After Hours (1985)
What’s it about?
Griffin Dunne plays Paul Hackett, a New York computer technician who meets the beautiful Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) in a diner. He ends up getting her phone number after she tells him about the bagel-shaped paperweights her artistic flatmate Kiki Bridges (Linda Fiorentino) is putting up for sale. Later on that night, when he’s back at home he decides to give her a call and confesses to wanting some company. However what seems like an easy date starts to go pear-shaped during the taxi ride to her flat when the driver proves to be a bit of a maniac behind the wheel - so much so in fact that during one particularly hair-raising swerve the $20 bill Paul intends to use to pay his fare blows out of the vehicle’s open window.
When he arrives at his destination (in the Soho district) he explains his misfortune to the driver, who tuts and moves on. However, once he arrives in Marcy and Kiki’s apartment things become increasingly bizarre, and the night turns into a comedic nightmare involving a suicide, bondage, a pair of burglars (played by Cheech & Chong), a highly-strung 1960s fashion victim waitress, a vigilante mob, a picky nightclub bouncer and more.
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Why is it significant?
1985’s After Hours was quite a departure for Martin Scorsese. For one thing, it didn’t star Robert De Niro, who had collaborated with him on his previous four films. It was a low-budget and relatively lightweight affair for the director (albeit still possessing something of a dark edge), made after the major flop of King Of Comedy and during a period when he was trying to get his long-cherished The Last Temptation of Christ project off the ground.
Legendary British director Michael Powell was involved in its production; Scorsese was a longtime admirer of Powell’s work and helped to spur a critical re-evaluation of Peeping Tom, the film that sank the latter’s career. Powell married editor Thelma Schoonmaker shortly after filming was completed.
Scorsese won the Best Director award at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, but despite this and its generally positive critical reception After Hours wasn’t a major box office hit. Since then, while it has often been overlooked somewhat amongst cineastes in favour of Scorsese’s De Niro collaborations, it has gained its own niche following.
How does it hold up?
After Hours is a comedy all right, but in the blackest sense of the word. Martin Scorsese’s style and mood set this apart from the rather cosily predictable feel of most American comedies of this era. For one thing, there’s an undeniable horror/nightmare atmosphere running through the film; it’s visually dark and tightly wrapped up in Paul’s farcically escalating predicament. It basically homages the whole “survive the night” trope which was going through a bit of a heyday thanks to John Carpenter’s films (such as Assault on Precinct 31, The Fog and Escape from New York) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors. The same year’s Return of The Living Dead was an outright horror genre film in the same vein, as was 1986’s Vamp. It’s probably no accident that Griffin Dunne, best known for playing the ill-fated best friend character in An American Werewolf in London, was cast here.
Further underneath the horror though is something equally dark but far closer to social satire than anything else. Paul is a bit of a neurotically clean-cut “yuppie” type who thinks he can seduce a woman after finishing his day at the office and then walk away when he feels uneasy - an uneasiness that comes very naturally to him, as he is so straitjacketed in his yuppified world. While Dunne is a likeable enough actor to make the audience root for him, when watching the first half of After Hours carefully it’s clear that he is more intolerant towards the motley collection of punks, bohemians and other oddballs than they are of him. While each has their individual quirks, many of the people he encounters are all well-rounded characters who put themselves out of the way to help Paul with his predicament only to be greeted with a frenetically rude response. It’s unsurprising that the inhabitants ultimately turn against him en-masse.
There are many hilarious moments, such as when Paul’s discovery of a corpse results in him putting up impromptu paper directional signs labelled “dead person”, a scene where he tries to get through a punk rock club but is repeatedly forced back by the throng of slamdancing patrons, and Teri Garr’s beehived waitress Julie suddenly becoming upset at the most insignificant of things. The comedy really comes to life because of its fantastic cast. While Dunne and Garr are arguably the best here we get fine work from John Heard playing it straight as a barman caught in his own predicaments, who is the closest character Paul gets to a “buddy” here (albeit only for a time). Rosanna Arquette is also sensually charming as the young lady he dates with - but again she (like the other characters) is only present for a time before the proceedings go to hell. Watch out too for cameos from the likes of Dick Miller and (in a very brief background appearance) Scorsese himself.
After Hours is perhaps the closest Scorsese has come to “letting his hair down” directorially-speaking but we still get moments of pure cinematic poetry here, be it the slow-motion fall of the $20 note as Paul loses it out of the open taxi window, or the heavenly feel of the film’s close complete with opening golden gates and overwhelmingly white office environment. It may not be his best film (and a few of the characterisations, particularly some gay stereotypes, look a little dated nowadays) but it is a lot of fun if you go with its farcically terrifying nature.
Runtime: 97 mins
Dir: Martin Scorsese
Script: Joseph Minion
Starring: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Tommy Chong, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, John Heard, Cheech Marin, Catherine O’Hara, Dick Miller, Will Patton, Bronson Pinchot