Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Player (1992)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Player (1992)

In director Robert Altman's famed low-budget Hollywood satire with a tapestry of characters (including at least four dozen cameo appearances from a huge cast of celebrities and filmmakers who played themselves) - a scathing expose that eviscerated Hollywood morality and the wheeling and dealing of its Tinseltown film-making industry - with a plot about the erroneous murder and subsequent cover-up of a disgruntled screenwriter by a callous, insincere, back-stabbing, shallow film producer:

  • the subtle pre-credits opening provided a clue about how the film came to be - with the shot of a movie set getting ready to shoot a film, and the clack of the slate signaling its start:
    Director: Quiet on the set. [Bell Rings]
    Female Voice: Okay, everybody, quiet on the set.
    Male Voice: Scene 1, Take 10, marker. [Phone Ringing]
    Director: And action.
    -- this revealed the underlying joke of the premise -- the movie was a 'film-within-a-film'
  • the uncut, unedited, single-take opening credits sequence - a remarkably complex, 8-minute and six second roaming and tracking camera on a Hollywood studio lot that captured a glimpse of studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) arriving in his black Range Rover at his Hollywood studio, for a morning of pitch meetings; bits of conversation were overheard (two other producers ironically and referentially commented on Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) and its famed opening uncut tracking shot, something now unheard of)
  • the ridiculous 25 words or less cross-breeded film pitches that Mill was told - e.g., Buck Henry's pitch for the sequel The Graduate Part II: ("25 years later, and so are the characters....Ben and Elaine are married, still. They live in a big, spooky house up in northern California somewhere. And Mrs. Robinson lives with them - her aging mother who's had a she can't talk....It'll be funny. Dark, and weird and funny and with a stroke"), or other films described as 'Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman' (for Goldie Hawn in Africa) or "a psychic, political, thriller comedy with a heart" (for Bruce Willis) somewhat like 'Ghost meets Manchurian Candidate'
  • Griffin had assumed that after he rejected the pitch of disgruntled, aspiring screenwriter David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio) six months earlier, the writer was sending him death threats by postcard: ("I HATE YOUR GUTS ASSHOLE!") - he had already received seven ("poison pen letters") in two weeks; the latest one was a string of postcards with the threat: "IN THE NAME OF ALL WRITERS I'M GOING TO KILL YOU!"
  • the hot tub scene of Griffin with the studio's story editor/girlfriend Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson) - their conversation set up the premise of the film about the receipt of threatening postcards from a blackmailing scriptwriter; they agreed that the amount of time "before he becomes dangerous" was five months
  • Griffin tracked down all scripters who had recent unreturned phone calls, and suspected David Kahane - he called the writer's Hollywood house (from just outside and spied as he conversed) and spoke with Kahane's erotic, artistic painter and Icelandic girlfriend June (Greta Scacchi) with a strange last name: Gudmundsdottir; when she told him that Kahane had gone to see the arthouse movie Bicycle Thief (1948, It.) in the theater, he asked if she had seen it - and she responded: "I don't go to the movies...Oh, life is too short"
Tracking Down David Kahane by Phone and Reaching June
"I don't go to the movies...Oh, life is too short"
  • Griffin confronted Kahane later that evening in Pasadena's Rialto movie theatre lobby to appease him (with the promise of a deal), and then after drinks in a local Japanese restaurant and during an argument in the parking lot area, Griffin killed him after a violent scuffle by bashing his head and drowning him in a small pool of water - he appeared to have gotten away with the murder of the suspected blackmailer; to cover up the crime, Griffin made it look like a botched robbery of Kahane's car radio
  • the scene the morning after the writer's murder in the studio office in which ambitious and aspiring new employee - a story executive named Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) transferred from Fox (who was presumably pushing Griffin out), proposed finding storylines from the morning's paper instead of paying expensive scripters - and then added: "Slap a happy ending on it, the script will write itself"; Mills responded to the novel idea - after noticing a story in the paper headlined: "MAN FOUND DEAD IN THEATER PARKING LOT": ("I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here.")
  • shortly later, the clever scene of Griffin being confronted by the studio's suspicious chief of security Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward), who 'pitched' him a story about the recent murder in 25 words of less: "Movie exec calls writer. The writer's girlfriend says he's at the movies. The exec goes to movies, meets writer, drinks with the writer. Writer gets conked and dies in 4 inches of dirty water. Movie exec is in deep shit. What do ya think?"; Griffin responded nervously: "That's more than 25 words" - and just then, Griffin received another threatening note - this time a fax - from the jilted scripter; he had obviously murdered the wrong scriptwriter
  • the plot twist was that Griffin continued to get communications (faxes, calls, postcards, and murder attempts - including a rattlesnake in a box sitting on his passenger car seat) from the real blackmailing scripter (revealed to be Phil, see below) - who had now become a stalker; he pummeled the snake with an umbrella and then went to June's place to see comfort and reassurance
At Kahane's Funeral
Phil (Brian Brophy) Delivering the Eulogy at Kahane's Service
Griffin Mill
(Tim Robbins)
June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi)
  • at Kahane's funeral service, the eulogy was delivered, ironically, by the real, blackmailing scriptwriter named Phil (Brian Brophy), who was bitter about the talented Kahane's death; there, Griffin met up with June and afterwards, she invited him to her home; he asked about her art paintings and she responded: "I couldn't sell these. They're never finished...They're just what I do for myself. What I feel"; they would soon begin a romance - with a happy ending for his own life [Note: it was the same story in the pitched script for the film titled "The Player"]
  • the scene of Griffin at the St. James Club listening to a feverish film pitch for a legal drama titled Habeas Corpus from two other scripters, Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) and Andy Sivella (Dean Stockwell); it was described thusly: "There are no stars. No pat happy endings, no Schwarzenegger, no stickups, no terrorists. This is a tough story, a tragedy in which an innocent woman dies. Why? Because that happens!...She has to die! No Hollywood ending"; Griffin was sure that the film would be a flop, since it had no stars and a depressing conclusion - and he began to manipulatively consider how to use it to his advantage; as a scheming and cut-throat Hollywood executive, Griffin's ulterior motive was to get Levy to OK the film, and then hurt Levy's reputation and future when the film flopped, by putting himself in a position to save the studio by salvaging the film: "Larry Levy liked it because he's a dick-brain. Levy will sell the idea to Levison. Then I will let Levison have the brilliant idea of letting Larry take over the project from me....This piece-of-s--t idea will blow up in both their faces. And then I will step in and save the day"
  • after Kahane's death, Griffin was strongly suspected and tracked by Pasadena Detective Paul DeLongpre (Lyle Lovett) and assisted by his partner police chief Susan Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) (known for her line when Griffin was summoned to the police department offices and nervously looking at police mug shots: "Oh, please! This is Pasadena. We do not arrest the wrong person. That's L.A.! In L.A. they kick your ass and then they arrest you. That's what they do. We don't do that here")
Griffin with June at Desert Hot Springs Spa
  • in a weekend getaway scene set at a Desert Hot Springs (CA) resort/spa, Two Bunch Palms, Griffin Mill was slow-dancing with his new girlfriend June; after as they walked along, he described his occupation as a ruthless Hollywood film executive/producer, when she asked: "Tell me about the movies you make...because I want to know what you do"; he answered how he could greenlight only 12 scripts out of 50,000 each year: "I listen to stories and decide if they'll make good movies or not. I get 125 phone calls a day, and if I let that slip to 100, I know I'm not doing my job. Everyone that calls - they want to know one thing. They want me to say yes to them and make their movie. If I say yes to them and make their movie, they think that come New Year's, it's just gonna be them and Jack Nicholson on the slopes of Aspen. That's what they think. The problem is, I can only say yes, my studio can only say yes 12 times a year. And collectively we hear about 50,000 stories a year. So it's hard. And, I guess sometimes I'm not nice and make enemies. And that's what I was to David. Enemy"; he then told her why David Kahane's story wasn't one of the 12 chosen: "It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully... Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings. Mainly happy endings"; she queried: "What about reality?"; as they made love, he confessed his connection to Kahane's death: "I was responsible...It was my fault"
  • Griffin was interrupted at the spa during a mud-bath session with June, by a phone call from studio lawyer Dick Mellen (Sydney Pollack), and summoned to a police line-up for identification; at the Pasadena Police Department, he met with his appointed lawyer Gar Girard (Kevin Scannell) in a wheelchair; the female eye-witness chose # 3 (Detective Paul DeLongpre) as the killer! (Witness: "I'd swear on my mother's grave... Number three" Avery: "Where the f--k is your mother buried?")
  • meanwhile, studio head Joel Levison (Brion James) was fired, and then one year later, during a private screening of the re-edited and modified Habeas Corpus, the new product was presented with a tacked-on upbeat ending and two major stars for the film (star Bruce Willis saved wrongly-sentenced co-star Julia Roberts from going to the gas chamber - she literally got away with murder (and so did Griffin!)); as Willis carried Roberts from the execution chamber, she asked: "What took you so long?" - he responded: "Traffic was a bitch!"; the scripter Tom Oakley affirmed the film's changes to Bonnie: "We reshot it, now everybody loves it. That's reality"; Larry Levy backed him up: "This is a hit. This is what we're here for" - and promptly fired Bonnie
  • therefore, in the film's clever and happy ending of its own, Griffin had succeeded in his plan to save the film Habeas Corpus, and was now the head of the studio - while at the same time nullifying Levy; in the meantime, he had married June, and she was pregnant
  • as Griffin drove home after Bonnie was fired, he received a car phone call from Levy about the screening, and then a pitch from the same mysterious psychotic scriptwriter - vengeful Phil from the funeral: ("I'm the asshole who used to be in the postcard business") for a new movie idea for The Player - the movie in progress: "All right, it's a Hollywood story, Griff. A real thriller. It's about a s--it-bag producer studio exec who murders a writer he thinks is harassing him. The problem is, he kills the wrong writer. Now he's got to deal with blackmail as well as the cops. But - here's the switch. The son of a bitch, he gets away with it..." --- the short pitch in the script was the same story as the plot of director Altman's entire film - the murder of a rejected scriptwriter by a Hollywood executive who literally got away with murder
  • the final lines described Altman's own take on the film just seen (The Player); the writer then stressed that it had the requisite happy ending: "It's a Hollywood ending, Griff. He marries the dead writer's girl (June) and they live happily ever after"; Griffin offered the writer a deal - with the stipulation that it had to have that happy ending: "Can you guarantee that ending?...If you can guarantee me that ending, you got a deal"
  • as Griffin was greeted by June, he was asked: "What took you so long?" to which he replied: "Traffic was a bitch!"
The Happy Ending - Griffin Returning Home to His Pregnant Wife
(but was she real or only in the script?)
  • there was a slight mocking of the audience with a subtle and faintly-heard: "Nyah, nyah, nyah-NYAH-nyah" sung by an infant in the score

The Pre-Credits Opening Image: Clack of a Film Slate

Beginning of Tracking Shot

Typical Pitch Meeting to Griffin Viewed Through Window

Close-Ups of Threatening Postcard to Griffin

Griffin With Studio Girlfriend Bonnie Sherow

Griffin Meeting with Scriptwriter Kahane in Movie Theater Lobby

Griffin Mill's Drowning Murder of Scriptwriter David Kahane

Studio Security Chief Stuckel's Murder
Description - the Film's Premise - in 25 words or less

Kahane's Girlfriend June and Griffin - Meeting at the Funeral

The Pitch to Griffin for Habeas Corpus

Rattlesnake Scare

Police Chief Susan Avery (Whoopi Goldberg)

Griffin in Police Line-Up

The Screening of the Revised Ending of the Script for Habeas Corpus

Griffin - the New Studio Head

The New Pitch by Phil - for a Script and Film (with a "Happy Ending") titled The Player


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