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If you're going to live in a whorehouse, there's only one thing you can do: be the best damn whore around.—Peter Fallow
The Bonfire of the Vanities, written by Tom Wolfe, was originally serialized in Rolling Stone in 27 installments starting in 1984. It was published in novel form in 1987 and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1990 the film version, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Melanie Griffith, was released. De Palma's film was a critical and commercial disaster and it remains a notorious flop.
New York City. Sherman McCoy is a married investment banker and self-proclaimed "Master of the Universe" who carries on an affair with socialite Maria Ruskin. One night, they take a wrong turn in the Bronx and encounter two (supposedly) threatening black youths. In their confusion Ruskin, who was driving, accidentally runs over one of them; he is left in a coma. When word of this breaks out, all hell breaks loose for McCoy. Meanwhile, an Amoral Attorney, a tabloid reporter, a Strawman Political religious leader from the Bronx, an ambitious district attorney, and...well, the bulk of characters that the book follows decide to use the racially and socially-charged case to further their own agendas.
Writer Julie Salamon was granted full accesss during production and produced an excellent making-of book called The Devil's Candy.
The novel and film feature examples of:
- All-Star Cast
- Creator Killer: Brian De Palma's career has never fully recovered from this; his best-regarded effort since is Carlito's Way.
- The Eighties
- Epic Movie: The movie was intended as this -- huge budget, A-list cast and director, based on a bestselling and award-winning book, lots of characters, some posh settings.
- Executive Meddling: Way too much in the film, as Salomon's book recounts.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: A very young Kirsten Dunst appears as McCoy's daughter.
- It Tastes Like Feet: A character says that Chinese wine tastes like "Dead Feet," which is the nickname for his boss.
- Narrator: Fallow in the film adaptation.
- The Oner: The opening sequence of the film, tracking Peter Fallow as he arrives for an awards presentation, takes the viewer from a parking garage to a hotel ballroom in one long shot.
- Quote Mine: Fallow successfully paints the victim of the accident as an honor student based on an interview with one of his teachers, who explains that anyone who shows up to classes and doesn't cause trouble at that particular school might as well be one.
- Race Lift: Alan Arkin was originally cast as the Judge, but when the producers decided to change the character from Jewish to African-American, he was replaced by Morgan Freeman. The change was due to complaints led by Spike Lee that, as it was, the story was racist.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The film version.
- Troubled Production: Very troubled.
- What Could Have Been
- William Hurt as Sherman McCoy.
- Uma Thurman as Maria Ruskin.
- John Cleese as Peter Fallow. (In the novel, Fallow is British.)
- As noted above, Alan Arkin as the presiding judge.
- Writing Around Trademarks: In the novel, while the characters ride in real car brands like Mercedes and BMW, they also eat at "Texas Fried Chicken" and use their "Global Express" card to buy things.