Foul Play (1978 film)

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Foul Play
Foul Play1978.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byColin Higgins
Produced byEdward K. Milkis
Thomas L. Miller
Written byColin Higgins
StarringGoldie Hawn
Chevy Chase
Burgess Meredith
Brian Dennehy
Dudley Moore
Music byCharles Fox
CinematographyDavid M. Walsh
Edited byPembroke J. Herring
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
July 14, 1978
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$45 million[2]

Foul Play is a 1978 American romantic comedy thriller film written and directed by Colin Higgins, and starring Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Dudley Moore, Burgess Meredith, Eugene Roche, Rachel Roberts, Brian Dennehy and Billy Barty.[3] In it, a recently divorced librarian is drawn into a mystery when a stranger hides a roll of film in a pack of cigarettes and gives it to her for safekeeping.

The film received seven Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Hawn), Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Chase) and Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Moore), as well as for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, but won none.

The film inspired a television series of the same name starring Barry Bostwick and Deborah Raffin that aired in early 1981, and was cancelled after six episodes.[4]


A cardinal returns home, walks into a room and puts on a record. He opens his cupboard and sees the reflection of a similar looking man staring back at him. He turns around quickly and is killed by a knife thrown into his chest.

Recent divorcée Gloria Mundy (Goldie Hawn) is a shy librarian who lives in San Francisco. While attending a party overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco , Gloria Mundy sees a handsome young man, Tony, at the bar. He ruins the moment by stumbling and spilling all the drinks on the bar. Gloria sits with a friend and is encouraged to leave herself open to new experiences. On her drive home, Gloria picks up an attractive man named Bob "Scotty" Scott (Bruce Solomon) when she encounters him next to his broken down car. A mysterious car is tailing them. She impulsively accepts Scotty's invitation to join him at the movies that evening, and before they part ways, he asks her to take his pack of cigarettes in order to help him curb his smoking. Unknown to her, Scotty has secreted a roll of undeveloped film in the cigarette pack. That evening, a seriously wounded Scotty meets Gloria in the movie theater and asks her about the film. She misunderstands. He bleeds into her popcorn and warns her to "beware of the dwarf" before he dies. When his body mysteriously disappears while Gloria seeks help from the theater manager, she is unable to convince anyone of what has transpired. The audience taunt her as she had got the film stopped.

At home she tells her elderly neighbour/landlord, Mr Hennessey of the events. A large snake slithers into the room. It is Esme his pet snake.

At the end of the next work day, Gloria is attacked in her library by albino Whitey Jackson (William Frankfather) who tries to use ether on her. She runs off and hides in a singles bar where she asks a stranger, Stanley Tibbets (Dudley Moore), to take her home.He cannot believe his luck. Stanley is an aspiring British womanizer who assumes she is picking him up to have sex. He mixes a cocktail laced with Spanish Fly and puts on the Bee Gees.

Shocked by his misunderstanding, she flees and returns to her apartment, where she is attacked by a man with a scar who demands the cigarette pack Scotty had given her. When he attempts to strangle her with a scarf, Gloria stabs him in the stomach with a pair of knitting needles and calls the police for help. When the attacker tries to stop her, he is killed by a knife thrown by Whitey through the kitchen window, and Gloria faints in shock. When she awakens, all traces of what has happened have disappeared, and she is unable to convince two San Francisco policemen, Lt. Tony Carlson (Chevy Chase) and his partner Inspector "Fergie" Ferguson (Brian Dennehy), or even her landlord Mr. Hennessy (Burgess Meredith), that she was attacked.

Gloria is abducted by Turk Farnum (Ion Tedorescu), the chauffeur of a limousine in which she earlier had seen Whitey riding, but she manages to subdue him with spray mace and brass knuckles given to her by her friend and fellow library employee, Stella (Marilyn Sokol). Later, Tony takes her to his houseboat, where the two become involved romantically. Upon further investigation, Tony discovers that a contract killer named Rupert Stiltskin (alias "the Dwarf") was under investigation by an undercover SFPD inspector Bob "Scotty" Scott, who had received a tip that a major assassination would take place in the city on a certain night. Tony is now assigned to protect Gloria from her would-be killers. Tony and Gloria are attracted to each other and they have sex at Tony's houseboat.

When Tony and Fergie discover that the limousine is registered to the archdiocese of San Francisco, they visit the office of Archbishop Thorncrest (Eugene Roche), unaware that the man they're interviewing is actually the archbishop's twin brother Charlie, who is involved in a plot to assassinate Pope Pius XIII (played by prominent San Francisco businessman Cyril Magnin) during his upcoming visit to San Francisco. Charlie has murdered his twin in order to impersonate him. The following day, Rupert kidnaps Fergie and uses him to lure Gloria into a trap. She manages to hide in a massage parlor, where she encounters Stanley yet again, but then is found and abducted by Jackson and Stiltskin.

At Gloria's request, Stella has researched an organization known as the Tax the Churches League, and discovered that the league is a radical fringe group, founded by one Delia Darrow and her husband. For the Darrows, organized religion is a corrupt, greedy sham involving powerful billion-dollar corporations. Stella gives the results of her findings to Tony, who returns to the archbishop's residence with Mr. Hennessy. Sneaking into the wine cellar, Tony discovers the imprisoned Fergie, who informs him that Stiltskin was hired by the Darrows to assassinate the Pope during a performance of The Mikado at the San Francisco Opera House that evening. Tony is attacked by Rupert and kills him in self-defense by toppling shelves of wine upon him, but then is held at gunpoint along with Gloria by the fake archbishop's assistant Gerda Caswell (Rachel Roberts), who is really Delia Darrow.

Darrow then details her "contingency plan" to eliminate the pope: If the pope is not yet terminated at the end of act I, Whitey Jackson will open fire from one of the auditorium's two organ bays ("He will also open fire should the pope unexpectedly leave his seat, or if the police arrive in the auditorium", Darrow explains). Mr. Hennessy knocks out Charlie and defeats Delia in a duel of martial arts, then Tony and Gloria drive to the opera house, having some unusual problems along the way (such as crashing into an Italian restaurant and commandeering an airport limousine carrying a pair of Japanese tourists). After making it backstage, Gloria is grabbed by Jackson, who kills one of several security guards who have joined the pursuit. An enraged Gloria attempts to attack Jackson, who simply shoves her to the floor. This gives Tony the room he needs to shoot the albino, thus thwarting the plan to kill the pope. As the performance ends, Gloria and Tony are revealed onstage along with the now-dead bodies of Jackson and the guard, but the pope, who seems not to have noticed anything unusual, leads the audience in applause for the cast, the orchestra, and the conductor – Stanley Tibbets.



Foul Play is an homage to director Alfred Hitchcock,[5] several of whose films are referenced during the film. The premise of an innocent person becoming entangled in a web of intrigue is common in Hitchcock films, such as The 39 Steps, Saboteur, North by Northwest and, most notably, The Man Who Knew Too Much, which inspired the opera house sequence in Foul Play. When Gloria is attacked in her home by a man attempting to strangle her with a scarf and she defends herself with a household object, both are references to Dial M for Murder. Other Hitchcock films which receive a nod from screenwriter/director Colin Higgins include Notorious, Vertigo, and Psycho. In addition, the plot includes a MacGuffin—an object that initially is the central focus of the film but declines in importance until it is forgotten and unexplained by the end—in the form of the roll of film concealed in the pack of cigarettes. Hitchcock popularized the term MacGuffin and used the technique in many of his films.

"Audiences love to be scared and at the same time they love to laugh", said Higgins. "It is tongue in cheek realism. The audience is in on the joke but the actors must carry on as if they were unaware."[6]

The script originally was written under the name Killing Lydia with Goldie Hawn in mind for the lead. Higgins had met Hawn through their mutual friend Hal Ashby. However, the project did not take off. After Silver Streak came out, Higgins rewrote the script. He and the producers took the project to Paramount who hoped to star Farrah Fawcett. However, Fawcett was in the middle of a legal battle with the producers of Charlie's Angels so it was decided to go with Hawn.[6]

The name Gloria Mundy is a reference to "Sic transit gloria mundi", Latin for "Thus passes the glory of the world": the phrase was part of the rite of papal coronation until 1963.

Higgins had written the role of Stanley Tibbets for Tim Conway, but when the actor turned it down he offered it to Dudley Moore instead. It was Moore's American film debut and led to his being cast in 10 by Blake Edwards the following year.[5]

Higgins says when he sold the script he wanted to direct it so badly he did not care who was going to play the lead roles. He met with Fawcett to play the female lead before going with Goldie Hawn. His first choice for the male lead was Harrison Ford (who had been Higgins' carpenter) who turned it down. Steve Martin was offered the role but did not end up playing it. Higgins says he offered the part to another actor who wanted to play the cop and Stanley Tibbets. Eventually Chevy Chase was cast.[7]

The film was shot in and around San Francisco, in locations including Noe Valley, the Mission District, Hallidie Plaza, Telegraph Hill, Hayes Valley, Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, Fort Mason, the Marina District, the Presidio, Potrero Hill, Japantown, and the War Memorial Opera House. The lobby scenes of the opera house were filmed in the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall across the street. The Nuart Theater, in which Bob Scott dies early in the film, is an art house located on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles. The houseboat "Galatea" was located at 15 Yellow Ferry Harbor in Sausalito.[8]

"Ready to Take a Chance Again", the film's theme song, was composed by Charles Fox, with lyrics by Fox's writing partner Norman Gimbel and performed by Barry Manilow, who conceived and supervised the song's recording in partnership with Ron Dante. The soundtrack also includes "Copacabana" written by Manilow, Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman, and performed by Manilow; "I Feel the Earth Move" by Carole King, and "Stayin' Alive", written and performed by the Bee Gees. Excerpts from Act I of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado, conducted by Julius Rudel, are performed by members of the New York City Opera.[5] Arista Records issued the album on LP and cassette, with Intrada Records reissuing it on compact disc in 2009. Varèse Sarabande released it in 2016, with Charles Fox's theme for the television series as a bonus track.[9]

A novelization by James Cass Rogers, based upon the screenplay by Colin Higgins, was published by Jove Books in conjunction with the release of the film in 1978. (ISBN 9780515047714 0515047716)

Critical reception[edit]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film "a slick, attractive, enjoyable movie with all the earmarks of a hit. But as House Calls did a few months ago, it starts out promising genuine wit and originality only to fall back on more familiar tactics after a half-hour or so. If either film had a less winning opening, perhaps it wouldn't leave a vague aftertaste of disappointment. Colin Higgins...has aimed for the same kind of thriller-comedy-romance hybrid he attempted in writing Silver Streak, and this time he's much more successful ...Still, Mr. Higgins isn't a facile enough juggler to keep the film's diverse elements from colliding at times."[10]

Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called it "an excellent film", adding "Writer Colin Higgins makes a good directorial bow. Goldie Hawn is superb in a strong return to pictures, and Chevy Chase, also above title, works well as a screen partner."[11]

Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and called it "an attractive minor comedy, the kind of film best described as 'cute.'"[12] On a 1986 Tonight Show appearance, Roger Ebert called the film "a very good picture."[13]

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times remarked that "Foul Play does offer a kind of duplex pleasure—as a celebration of the movies the way they used to make them, sleek, funny, exciting but unworrying, and in its own terms as a vividly adventurous romantic comedy."[14]

Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote "Foul Play never begins to make sense as a mystery story, and it's not incidentally amusing or stylish. At best, the film can be accepted as a harmless assortment of fake-outs and distractions, alternating in tone from innocuous to vicious, from disarming to offensive."[15]

Time Out London stated "Unsatisfactory as a whole, the film is hilarious and tense in bits" and noted "while writer/director Higgins uses almost every stock thriller device...he approaches this semi-parody with more zest and originality than is common."[16]

Channel 4 called the film "a finely tuned and fast-paced offering which is chock-full of black comic twists and perfect casting."[17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song but lost to Paul Jabara for "Last Dance" from Thank God It's Friday.[18]

The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy but lost to Heaven Can Wait. Other Globe nominations included Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Goldie Hawn), Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Chevy Chase), Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Dudley Moore), Best Screenplay, and Best Original Song (Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel).[19]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1978 Academy Awards Best Original Song "Ready to Take a Chance Again" Nominated
1978 Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy Foul Play Nominated
Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Chevy Chase Nominated
Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Goldie Hawn Nominated
Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture Dudley Moore Nominated
New Star of the Year - Actor Chevy Chase Nominated
Best Screenplay Colin Higgins Nominated
Best Original Song "Ready to Take a Chance Again" Nominated


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Foul Play, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 25, 2012.
  3. ^ "Foul Play". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  4. ^ Brooks, Tim and Marsh Earle, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV shows 1946 – present. New York: Ballantine Books 1988 (Fourth Edition). ISBN 0-345-35610-1, p. 275
  5. ^ a b c Foul Play at Turner Classic Movies
  6. ^ a b Kilday, Gregg (Aug 13, 1977). "FILM CLIPS: Hawn On Deck for 'Foul Play'". Los Angeles Times. p. b6.
  7. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (Jan 24, 1981). "HIGGINS: WRITER-DIRECTOR ON HOT STREAK". Los Angeles Times. p. b15.
  8. ^ Landmark Theatres website Archived 2013-11-26 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Foul Play", Varèse Sarabande album page
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 19, 1978). "Screen: Goldie Hawn in 'Foul Play'". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Murphy, Arthur D. (July 12, 1978). "Film Reviews: Foul Play". Variety. 18.
  12. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 16, 1978). "Goldie and 'cute' are the real 'Foul Play' stars". Chicago Tribune. Section 5, p. 8.
  13. ^ "Chevy Chase Makes Fun of Siskel & Ebert on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show". YouTube. 2013-04-05. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  14. ^ Champlin, Charles (July 23, 1978). "Shadow of Hitchcock a Clue to 'Foul Play'". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 25.
  15. ^ Arnold, Gary (July 19, 1978). "Fabricated Fake-Outs: 'Foul Play'". The Washington Post. E9.
  16. ^ Time Out London review
  17. ^ Channel 4 review
  18. ^ "The 51st Academy Awards (1979)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved September 14, 2020.
  19. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1979". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. pp. 1–4, 6. Retrieved September 14, 2020.

External links[edit]