Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

In writer/director Paul Mazursky's R-rated comedy (Disney's first R-rated film, for its new Touchstone division, with lots of expletives and modest sex scenes) -- a comedic remake of Jean Renoir's classic French farce Boudu Sauvé des Eaux (1932, Fr.) (aka Boudu Saved From Drowning); the very successful socially-conscious comedy with a budget of $14 million was way before its time, confronting issues of homelessness, gay youth, eating disorders, and racism; it also formed the basis for Fox's short-lived TV sitcom Down and Out in Beverly Hills in mid-1987 for about half a season:

  • during the opening credits, the film employed the brilliant use of The Talking Heads' Once in a Lifetime - a clear indictment of the worthlessness of wealth: ("And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful Wife / And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?"); it was intercut with scenes of real-life Los Angeles homeless with charismatic, iconoclastic, charming but disheveled vagrant Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) pushing his possessions across a street and diving into a dumpster, and washing his feet in a public park fountain in the heart of beautiful Beverly Hills

Vagrant Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) in Beverly Hills, CA
  • it was Thanksgiving Day (Christmas decorations were already up) in Beverly Hills; at the household of stressed-out, materialistic, millionaire clothes and coat-hanger manufacturer Dave Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss) ("Dave-Bar"), he awoke in bed in his pink floral bedroom in his luxurious, marble-floored mansion next to his sexually-repressed, status-obsessed, spaced-out wife Barbara Whiteman (Bette Midler); the Whitemans' 20-year marriage was both loveless and sexless
  • Dave expressed worry about his two children, first, androgynous and sexually-confused (possibly gay) and obsessive son Max Whiteman (Evan Richards) who was an aspiring film-maker, at the end of their bed, Dave watched a videotape sent to him by Max, comprised of a montage of images of violence, Nazis, sex, hard-rock music, and excerpts from The Three Stooges
  • during preparations in the kitchen for the traditional feast (after the delivery of catered dishes) with their Mexican-Latina maid Carmen (Elizabeth Peña), Dave briefly glimpsed the other Whiteman offspring leaving to go to the beach: anorexic, 19 year-old college student (briefly home for the holiday from Sarah Lawrence) with an eating disorder - daughter Jenny Whiteman (Tracy Nelson); once everyone was around the Thanksgiving table, breadwinner Dave chastized his well-to-do but dysfunctional family members, especially his son Max: "It's hangers that clothe you and it's hangers that feed you!"; shortly later, Dave expressed concern over Max dancing in his room and wearing a tutu
Dave to Family and Max: "It's hangers that clothe you and it's hangers that feed you"
  • Dave's wife Barbara kept busy with shopping and lunches at Neiman-Marcus, and various New Age classes (yoga with Ranbir (Ranbir Bahi), aerobics, and meditation), and as Jenny noted, she often associated with "gurus and charlatans"
  • that evening, after Dave was refused sex from Barbara who claimed she had a chronic headache and was stressed out, Dave snuck downstairs to have sex with maid Carmen in her quarters; there were many scene-stealing scenes of neurotic family dog Matisse (their black-and-white border collie Mike the Dog named after the French artist) who was as maladjusted as his owners; upset by Dave, Matisse set off the security system that immediately summoned the police; disturbed by the noise, next-door neighbor and record producer Orvis Goodnight (Little Richard) complained about the unequal (racist) response time of the police at his place: ("I don't get this kind of service...because I'm black, black! I'm a black man!...I want the same protection"); two weeks earlier, it took police 20 minutes to arrive during an attempted robbery
  • meanwhile, the distraught and derelict Jerry became frantic after his little beloved tan dog Kerouac (named after Beat Generation writer) abandoned him and followed after a female walker (Carolyn Allport) who offered him treats from a paper bag; after wandering into a fancy restaurant in town and searching endlessly, he stumbled into the Whiteman's residence in Beverly Hills and attempted suicide by drowning in the family pool with his pockets filled with heavy rocks
  • Jerry was rescued by Dave who frantically yelled: "Call 911" - not realizing that he was holding his phone in his hand; he performed CPR on Jerry, although his wife Barbara worried that he might contract a disease ("You'll catch AIDS or plague or herpes")
  • while recovering, eating turkey left-overs and having his clothes washed, Jerry described his difficult past history to Dave - prison time (45 years and a $75K fine, although suspended) for counterfeiting draft cards, followed by hard times trying to find work as a felon; he then chose to enter show--business and had a brief relationship with actress Linda Evans ("between 'The Big Valley' and 'Dynasty'"); he turned to drinking and drugs and then his younger sister (both of them were orphans) died of leukemia, leading to his becoming a vagrant on the street: ("...lost my, uh, incentive, so I didn't care about myself, so I learned to survive on the street")
  • Jerry was invited to recuperate and "straighten out" his life for a few days in the Whiteman's nouveau-riche Beverly Hills household; he was offered to reside in their pool cabana; but Barbara became frantic and worried that the derelict vagrant Jerry would be a threat to the family: ("He could steal everything... and then murder us in our beds!"); both Dave and Barbara had become convinced that if the family dog Matisse was friendly to Jerry, that meant that he was ok ("Matisse loves him. Look. That should be a clue right there. Matisse loves no one"); shortly later, Jerry found a common bond with Dave - their early love of the players on the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team in the 1950s
  • Dave assisted Jerry's make-over transformation with a shave and haircut in a salon with Maurice (Michael Voletti), and new clothes, plus took him to his clothing hangar factory Dav-Bar and offered him a job with health plan benefits but Jerry declined the offer of employment ("Not really my line, Dave"); instead, Jerry suggested going out to lunch
Whiteman Family Dog Matisse With Therapist Dr. Von Zimmer
  • due to Matisse's refusal to eat, he required the services of dog psychotherapist Dr. Von Zimmer (Donald F. Muhich) who diagnosed that the dog was "disturbed and angry" and needed "reassurance and affection"; he also added that Matisse suffered from "nipple anxiety"; Jerry was able to cure the dog by empathizing with Matisse, explaining how the dog thought he was a human: ("This dog thinks it's human...wants to eat what you're eating"); to satisfy Matisse, Jerry mixed together 1/3rd of a can of Mighty Dog, 1/3rd of a can of Kal-Kan with liver, and Puppy Chow to add texture and crunchiness, and then he crouched down on the floor and began eating the dog food concoction - Matisse joined him
  • Dave initially bonded with Jerry, especially during a brief visit to his downtown mission and to Venice Beach oceanfront walk where Jerry introduced Dave to some of his laid-back, homeless friends including Native-American Tom-Tom (Eloy Casados) - as he explained to Barbara, he wanted to spend the night with "some poor oppressed human beings"; Dave bragged: "I ate garbage last night, Barbara, and I loved it" and "learned to beg"
  • Barbara became very upset about Dave's decision to bring a "bum" into their home, and phoned into Dr. Toni Grant's (Herself) self-help radio show to ask for advice (with a fake name); she received an answer back that she didn't expect: "It's possible, Dawn, that your husband is living a vicariously-freer life through the presence of this displaced person he's brought home"; Dave also called in to the Toni Grant show and pretended to be 27 year-old old man named Bob no longer attracted to his wife after nine years; as he discussed his problems, he crashed his Rolls-Royce into the rear end of a car in front of him (after passing a marquee for JAWS (1975) - Dreyfuss' major film success), as a police car sandwiched him from behind
  • at the same time, Jerry was able to seduce Barbara during a Balinese therapeutic massage of her back and legs to release her anxiety and tension, and to relieve her of her frequent headaches; suddenly, she reversed positions and begged Jerry: "Invade me. Jangle me. I need it, please don't stop. Don't deny me"; she produced ecstatic screaming that reverberated around the neighborhood (Matisse convulsed and panted, the phallic cable TV dish antenna vibrated, the sprinklers erupted, birds took flight, etc.); afterwards while smoking a cigarette, Barbara offered post-coital comments: "I haven't had an orgasm like that for 9 and a half years..."; she confessed she felt "glad and ashamed, exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time"; she also admitted that she had allowed Dave's affair with Carmen and went shopping and took classes as compensation, but realized her solution had backfired and hurt her marriage; she complimented him: " You found my "G" spot, but this was a one-time trip to the moon. It happened, and there's nothing we can do about it now. But no matter how fantastic it was, we can never repeat this adventure"; then she began singing You Belong to Me; as a result, Dave and Barbara's sex life was reinvigorated
  • the relationship between Dave and Jerry began to sour; even Jerry suspected: "I've worn out my welcome...I think it's time for me to go"; the main sources of tension were Jerry's "diddling" of wife Barbara (more than once), and others -

    (1) Jerry's seduction of maid Carmen, in competition with Dave; Jerry also had encouraged Carmen to become a political activist by providing her with Communist-Marxist literature and books, and she had turned against Dave: ("You are the imperialist. You see me like the Third World...I am the worker, you are the capitalist. The only way we change this is revolution");

    (2) Jerry's encouragement of Max Whiteman to 'come out' and be real with his parents: ("You gotta be what you gotta be")

    (3) Jerry's sexual relations with Dave's daughter Jenny who returned for Christmas, helping to cure her refusal to eat; although at one point, she had called Jerry sociopathic for taking advantage of her parents, in a major reversal, she attributed her recovery to being in love with Jerry

  • during a wild, climactic New Year's Eve party held at the Whitemans, Dave attempted to secure a business deal with a contingent of Chinese, while next door neighbor Orvis Goodnight performed both It's a Matter of Time and Tutti Frutti on the piano
  • revelations resulting from Jerry's presence were revealed to Dave - about both Max and Jenny; Max came up to his father with his odd-looking transgendered friends, kissed his father on the cheek (leaving a lipstick stain), and admitted that he loved his father; then, Dave learned that Jerry had slept with his daughter when she admitted: "Daddy, I'm in love"; Dave was furious: ("I'm gonna kill him, he took my baby") and physically attacked Jerry; in a reversal of the earlier drowning sequence, Dave attempted to drown him in the swimming pool; at the same time, fireworks exploded (and everyone jumped in the pool); Matisse activated the security alarm system, and the police were dispatched to the house; a helicopter pilot remarked: "What a f--king party!"

Max With His Friends Coming Out to His Father

Jenny Admitting Her Love For Jerry to Her Father
  • the next morning after the previous chaotic evening, as everyone sat around the pool, Jerry told a disgruntled Dave: "I gave folks what they wanted"; he made a decision to leave after announcing that he was a pathological liar who had deceived them with made-up colorful accounts of his past life; Jerry explained how he had told the family what they wanted to hear: (Dave: "You lied" Jerry: "What did you want to hear, Dave? REAL heartbreak? REAL sorrow? It's boring"); he returned everything he had been given before leaving with Matisse and looked forward: "We don't owe nothin' to nobody"
  • in the ending sequence occurring in the back service alleyway behind the Whiteman's house, Jerry (who had changed into his rags) had been joined by his now-bonded dog Matisse to scrounge in a dumpster and eat from a discarded can of liver pate; he found himself silently urged by the entire family, all staring at him, to return to the house - they expectantly awaited his entrance into the grounds; Jerry signaled to Matisse that Carmen had prepared a "nice cup" of cappuccino for them: "Let's go grab a cup of cappuccino"
  • after all the other family members entered the gate after Jerry, there was a final haunting shot of Dave pausing with an unsure look on his face - to the book-ended strains of Once in a Lifetime; he was obviously pondering if it was a good idea to invite Jerry back in

Dave and Barbara Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler)

Dave Whiteman

Confused, Filmmaking Son Max Whiteman (Evan Richards)

Daughter Jenny Whiteman (Tracy Nelson)

Maid Carmen (Elizabeth Peña)

Dave's Affair with Carmen

Jerry's Attempted Drowning Suicide in the Whiteman Pool

Jerry Bonding with the Whiteman's Family Dog Matisse

Jerry Invited by Dave To Stay in Pool Cabana For a Few Days

Jerry Mixing Up Dog Food Concoction for Matisse (and Himself)

Jerry's Seduction of Barbara - and Her Post-Sex Compliments: "You found my 'G' Spot"

Jerry Caught by Dave After "Diddling" Carmen

Jerry Kissing Jenny Before She Fell in Love with Him

Orvis Goodnight (Little Richard) on the Piano

Pool Party

The Following Morning

Jerry's Departure and Quick Return to the Whiteman Family


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