The Big Town (1987)

The Big Town (1987)

Taglines: Lady luck is always on his side. Tonight, she’s on fire.

It is 1957. J.C. Cullen is a young man from a small town, with a talent for winning at craps, who leaves for the big city to work as a professional gambler. While there, he breaks the bank at a private craps game at the Gem Club, owned by George Cole, and falls in love with two women, one of them Cole’s wife. Infuriated, Cole wagers everything on the craps table, including the Gem Club itself, and he and Cullen have it out.

The Big Town is a 1987 film drama about a young man who comes to the big city to work as a professional gambler, in the process becoming romantically involved with two women—one of whom is already married. The film was directed by Ben Bolt and Harold Becker and it stars Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Film Review for The Big Town

IT’S the great American theme: a small-town boy seeks his fortune in the big city. In this case he’s the best crapshooter at the local garage and he heads off to ”The Big Town” of Chicago in 1957, where he makes a pile of money and has to choose between two women: a married stripper and an unmarried mother with a heart of gold. So it’s not Horatio Alger. More to the point, this huge cliche of a movie isn’t even a distant relation of films like ”The Color of Money,” which can actually make you root for hustlers. ”The Big Town” only proves we’ve gone back to the 1950’s one time too many.

The Big Town (1987) - Suzy Amis

There must be some behind-the-scenes explanation for what went wrong, but the evidence of the movie’s failures is right there on the screen. Matt Dillon, who has shown some charm and flair in earlier films (such as ”The Flamingo Kid”), can only look brooding as J. C. Cullen, the young man who rolls the dice and can figure the odds so well he becomes known as ”Cully the Arm.” We might be able to sympathize with him if we could find a coherent character to sympathize with. But he is not quite innocent and not very wise, not quite dynamic amd certainly not charming. He is easily defined by what he’s not, because the whole film seems to have crucial pieces missing.

My favorite nonsense sequence goes like this: Cully and the stripper, Lorry Dane (Diane Lane), act out one of the coldest, least erotic sex scenes in recent movies; she’s leaning against the bar in the strip club and he gives new meaning to the word quick. Next, they’re walking down the street arm in arm, nuzzling each other (could this be love?), when we cut to a shot of Cully alone in his bed, where he gets a phone call from his mother with bad news from home. You can try to construct your own, better-built movie from the hints thrown around here (Clark Howard’s novel ”The Arm,” on which the story is based, may hold some of the missing pieces). But the director, Ben Bolt – who has directed many television shows in England and the United States, and so should know better -won’t give you much to work with.

The Big Town (1987)

Lee Grant and Bruce Dern play the couple whose gambling stable Cully joins, and they both look as miserably stiff as any top-rate professional actors can. Tommy Lee Jones, as Lorry Dane’s husband, doesn’t have to do more than look sleazy and menacing, so he glowers and wears shiny silk shirts and a dollar-sign tie clip. Remarkably, Suzy Amis makes the young mother, who dreams of becoming one of the first women to be a disk jockey, someone to care about; Ms. Amis is obviously bringing more to the role than the screenplay has given her.

Like the actors, the music and other 1950’s trappings resemble tacky artificial decorations hung on the story. They don’t do much to convince us this is another time and place. In fact, ”The Big Town,” which opens today at the Sutton and other theaters, seems full of 1980’s people crazily caught up in 1950’s nostalgia, as if they’ve dropped by some We-Love-Elvis costume party and can’t wait to get back home.

The Big Town Movie Poster (1987)

The Big Town (1987)

Directed by: Ben Bolt, Harold Becker
Starring: Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Dern, Tom Skerritt, Lee Grant, Suzy Amis, David Marshall Grant, Don Francks, Cherry Jones
Screenplay by: Robert Roy Pool
Production Design by: Bill Kenney
Cinematography by: Ralf D. Bode
Film Editing by: Stuart H. Pappé
Costume Design by: Wendy Partridge
Set Decoration by: Mark S. Freeborn, Rose Marie McSherry
Art Direction by: Dan Yarhi
Music by: Michael Melvoin
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: September 25, 1987