Romancing the Stone (1984, directed by Robert Zemeckis), is one of my all time favourite movies. I love it because of the memory of seeing it at the movies when I was 11 or 12 with my friend Ondine (we were with her big sister, who’s name was also Heidi – she was on a date and was supposed to be keeping an eye on us, but, well, as I said, she was on a date), so her little sister and I, well we were left to our own devices and when the movie got a bit scary for us we kept running out into the foyer and buying more popcorn and waiting for the scary part to be over so we could go back in. These are fun memories for me, and after the movie came out on video (yes, good old VHS), my friend Ondine and I watched it over and over and over until we knew all the dialogue to death. Later we began using my Dad’s video camera to film each other acting out lines from the movie. Our favourite was of course, the classic:
Jack: “My minimum price for taking a stranded woman to a telephone is $400.”
Joan: “Will you take 375 in travellers cheques?”
Jack: “American Express?”
Joan: “Of course”
Jack: “You’ve got a deal.”
Over the years I have spent more time watching this movie (we’re into the hundreds of times here) and as I’ve matured I’ve learned more about the characters and of course began to understand nuances in the story that as a naive young girl used to fly right over my head.
The main character, Joan Wilder (played by Kathleen Turner) is a romance novelist, and from the opening scene we discover that she is obviously a dreamer and lives her life through the protagonist of her books, Angelina. Angelina is everything that Joan isn’t. Powerful, confident, sexy and she always gets the guy. The film opens in her apartment and when Joan is completing her latest novel. She is single, lives with her cat (called Romeo) and after she’s finished, we discover there has been nothing else going on in her world, she is essentially chained to her desk, she most likely hasn’t left her apartment for days.
Romancing the Stone was written by Diane Thomas, a waitress who was paid (if memory serves) $200,000 for her manuscript but sadly, Diane was killed in a car crash just after the film’s release. This has always reminded me a little of Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone With the Wind. She was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street and never knew the impact her book would have on audiences.
Joan Wilder and her editor Gloria, played by Holland Taylor.
Joan in her apartment on hearing her sister has been kidnapped and held for ransom for a treasure map that was posted to her by her sister’s husband before he was murdered.
The biggest influence this movie had on me is that it made me want to be a writer. Kathleen Turner’s character Joan Wilder was for me, the ultimate transformation from bookish type who never gets out of her apartment, who lives vicarously through her the characters she creates for her books to a self-assured, confident and stunning goddess. Of course I always dreamed that I would live through a similar experience, but to date this hasn’t happened.
Another favourite scene is after they’ve gone down the mudslide, Joan is recovering from the shock of the slide (and Jack landing face-first between her legs), she is trying to pull herself together while her clothes are falling apart. Jack chops the heels of her shoes with his machete:
Joan: “These were Italian”
Jack: “Now they’re practical.”
Joan: “Is nothing I own sacred to you?”
Jack: “Only your $375 dollars.”
This was the first movie I saw with Michael Douglas (that I can recall anyway) and he is funny, a little irreverent and yes, even a little bit sexy. This movie was made in 1984, so come on, he was a lot younger then! I certainly never wanted to marry the guy, but he plays the swashbuckling-anti-hero pretty well I think.
Michael Douglas’s character Jack Colton is a cad, and he plays it to perfection. In the shot above, Joan has just made an agreement with Jack for his help in taking her to a telephone – of course she expects him to carry her bags for her but he has no intention of doing anything for her except what they agreed upon. A little bit further along he ends up tossing her suitcase over the edge of a cliff to save time.
Joan is such a great character because she starts out as this little mouse and ends up being the lion that roared. In the beginning she’s afraid of living life outside her apartment but ends up fighting for her life, falling in love and over a waterfall, navigating the jungles of Colombia and fighting off a war-lord (and very nasty piece-of-work).
Joan and her sister Ellen are confronted by scary Zolo.
The end scene of the film when Joan is walking down the street to her apartment is such a complete change from when we first see her on screen. Her hair is flowing, she is wearing make up, her clothes are more womanly and she is so relaxed, not concerned about the attention she is receiving from the men on the street. At the beginning of the movie, she is so matronly, we the viewer have no idea there is a beautiful and confident woman hiding behind the bun, glasses and boring beige clothing.
Joan at the end of the film, after all her adventure – what a difference a few days away in Colombia can make?
I read somewhere that a remake of the film is scheduled to be released in 2011. I just hope it is nothing like the original, because you can’t remake the chemistry between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.
I hope I have inspired you to either watch Romancing the Stone whether for the first time or for the 100th time. I love movies that are about writers, especially if it gets them out of their comfort zone, which is exactly what happens to Joan Wilder in Romancing the Stone.