Physical Evidence

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Physical Evidence
Physical Evidence.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Crichton
Produced byMartin Ransohoff
Screenplay byBill Phillips
Story byBill Phillips
Steve Ransohoff
Music byHenry Mancini
CinematographyJohn A. Alonzo
Edited byGlenn Farr
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • January 27, 1989 (1989-01-27)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$17 million
Box office$3,560,932[1]

Physical Evidence is a 1989 American crime thriller film directed by Michael Crichton (in his final film as a director), and stars Burt Reynolds, Theresa Russell and Ned Beatty. It follows an ex-police officer who is incriminated by the evidence, but insists on his innocence.


After parking his car and placing a "Happy Now?" sign around his neck, a man attempts to jump off a bridge to hang himself but finds extortionist Jake Farley lying under it. He grabs Jake's foot with the rope but discovers he is dead.

Meanwhile at the apartment, beleaguered ex-police officer Joe Paris wakes up with a splitting headache and blood on his shirt after a night of drinking and cannot recall events of the previous night. His fingerprints are discovered at a murder scene and he is arrested by detectives due to his history of violence. The agents assigned public defender Jenny Hudson to meet and defend Joe. Developing a physical attraction to each other and having records at the court, Joe and Jenny arrive at Farley's Bar & Lounge, where Joe meets Jake's brother Matt and leaves the bar with Jenny before escaping from the police in a chase.

Later that night, after Kyle and others leave, Jenny meets and converses with Deborah Quinn, whose husband Vincent left town and was killed at their house, which she connects with the death of Joe's wife two years before. Deborah also tells Jenny that she met with Farley to have Vincent killed and that Farley refuses to give the money back for her. Back at the apartment Jenny argues with Joe about the murder trial and asks for help but Joe forgets about Deborah and realizes that he is the prime suspect. The next day, after doing research on the computer, Joe goes to the pier and beats up Harry Norton and the gang to retrieve the car. The court reveals the past record that Jake was Kyle's father and the recording tape plays the voice that Joe demanding Farley for money and tapes.

As the case involving Tony Sklar and others progresses, Harry Norton shoots two men in a car and one of the police. While Jenny stays upstairs, Joe chases Harry but is injured on the sidewalk. Jenny tells Harry that Sklar is absent. They fight until Jenny disarms the gun from Harry, grabs it and shoots him dead. Jenny happily reconciles with Joe who recovers himself.



The film was originally conceived as a sequel to Jagged Edge and was meant to have Glenn Close and Robert Loggia reprise their roles. The story was about a private investigator framed for murder and the female lawyer who defends him. The project was developed at Columbia Pictures but then head of production Guy McElwaine was replaced by David Puttnam, who, according to producer Martin Ransohoff, said that he did not want to make sequels (Puttnam denied this, saying his problem was the script "wasn't good and for no other reason... when there's a terrific script for Jagged Edge II Columbia will be anxious to make it".). Ransohoff decided to turn the script into an original story. "It's a good mystery on its own terms," he said. "I think the story is really more effective as an original. Because there wasn't an agreement with Loggia and Close, we had always designed the project to go either as a sequel or on its own terms."[2]

The film was distributed by Columbia Pictures between in the United States and Canada, with Rank Film Distributors handling foreign distribution. The film was produced by Martin Ransohoff who formed with Columbia, Rank Film Distributors and Vestron Video in 1986.

The male lead went to Burt Reynolds who had just made Switching Channels for Ransohoff. "Joe is a ballsy character," said Reynolds, "kind of like Dirty Harry gone amok. He's around the edge of having a nervous breakdown but he has a strange sense of humor about it all."[3]

It was filmed in Boston, Massachusetts, and around Canada between Toronto and Montreal, and began production in September 1987. It was filmed under the working title Smoke.[2]

Russell later recalled her part "was a little more difficult than I thought it would be, being someone who was that in control. Michael Crichton, who is a doctor -- and his ex-wife is a lawyer -- was very helpful in that regard. I always felt I wasn't doing anything. It was happening inside, but I didn't feel it would show. But they'd say, `No, if anything, do less.' You can't show your emotions when you're in that lawyer mode. With me (Crichton) was very specific. I had to rely on him a little more than I normally do (on a director) because I was so unsure of that thing of it being so controlled. He had a lot of pre-conceived ideas of how this was supposed to be -- and he was probably right. A couple of times I tried to try to be jokier, funnier, 'cause I felt so boring all the time. Everybody else got to do all this fun stuff and then I tried it and he said, `No, don't do that.' So I said, `Print it. I'd just like to see it.' And then we'd watch it and I'd turn around and say, `You're right, you're right. God, burn it! It just stinks!' So, I just kind of had to prove that to myself."[4]


The film was described by the Chicago Tribune as a "feeble thriller... the worst case of filmmaking-by-numbers, reflecting not an ounce of commitment or conviction".[5] The Los Angeles Times called it "flat and remote... a thriller that doesn't thrill."[6]


  1. ^ Physical Evidence at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ a b Klady, L. (1987, Aug 09). OUTTAKES. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  3. ^ Zekas, R. (1987, Dec 06). Where there's smoke-there's burt while filming in toronto for the second time this year. reynolds talks about sports, marriage and that infamous centrefold photo. Toronto Star Retrieved from
  4. ^ Jim Emerson:The Register. (1989, Jan 29). Actress keeps 'em guessing. Orange County Register Retrieved from
  5. ^ "Physical Evidence' has nothing to build its case". Chicago Tribune. 27 Jan 1989. p. CN37A.
  6. ^ Wilmington, Michael (27 Jan 1989). "'Evidence' Guilty of Retrying Old Plots". Los Angeles Times. p. E6.

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