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More Than the Usual Suspects

travolta - saturday night fever

Every now and then, Movieline would run an article that was really off the wall.  This is one of those.  In 1985, film critic David Thomson wrote a book titled Suspects which imagined what happened to several famous movie characters after the movie ended.  It was basically pre-internet fan fiction.  Ten years later. Thomson was working on a follow-up.  As best I can tell, the second book was never published.  At least I can’t find any evidence of it.  As a teaser to the work-in-progress, Movieline published some of the entries in the June ’95 issue.

Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever

In the late ’70s, Tony was a big attraction in Brooklyn discos, and people would come over from Manhattan to see him. He had never believed he could have a career in dancing–he was too shy, he didn’t really enjoy being up there in front of people. The thing about dancing that he liked was the precision, the order, the control. The way you could count on it, and count yourself through it, and feel good about yourself. He studied it. He did floor plans for dances–the placing of the feet. He liked to work them out on paper first and then do them. But he always had trouble finding girls who would study. They said they liked to dance the way they felt it at the moment. But Tony knew it could be an art and a science; that you could dance in your head.

Still, he was noticed, and he went along with the offers: he was passive about it in a funny way so that people liked him, but took him for granted. He didn’t have a lot of personality. He had a featured spot in Shirley MacLaine’s one-woman show that got good notices. Shirley took an interest in him. She’d talk to him, give him notes and lend him books–she was very generous and eager for him, and he felt a little daunted.

“Tony, you have a talent. You really do. But you make it look easy–as if you weren’t working.”

“Oh. yeah?” he said. He liked that; that was what he wanted.

“Show them it’s difficult. Sweat a little. They want to see you trying.”

He nodded. It was funny: he liked Shirley, but she was consumed in her own effort, and he found that a touch oppressive, or unhealthy even.

‘”Well, you know.” he said. ” I’ll try.” And he giggled in that soft way he had.

He got his own show, Satan’s Alley, but it was a terrible piece of shit. “Tony,” Shirley warned him, ” you have to protect yourself with the right people. You’re too polite. You yield. You’re grateful to these deadbeats. You should fire them. Tony, you’re judged by the company you keep.”

He agreed with her, but then he went straight back to the theater and agreed with the deadbeats. He didn’t like to make himself difficult; he’d just as soon not get into conversations.

The show closed after 11 performances, and Tony was at a loose end. He took the first offer, from a Las Vegas hotel. He had never been to Vegas, never really been out of New York state. He wanted to travel a bit. But in Las Vegas, the stage for the floor show was the wrong dimension for the routines he’d worked out. He needed another seven feet in width, which he explained to the management.

“Tony,” said the foreman of the maintenance crew, “that’s a hell of a lot of work.”

“But, you see. I need the room,” said Tony.

“What is it, it’s just a few feet– am I right?”

“Yeah. It’s not a lot. You put one more section in, over there–that’ll do it.”

“Tony. I gotta get that made. I don’t know about the lumber–this is Japanese maple. Then we got to let it settle, and the varnishing! Tony, do you–”

“Well, OK,” said Tony, and he let it go, and the second night he did his knee. The cruciate ligament, they said in the hospital. His leg was never the same again. Not that he minded so ultra much. After all, dancing had never been the most important thing to him. But, as he rested in the hospital, he wondered sometimes what was.

Travel, he supposed. He had liked just being in Vegas seeing the desert, Hoover Dam, the lights on the Strip. He liked the way the city had been put there. The world was amazing. So when he was able to, he took a flight to Europe. And he liked it, a lot. There was something very tidy about being in a foreign country. Tony didn’t know foreign languages, so that kept what he said very simple. And what he thought. Which was pleasant. He got confused and unhappy a lot less.

In Paris, he met this couple, a girl and her lover, an older man. Her name was Anna, and she acted like someone on smack, but Tony found she was clean–it was just her nature. They could be together for hours at a time and hardly say a word, and it felt very nice. The only thing she liked him to do was give her a foot rub. Tony knew feet, and she had the coldest, cold enough to chill his hands. But he liked the look of bliss in her eyes as much as any-thing he’d ever liked. Anna’s lover never had a name; she called him ” Minister,” which was like a joke, yet she never laughed. The man was something in the Thatcher government, and insane over Anna. But she took it all very calmly, and Tony wasn’t sure that she didn’t want his foot rubs most of all.

“Tony,” she said one day.

“Yeah.” He was always ready to serve her.

“When he comes tomorrow.”

“Yeah?”

“When we’re in the bedroom, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“He’ll have a briefcase. There will be a file in it–brown color. Take it out. Go down to the copy shop, OK?”

“Yeah.”

“Copy it. Put it back.”

He did as he was told, and she intimated that she had passed the file on to others. She gave him five thousand francs. Which was all right, because his money from Broadway and Vegas was running out. And it had been very simple, in and out, copy the pages, put them back. He was a deft worker.

Things developed from that. He got an apartment in Paris, and Anna had other jobs for him.

“It’s like being a detective?” he said. “Right?”

One day, she introduced him to an Italian, though he talked American. And the man was looking to explore other opportunities. Things with cars, for instance, and then carrying packages to Amsterdam or Rome, or even Casablanca.

“Wow! Casablanca,” said Tony.

“You get your passport looking like a stamp album,” said the man.

“It’s drugs, isn’t it?” said Tony.

“As a matter of fact, Tony, yeah. Carrying Camembert to Casablanca does not pay in the same way.”

“Drugs are bad, right?” Tony had heard that always.

The man studied him and reflected for a while. ” Try some,” he suggested, and he gave Tony–who didn’t like to say no–some cocaine, and it was sensational. He felt very, very clean and together with it.

“Why’d they say it’s so bad?” he asked the man.

“Killjoys.”

One day, they wondered out loud if he’d ever killed anyone. Just asking. Turned out he had a knack for it, a way of expressing himself artistically–so long as he could plan it. He drew diagrams and time charts. Then he did it–in and out. Then he destroyed the plans. Tony’s passivity made him a very good killer.

“Tony, my man.” said the man, about a year later, ” They are asking for you.”

“Yeah?”

“You have a very solid rep.”

“Who’s asking?”

“People in Los Angeles.”

“I was only ever there at the airport once.”

“The airport is nothing. It’s your sort of place. Behave yourself, you could be in a lot of demand.”

“That’d be cool.”

“It’s where the action is, Tony. A hit man essentially, if he’s for real, he has to do it in America. Change your name.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure. I mean, you had a career there once. Not a lot, maybe. But I’d change your name. It’s cleaner.”

He liked that idea. It made him feel good to be someone quite new and different. Like starting again. It took him five months to think of the right new name. Vincent Vega. He said it fast so that it sounded like one word, the name of a car.

But, back in America, it wasn’t quite what he expected. Europe had been very efficient, very smooth. America was a riot now, as if it had forgotten what America meant. There were absurd fuck-ups that made him ashamed. The boss was a big black guy, and the boss’s wife was this white chick with evil eyes who said she was sure she remembered him from somewhere.

He had to take her out one night while the boss was out of town. And she insisted they go dancing. What did she know? He hadn’t danced in a long time, and his knee was shot so he could only go through the motions. But she was a wild one, with a lot of funny moves and Egyptian arms. She told him, and she sort of sneered at him, that she had grown up in Las Vegas where her dad worked for one of the big hotels.

“So there,” she said, and then lowering her voice, making the name sound like a mockery, ” Vincent Vega.”

If he hadn’t fallen straight in love with her, he’d have known the safest thing to do, then and there, in and out, was to make a plan for offing her.

Next: Susie Diamond

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Posted on June 24, 2016, in Movieline Articles, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I made it all the way to the second sentence for Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever – “He had never believed he could have a career in dancing – he was too shy, he didn’t really enjoy being up there in front of people.”

    Ummmm, did this writer watch the same movie that I did?? Tony Manero loved the attention he got while dancing, it was what made him anticipate and save up for every Saturday night at the local disco. This writer could not be more off base, and I can’t read any more after that.

    Like

    • There’s a reason for that. You have to get to the end to see what the author is doing in that one. mild potential spoilers It’s kind of clever, but it does violate the integrity of the character somewhat in order to make a meta joke work.

      Like

  2. David Thomson’s book “Suspects” is a bit obscure, but it’s a very fun read if you are into classic film noir.

    Like

  3. jeffthewildman

    These reminded me of an idea I had a while back. Recall that towards the end of Home Alone 2 Joe Pesci says to Macaulay Culkin “I never made it past thesSixth grade”.

    Harry And Marv. A Home Alone Prequel.

    Harry Lyme was a lazy kid. He didn’t like to do anything but watch TV (this was before video games). Comic books were out of the question as they required you to read. In sixth grade he started skipping school on a regular basis. After a while he stopped going entirely. His parents soon found out and told him he had to get a job once he was sixteen. His first attempt at employment was at Burger King. But he was fired on the first day after telling a customer who was complaining that the onion rings were under-cooked that they could cook their own damn onion rings. He next managed to get hired at a convenience store. But soon saw how much money was coming in and realized he could make more money by stealing it. That got him fired and arrested for the first time. While in prison, he met Marv Merchants. Marv hadn’t made it past the fourth grade because the school kicked him out for trying to put rat poison in the gym teacher’s coffee. It ended up in the principal’s coffee instead. Upon getting out both tried to find regular work. But their lack of education, criminal records and room temp IQs made that tough. Harry made another go at fast food. But got fired from Hardee’s after he was caught picking his teeth and dropping the pickings into the food. Marv tried working as a janitor at a day care center, mainly because the criminal background check got messed up. But when the correct one came through he got the ax. He met up with Harry again and realized that all they really knew how to do that would pay good was be criminals. So they decide to head for the Chicago suburb of Oak park the week before Christmas when the pickings would be large and people would be away.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was pretty interesting. About twenty years ago, I wrote an unpublished short story titled “Sergio’s Story”, who’s name was mentioned in the lyrics for the Jane’s Addiction song “Jane Says”. It was okay I guess, but i don’t remember much of it, so I can really appreciate what was done here, plus I’ve imagined at times what does happen to characters once the onscreen version is over, which I’m sure others have as well.

    Like

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