Wine of a Rare Vintage

Wine of a Rare Vintage

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Feb 25th 2019

Roger L. Simon, whose film credits include the Paul Mazursky films Enemies: A Love Story (1989, an Academy Award®-nominated script) and Scenes from a Mall (1991), is that rare and fortuitous instance of a novelist spinning a marvelously original character based on aspects of himself and then being enlisted to pen the screenplay adaptation of his breakthrough book success, and the original Universal Studios Press Notes for The Big Fix (1978) emphasize that singular status. “‘Roger L. Simon is the best new writer of private detective stories to emerge in several years,’ wrote classic detective Ross Macdonald when Simon’s The Big Fix was first published by Straight Arrow Books in 1973. That same year, the book, which marked the first appearance [of an eventual trio] of Simon’s detective, Moses Wine, went on to win Britain’s John Creasey Award and a special award from the prestigious Mystery Writers of America, clearly establishing the author as one of the most important contemporary mystery writers. ‘I tried to take the old form of the classic California detective story and meld it into my generation. Moses Wine himself is a classic detective character – but updated. I asked myself, ‘What would a guy like the Sam Spades and Phillip Marlowes from the 1930s and ’40s be like today?’ Things have changed since then – and so have private eyes.’” 

That change became apparent – and weirdly appropriate – in the choice of leading man/co-producer Richard Dreyfuss and director Jeremy Paul Kagan, both of whom were experiencing an upbeat year of 1977 during the filming; the actor headlined two box-office smashes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl (the latter of which, written by another Simon (Neil), brought him a Best Actor Oscar®), and the director had a substantial hit with Heroes, starring Henry Winkler, Sally Field and Harrison Ford. Both talents immediately plugged in to Simon’s unique blend of familiar downtrodden gumshoe tropes and feel for the less visible (at least on screen) neighborhood flavors of Los Angeles, as Moses, a cynical ex-activist and divorced father of two feisty kids, hooks up with a labyrinthine case involving high-level political campaign sabotage and the Chicano power movement, mysteriously linked to a former romantic flame (Susan Anspach). The collaborators deftly weave together strands of warm family humor, romantic nostalgia, disillusioned idealism and palpably dangerous mystery thriller that Janet Maslin of The New York Times would pronounce “a funny, well-plotted movie with a wickedly subversive premise and a real cutting edge…as shrewd a social satire as it is a smartly paced and plausible detective yarn.” 

Simon found leading man Dreyfuss, who shared producing duties with long-time friend Carl Borack (notably remembered by family film audiences for the well-regarded boy-and-his-adopted dog 1996-2006 Shiloh movie trilogy), an invaluable contributor, and real life was worked into reel life in one particular aspect. The Press Notes report: “Humor and sensitivity are the hallmarks of the Moses Wine stories, so when it was learned that Dreyfuss would have to play the entire film with a cast on his right wrist, Simon had a field day writing snappy answers for Moses to the often repeated question, ‘What did you do to your right hand?’ The star’s broken wrist – which was the result of a racketball accident – provided Simon with some of his funniest contributions to the movie version of The Big Fix.” Time’s Richard Schickel asserted: “Richard Dreyfuss’ Moses Wine is a character of rare vintage. He is the best, most entertaining figure anyone has managed to invent for an American movie this year. Above all, it provides the most agreeable moviegoing experience in months.” The deep bench of supporting players includes Bonnie Bedelia, John Lithgow, Ofelia Medina, F. Murray Abraham, Fritz Weaver, Ron Rifkin and, in his brief first film role, Mandy Patinkin as a pool man. Featuring a score by the great Bill Conti on an Isolated Music Track, Twilight Time fixes you up with a cracking good mystery that runs deeply, darkly and delightfully March 19 on hi-def Blu-ray. Preorders open March 6.