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Bonfire of Vanities

• Director: Brian De Palma
• Writer: Michael Cristofer, Tom Wolfe
• Release Date: 21 December 1990 (USA)
• MPAA Rating: Rated R for language.
• Genre: Comedy | Drama
• Runtime: 125 min.
• Box Office #s: Here

Cast Highlights
• Tom Hanks
• Bruce Willis
• Melanie Griffith
• Kim Cattrall
• Morgan Freeman

Financial “Master of the Universe” Sherman McCoy sees his life unravel when his mistress Maria Ruskin hits a black boy with his car. When yellow journalist Peter Fallow enflames public opinion with a series of distorted tabloid articles on the accident, the case is seized upon by opportunists like Reverend Bacon and mayoral candidate D.A. Abe Weiss.

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Trailer

Trivia

  • The Steadicam tracking shot of Bruce Willis entering the World Trade Center lasts for 4 minutes and 50 seconds.
  • The cover of Peter Fallow’s book at the end is based on the original hardcover design of Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Bonfire Of The Vanities.”
  • F. Murray Abraham’s contract for this movie stipulated that his name appear above the title in the advertising, or not at all. Since the producers already had Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman above the title, Abraham chose not to be credited.
  • The making of this film was chronicled in Julie Salamon’s best-selling book “The Devil’s Candy.”
  • Tom Killian is based upon Edward Hayes.
  • Actresses considered for the role eventually played by Melanie Griffith include Lena Olin, Lolita Davidovich, and Uma Thurman, (who tested for the part and actually came close to getting it.)
  • A swordfight between Sherman McCoy and Peter Fallow was shot for the end of the film, but was never used.
  • John Cleese was offered the role of Peter Fallow but turned it down (in the original novel, Fallow is English).
  • Jack Nicholson turned down the role of Peter Fallow.
  • The opening time lapse photography shot was taken from the roof of the Chrysler Building in New York City.
  • Walter Matthau originally was offered the role of the judge but demanded a fee of $1 million, according to Julie Salamon in “The Devil’s Candy”. The producers balked at meeting his price and signed Alan Arkin instead for a modest $150,000.
  • Alan Arkin was replaced by Morgan Freeman when it was decided to change the judge’s ethnicity from Jewish to African-American in order to moderate criticism of the film’s racial politics.
  • Bruce Willis was added to the cast to provide box office clout despite the fact that none of his non-action movies had ever turned a profit. His fee was $5 million, $4 million more than top-billed Tom Hanks.
  • Tom Hanks was chosen to play the lead as he was considered “likeable” by the producers and would dampen the negativity of the character he would play, Sherman McCoy, thus hopefully improving the movie’s commercial chances. The casting of Hanks was widely criticized at the time, according to “The Devil’s Candy”, as he was considered a light comedian. Though he had recently received an Oscar nomination for Big (1988) he had yet to prove himself as a dramatic actor. Hanks hoped this would be his chance to prove himself in drama, but he would have to wait until Philadelphia (1993) to make his mark as a “serious” actor.
  • In the opening tracking shot, when Bruce Willis gets in the elevator, Brian De Palma can be seen, dressed up as a waiter. It was technically impossible for the camera crew and the director to stay off camera in that shot, so De Palma chose to do a cameo there. To be unrecognizable, he shaved off his trademark beard.
  • Kristin Scott Thomas personally tested for Brian De Palma for the role of Judy McCoy, but when invited to L.A. to test with Tom Hanks, she happened to be on vacation with her children and couldn’t make it. De Palma didn’t forget her when casting Mission: Impossible (1996) a few years later.
  • Uma Thurman tested for the role of Maria Ruskin.
  • “Reverend” Reginald Bacon was modeled after Al Sharpton.
  • At the very beginning of the opening tracking shot, as the limousine carrying Bruce Willis enters the basement, director Brian DePalma is the first person seen on screen – as the security guard saying “Now arriving Area A” into a walkie-talkie. He hurries off-screen and is next seen seated on the rear of the golf-cart, behind Bruce Willis and Rita Wilson, still “talking” into his walkie-talkie. When the cart stops, DePalma once again runs off ahead of the actors. It was necessary to put himself into this sequence due to the logistics of directing the lengthy and complicated take, and in order to remain unrecognizable he shaved off his trademark beard.
  • Kim Cattrall dieted for over two months to slim down to a size four to play the emaciated Judy McCoy.
  • When the role of the Judge was still going to be Myron Kovitsky in pre-production, as he was in the novel, Joel Grey was considered. Judge Burton Roberts, who was the original inspiration for the character in the book, also was considered and even had a good audition with Brian De Palma. De Palma balked at casting him because of his inexperience in acting and doing multiple takes of a scene.
  • In the film, Bronx District Attorney and candidate for New York City Mayor Abe Weiss (an uncredited F. Murray Abraham) states that he hopes the city’s black voters see him as the “first black District Attorney of Bronx County.” In fact, in November 1988 (two years before the film was released), Judge Robert T. Johnson was elected the first black district attorney of the Bronx, a position he still holds.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer was reportedly the original choice to play the female lead by the studio and director Brian De Palma (who had directed several years before in Scarface (1983)). However she turned the role down.
  • Because of the delays of working on this project Brian De Palma lost the chance to direct Dead Again (1991).