes touting "Original Theatrical Presentation Format." That release had an incomplete 1.66:1 aspect ratio, lopping off some crucial information, albeit not as much as a fullscreen presentation would have. With this DVD, Columbia has finally issued the film in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image, while never great, is superior to the VHS in many ways. The contrast in blacks and assorted shades of dark is much deeper than the widescreen VHS ever was. The colors are bolder and sharper as well. Grain is still a problem, but since the VHS print was grainy, that may be a cause of the film stock. There are still some scratches and specks visible, which is sort of disheartening for a film made in 1989. Even with these debits, however, this is the best Bloodhounds of Broadway has ever looked on home video.

The original video release boasted of a stereophonic audio track. I always suspected that mix was not stereo, and checking my hi-fi stereo VCR, I was proven correct. As far as I can tell, the same sound mix was used for this DVD, but at least this time around Columbia has correctly identified the mix as mono. It sounds decent, with the music being particularly well mixed. The problem is that the dialogue is often difficult to hear. If this was a film with minimal usage of dialogue, that would not be a problem. When your film is based on the work of Damon Runyon and needs the dialogue in order for viewers to fully comprehend it, then there's a problem.

This being a typical Columbia release, there are no extras offered. Not even the film's original theatrical trailer is offered here. After the good work Columbia did on Booty Call recently, it is a shame the studio has reverted to its old habits.

Closing Statement

Since this is a typical Columbia barebones release, you can expect to shell out $24.95 for this disc. Personally, I think Columbia would sell more discs if they followed the MGM model: $14.95 for barebones discs, $19.98 for loaded discs. I definitely recommend purchasing Bloodhounds of Broadway, but I advise either shopping around or waiting for a price drop. $24.95 is simply too much for a barebones disc, no matter how fine the film is.

The Verdict

Columbia is once again found guilty of price gouging. If they continue their current practice, they are on track to lose even more ground in the competitive home video market.

The cast and filmmakers are acquitted of all charges. The spirit of Damon Runyon lives on. Now let's hope the rumored Vin Diesel–Nicole Kidman version of Guys and Dolls dies a premature death in development. Then Runyon will really be smiling!


Source : Time Out Film Guide 13

An American Playhouse production of a '20s musical pastiche based on four Damon Runyon stories, featuring Madonna as a nightclub singer, Hauer as a gangster, Dillon as a gambler, Quaid as a hapless swain, Grey as 'Lovely Lou', and Hagerty as a society dame. Actually, the performances aren't too bad - even Madonna's, although her squeaky disco voice is manifestly unsuited to period crooning. But even the all-star cast can't impose order or interest on the ludicrous and mystifyingly convoluted plot. Madonna's confession that she wants to drop being a jazz baby and retire to a 'quarter-acre in Newark' to raise babies and chickens might just be worth your attention. But ultimately the film delivers its own epitaph: 'The Brain is dead'. I'm afraid so. SFe