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A writer recalls his youth in the summer of 1959, when he and three of his 12-year-old buddies took off on an adventure to find the body of a boy who died in the woods near their Oregon town. The two-day trek turns into a journey of personal discovery as they confront their fears, their family problems, and the everlasting bond of friendship between them.
Director: Rob Reiner
Producers: Bruce A. Evans, Raynold Gideon, Andrew Scheinman
Screenplay: Raynold Gideon, Bruce A. Evans; based on the novella "The Body" by Stephen King
Cinematography: Thomas Del Ruth
Editing: Robert Leighton
Production Design: Dennis Washington
Original Music: Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Wil Wheaton (Gordie Lachance), River Phoenix (Chris Chambers), Corey Feldman (Teddy Duchamp), Jerry O'Connell (Vern Tessio), Kiefer Sutherland (Ace Merrill), Richard Dreyfuss (Narrator/The Writer)
Why STAND BY ME Is Essential
Although it was a film about 12-year-old boys on an adventure, it's unlikely that Stand by Me attracted many fans from that age bracket, the demographic that made hits out of other kid-oriented pictures of the time, like The Goonies and Explorers (both 1985). For one thing, the salty language used by the boys in the picture, although very characteristic of their age group, got the movie slapped with an R rating. For another, the story, set in 1959, was not about youth of the 1980s. Bathed in a nostalgic glow of period pop music, burnished summer days, and conversations about Superman, the cartoon character Goofy, and the size of Annette Funicello's breasts, the movie appealed instead primarily to men in their mid-30s and up, who had experienced-or imagined they had-the lives that director Rob Reiner and his cast portrayed.
Despite the production's every effort to capture certain slang expressions and pop culture references (and they are abundant and generally exact), the boys in this story really don't always talk like 12 year olds. With their perceptive sensitivity about their own problems and those of their friends and their tendency to have heart-to-heart confessional conversations couched in psychological insights, they reflect more of the idea of what an adult might reveal about his early days with the benefit of hindsight. Much of the dialogue has far more of the writer's hand than the kid's tongue, and that may be precisely right for a movie adapted from a semi-autobiographical story framed as the memory of a famous writer looking back on the most special summer of his youth. Reiner was attracted to Stephen King's "The Body" because he was also about that age in 1959, dealing with many of the same issues of acceptance and finding his way in an adult world he was sure didn't appreciate him. Because of this connection, Reiner turned out a film that struck the same chords in men of his own age, creating an immediate box office hit and an instant classic that many still look back on with great tenderness and bittersweet fondness.
Without Reiner's sensitive handling of the material, Stand by Me could be just a fantasy for those who actually believe, as the protagonist of King's original story states, that they had their best friends and best times just on the cusp of adolescence. The movie doesn't shrink from that sensibility, which may partly explain why it played so well in a decade given to looking back in a haze to a "simpler" time that probably never really existed. What makes it work is the immense appeal of four young actors perfect for their roles and delivering remarkable performances. Reiner chose to cast boys who closely mirrored the personalities of the characters they were portraying, then worked with them carefully to create a true ensemble that could feed off each other's energy and quirks and make us believe these boys really knew each other for most of their young lives. In many films with kids as the central character, scenes are cobbled together from quick close-ups achieved by the director painstakingly feeding the young actor his or her lines until the right take is captured. The performances in Stand by Me, on the other hand, are clearly not mostly created in the editing room. Reiner creates many sustained scenes with all four actors in the shot, picking up their cues, getting the timing spot on, stressing just the right emotional notes-in the director's own words, "like a piece of music."
All the main actors are standouts, but the one that continues to get the most notice is River Phoenix. In only his second theatrical feature and his first major role, Phoenix displays a talent, sensitivity, and depth that belie his age and relative inexperience. The final shot of him in the movie disappearing before his friend's eyes, playing a character we know has died young, gives the movie a special poignancy in light of Phoenix's own early death at the age of 23.
This may not be widely hailed as a milestone film in American cinema history, but Stand by Me is certainly one of the best of its type-a nostalgic coming-of-age story that uses period detail, a soundtrack of catchy pop songs of the era (including Ben E. King's rendition of the title tune, which became a big hit all over again), a comfortable narrative pace, and engaging performances to craft an endearing movie that continues to resonate with a segment of the movie-viewing public.
by Rob Nixon
Stand by Me (1986)
The film uses popular songs from the 1950s on the soundtrack, including "Rockin' Robin," "Great Balls of Fire," "Book of Love," "Lollipop," and many more, by the original artists and mostly justified in the story as being played on the radio during the boys' journey.
The most prominent song in the movie, "Stand by Me," is the one that gave its name to the film. It was written by Ben E. King, Mike Stoller, and Jerry Leiber and reportedly inspired by a spiritual, "Lord Stand by Me." Oddly, the song would not have been known to anyone in the 1959 setting of the story, since the initial recording of it by King was not released until 1961. There have been hundreds of versions recorded over the years. Because of the film, King's version garnered new popularity, rising to #9 on the charts in 1986 and subsequently used in a jeans commercial. In that same year, BMI recognized it as the most-performed song from a movie in 1986; the organization also named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century.
Aspects of the film have been referenced in other movies and television shows. The most frequent reference is to the line "Hey, you wanna see a dead body?"-a variation of Vern's "You guys wanna go see a dead body?" In an episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, one character says that another one "just performed the biggest train dodge since Stand by Me."
In July 2010, the town of Brownsville, Oregon, where much of the movie was shot in the summer of 1985, held a 25th anniversary festival that included a walking tour of notable sites. The film was shown in the evening. There was also a blueberry pie-eating contest, referencing the memorable scene of Gordie telling the "Lardass" gross-out story. One of the announced guests was Kent Luttrell, who played the dead boy in the woods. An organizer of the festival told the press he always thought the body was just a dummy.
Different Seasons, the story collection that included the movie's source material, the novella "The Body," also contained stories that were turned into the films The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Apt Pupil (1998).
In 1987, Rob Reiner and several partners founded the production company Castle Rock Entertainment, named for the fictional town in the story. The company still produces movies but is now a subsidiary of Time Warner.
Wil Wheaton once took his wife and children to Brownsville and was impressed to find a map in the visitor's center in five languages identifying sites from the movie. "It is a fairly major tourist destination and that just blew my mind."
On a visit to Tokyo in 1990 to promote his movie Toy Soldiers, Wil Wheaton went to a theater to see a stage production adapted from the movie. "They weren't producing Stephen King's 'The Body,' which Stand by Me originated from, they were producing Stand by Me the play. ... I thought it was so cool that this film, at the time I had done it five years before, was translated into another language, into another culture and then produced as a play. That was pretty awesome."
Impressed by the young actor's performance in Stand by Me, Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento wrote a song called "River Phoenix." The actor later visited the composer at his home and the two became good friends.
by Rob Nixon
Stand by Me (1986)
Reiner never directed any of the four principals again, although he did direct Kiefer Sutherland in A Few Good Men (1992). Wil Wheaton said he always wanted to work with the director again, but felt that Reiner probably only saw him as Gordie Lachance and not any other character.
Rob Reiner and Corey Feldman both appeared in cameos as themselves in the comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003).
In addition to his Directors Guild of America nomination for this picture, Rob Reiner has also been nominated by that group for When Harry Met Sally... (1989) and A Few Good Men. The latter film also garnered him an Academy Award Best Picture nomination as producer (with two others). Reiner's other awards and nominations include several Emmys and Golden Globes for his role on All in the Family. He also has three Golden Globe directing nominations and won the Hugo (science fiction) Award for The Princess Bride (1987) for Best Dramatic Presentation, shared with screenwriter William Goldman.
Wil Wheaton started acting when he was only about nine years old. He has appeared in small roles in a number of television shows and occasional features, and also does voiceover work. His most famous role after this movie was a recurring one as Wesley Crusher on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Corey Feldman also started acting early, at only seven in 1978. Just prior to this film, he appeared in such hit movies as Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985). He continues to do television, voiceover, and occasional film work.
River Phoenix, who started his career in television in 1982 at the age of 12, was believed to have the brightest future of any of the four leads. He got a number of important roles after this, including The Mosquito Coast (1986), Running on Empty (1988), and My Own Private Idaho (1991). His life and career were cut short when he died of a drug overdose on the sidewalk outside the Los Angeles music club, the Viper Room. He received Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Running on Empty, a performance which also garnered him a National Board of Review award. He won several awards for his work in My Own Private Idaho (including National Society of Film Critics and Independent Spirit awards for best actor) and for other projects.
Although the youngest and least experienced of the four leads, Jerry O'Connell has had arguably the most successfully sustained career, appearing in many television series and such films as Jerry Maguire (1996), Scream 2 (1997), and Piranha (2010). Ironically, as Rob Reiner noted, the little fat nerdy kid grew up to be a "hunk" who is now married to actress and former supermodel Rebecca Romijn.
Reportedly, the song "Stand by Me" was always intended to be used in the picture, even before it was renamed that.
Corey Feldman and director Rob Reiner tested 30 different laughs before deciding upon the one for Teddy Duchamp. The laugh happens to be similar to that described in King's story.
The boys aren't smoking real cigarettes in the movie. Reiner, a non-smoker who campaigned for anti-smoking laws in California, had the fake cigarettes made from cabbage or lettuce leaves.
In an interview by Stephen King in the special features of the DVD, he reveals that the scene with the leeches actually did happen to him when he was a child.
Stephen King often makes references to his other stories and has characters appear in more than one, and "The Body," on which this is movie is based, is no exception. Ace Merrill, the head of the older gang of bullies, also appears in the novel Needful Things. Teddy Duchamp's first mention in King's work was in his first novel, Carrie, in which Carrie destroys a gas station where he once worked.
Kiefer Sutherland claimed in a later interview that at one of the Oregon location shoots, a Renaissance Fair was taking place, and the cast and crew attended. They bought some cookies there that they found out later were baked with marijuana. Two hours later, the crew found Jerry O'Connell crying from being so high on the cookies.
When Ace and Eyeball meet up with Gordie and Chris, the plate glass window identifies the place they have just exited as Irby's Billiards, named after first assistant director Irby Smith.
River Phoenix and Bradley Gregg (Eyeball Chambers) were both in Explorers (1985) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
Kent Luttrell, who plays the dead boy found in the woods, has only had one other acting credit, for a 1997 television appearance, but he remains very active as a stunt performer and coordinator.
by Rob Nixon
Memorable Quotes from STAND BY ME
THE WRITER (Richard Dreyfuss): I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being. It happened in the summer of 1959, a long time ago, but only if you measure in terms of years. I was living in a small town in Oregon called Castle Rock. There were only twelve hundred and eighty-one people. But to me, it was the whole world.
CHRIS (River Phoenix): How do you know if a Frenchman has been in your backyard?
TEDDY (Corey Feldman): Hey, I'm French, okay?
CHRIS: Your garbage cans are empty and your dog's pregnant.
TEDDY: Didn't I just say I was French?
VERN (Jerry O'Connell): You guys wanna go see a dead body?
TEDDY: I'm sorry if I'm spoiling everybody's good time.
CHRIS: It's okay, man.
GORDIE (Wil Wheaton): I'm not sure it should be a good time.
CHRIS: You saying you wanna go back?
GORDIE: No. We're going to see a dead kid. Maybe it shouldn't be a party.
GORDIE: Do you think I'm weird?
GORDIE: No man, seriously. Am I weird?
CHRIS: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.
CHRIS: Wish the hell I was your dad. You wouldn't be goin' around talkin' about takin' these stupid shop courses if I was. It's like God gave you something, man, all those stories you can make up. And He said, "This is what we got for ya, kid. Try not to lose it." Kids lose everything unless there's someone there to look out for them. And if your parents are too fucked up to do it, then maybe I should.
VERN: Come on you guys. Let's get moving.
TEDDY: Yeah, by the time we get there, the kid won't even be dead anymore.
TEDDY: That was the all-time train dodge! Too cool! Vern, you were so scared you looked like that fat guy, Abbott Costello, when he saw the mummy.
GORDIE: Alright, alright, Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?
VERN: Geez, Gordie. Why couldn't you have gotten breakfast stuff? Like Twinkies and Pez and root beer?
GORDIE: Sorry, Vern. I guess a more experienced shopper could have gotten more for your seven cents.
TEDDY: This is my age! I'm in the prime of my youth, and I'll only be young once!
CHRIS: Yeah, but you're gonna be stupid for the rest of your life.
CHRIS: You're gonna be a great writer someday, Gordie. You might even write about us guys if you ever get hard up for material.
GORDIE: Suck my fat one, you cheap dime store hood.
Compiled by Rob Nixon
Stand by Me (1986)
By the 1980s, Stephen King was one of the most popular and successful American writers, a perennial best seller in the genres of horror, fantasy, thriller, and science fiction. In addition to many hit novels, several of which had been turned into major motion pictures, he also wrote dozens of short stories and novellas. One of these, "The Body," originally published in his 1982 collection Different Seasons, became the basis for this movie.
Despite his reputation for horror and thriller stories, King had wanted for a long time to write about childhood, the good and bad, funny and sad aspects of being a kid that he had experienced himself. He wasn't getting anywhere with the story until he hit upon the idea of having a group of boys, based on himself and his early adolescent friends, setting off to look for the body of another boy who had died. Although that plot point would seem to be another King horror device, the dead boy became only the impetus for what they experience on the trip they take into the woods to find him. "I think that most good stories about boys are stories about journeys," King said.
Rob Reiner was the Hollywood-raised son of comic actor-producer-writer Carl Reiner and an actor himself since 1959. His family connections and, more important, his popular success as the character Michael "Meathead" Stivic on the long-running TV sitcom All in the Family (1971-78), gave him the clout to move into directing, scoring big with his first feature, the fake rock documentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and the teen romance The Sure Thing (1985). For his next project, Reiner was attracted to King's story "The Body" because it was such a character piece and so personal to the writer. Reiner himself related to the story, having been a boy of roughly the age of the ones in King's tale in the late 1950s setting. King has also opined that he believed the story also appealed to Reiner's sense of humor.
The main focus of King's story was the tragic figure of Chris Chambers, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who is murdered later in life. The character of Gordie Lachance served mostly as the narrator, the writer looking back on Chris' story. Reiner decided the film would be more about Gordie, about a kid who doesn't feel good about himself and looks to his friends for the approval he can't get at home or from the adult world. "Once I hit upon that, I knew I could tell the story, because those were feelings I had growing up." A major change from story to screen was having Gordie pick up the gun at the end instead of Chris because Reiner wanted the climax to be about the moment of change in Gordie, his awakening and the beginning of the respect and accomplishment he would feel as an adult. King had no problem with the shift in focus Reiner wanted to make.
Reiner added the particular kid touches that were right for the period-the behind-the-back butt kicks, the pinky swear, the two-for-flinching game-as well as sayings like "So funny I forgot to laugh" and "Did your mother have any children that lived?"
The story by King was set in his native Maine, which was changed to Oregon for the film.
In March 1986, when Columbia Pictures had signed on to distribute, the film was renamed. Executives felt that "The Body" was a misleading title and might give the impression that this was a horror film since it was from a story by Stephen King. According to screenwriter Raynold Gideon, "Rob came up with Stand by Me and it ended up being the least unpopular opinion."
by Rob Nixon
Stand by Me (1986)
The major task before principal photography began was, of course, finding the right four actors to play the adolescent boys. Reiner realized to get the best performances, he would have to cast according to type, to match the young actors' real-life personalities closely to the characters they would play on screen. Any actor that age, he reasoned, would not have the craft to go too far from who they really were. He picked Wheaton for the part of Gordie for his intelligence and readily projected sensitivity, evident in his "doe-like" face. River Phoenix, as Chris, had something of a rebel about him yet also was a peacemaker, an "earth person," as Reiner put it, having been brought up by itinerant hippie parents who lived out of a VW minibus. Corey Feldman, as the troubled Teddy, was from a broken home, the product of many difficulties and negative influences, with a lot of the anger that Teddy possessed. "There was no other kid who walked into the room who had as much pain and turbulence in his life as I did, and he could see that," Feldman later said of his casting.
Corey Feldman later elaborated on his casting: "For the sake of honesty and to be really brash, what drew me to it was that my parents were my managers and I did what they told me to do. It was, 'Hey you have an audition with Rob Reiner.' 'You mean Meathead from All in the Family? OK cool, what does he want?' When I met with Rob, the first thing I thought was that he didn't look like Meathead anymore. He had matured and looked very much like a director. So immediately I walked in the room and took him very seriously. Number two, once I saw the material, I realized this was a bit more heavy than anything I had previously worked on. The subject matter was going to be a bit more difficult and a little more intensive than anything I had done in the past."
River Phoenix auditioned for the part of Gordie Lachance, but Reiner thought that he was more right for the role of Chris Chambers.
Rob Reiner: "River Phoenix was like, you know, he was a young James Dean and I had never seen anybody like this." Wheaton remembered being extremely impressed and a little intimidated by Phoenix because of his professionalism and intensity. The two grew especially close. Even though they were the same age, Wheaton describes Phoenix as a kind of father figure, as well as "one of the kindest people I'd ever been around. ... We stayed friends after we worked on the film, and I went and visited his family. I guess around the time that I was turning maybe 15, we just drifted apart, and I always felt really sad about that."
All three boys were experienced actors who had been appearing in films and television shows for at least five years (longer in Feldman's case). At only 11, Jerry O'Connell was the youngest of the bunch and had never been in a film. He had done a bit of TV and commercial work in his native Manhattan. Reiner saw him as this "kind of wacky, goofy kid, and perfectly suited" for the part of Vern. O'Connell later said he felt he had the advantage of not being a Hollywood kid full of preconceived notions about what he was supposed to do.
Reiner took his cast up to the Oregon locations where they would be shooting much of the picture, and began a couple of weeks of rehearsal, which he later characterized as acting classes. In the 2002 documentary about the making of the film, Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand by Me, Wheaton said he later learned that what they were doing were classic theater games designed to get them to trust and know each other, to be so in sync that it would appear they had been friends for a long time. After that, they spent a lot of time rehearsing the movie's scenes so that Reiner could get sustained takes of all the boys together giving performances that hit all the right notes, rather than having to do individual close-ups with each actor being "fed" his performance.
"I felt from the very first time we all got together up in Oregon that we were making something really special," Wheaton said in an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered."
Reiner credits much of his success with his cast to the fact that he had been an actor himself. Wheaton said he didn't realize it at the time, but that the experience of working with Reiner taught him the meaning of the term "an actor's director." In the making-of documentary, Kiefer Sutherland said of Reiner, "Because he's so proficient as an actor, he can allow you to discover a moment when in fact he's telling it to you."
Reiner later said that he wasn't getting the full emotion he wanted from River Phoenix in the scene where Chris breaks down, so he asked him to go off and think about a time when an adult he trusted really let him down. Phoenix came back and did the scene perfectly, although according to Reiner, it then took him a while to get over the emotions he had dredged up.
Reiner said even then Phoenix's talent was evident and that everyone was sure he would be an actor of great longevity.
For the part of the older, threatening gang of boys, Reiner chose some "veterans," notably Kiefer Sutherland, son of famous actor Donald Sutherland, and Casey Siemaszko, both of whom had been acting for several years and were in or approaching their 20s. Casting here was not necessarily to type. Reiner said Sutherland was a very soft-spoken, sweet, and intelligent young man who nevertheless relished the chance to be menacing and had a lot of fun with it. He did it so well, in fact, and stayed in character so completely during the shoot that he actually frightened the younger boys. "I wasn't scared of anyone on the set except Kiefer," Jerry O'Connell said. "He really made himself very menacing to us." Wheaton said he didn't recall being afraid of Sutherland or remember him being overtly menacing or cruel or anything like his character. "I just remember thinking, 'He's a really good actor.' He was one of those guys I just watched and tried to learn from being around. But I know a lot of the other guys, especially Jerry, were terrified."
Siemaszko said the filming was "kind of like a summer vacation, really, even though we were doing this film; it wasn't a big film in the sense that it didn't feel big budget. I don't think they spent much money on it. But it felt more like a summer vacation. I can't recall ever working like that since then really. [Rob Reiner's] a great storyteller obviously, I would go to the set just to hang out and watch him work and listen to the stories. ... When you're working, you're all playing your parts. There was an intensity when we were working but then they yell 'cut,' we were a bunch of kids, pretty much. It was really beautiful in Eugene, Oregon, we had great weather, it was just a fun group of guys and we were driving around a lot. I remember driving down to Portland a couple of times, hitting the bars and clubs and stuff."
Several actors were considered for the cameo role (and off-screen narration) of the Writer, i.e., the adult Gordie looking back on the adventure. Among them were David Duke and Michael McKean, who had starred in Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Some reports say Duke even began working on the picture but was let go when it was determined his voice wasn't quite right. Reiner finally decided to go with Richard Dreyfuss, whom he had known since they were both 15. Reiner had directed Dreyfuss in a theater production years earlier. Dreyfuss said it was not difficult finding the right tone for the voiceover because "the writing was self-evident."
The tree house seen at the beginning of the film was built specifically for the movie. Wil Wheaton says he was the one who came up with the bit about Vern not remembering the secret knock to get in.
The swamp was not a natural formation but one the crew dug and filled with water and vegetation expressly for the shoot. Wheaton said it was cold and also really "gross," primarily because they built it in June and shot the scene in August, when it really had become a dark swamp by then, with all kinds of things growing, living, and floating in it.
Reiner "agonized" over the pie-eating scene because he was having trouble trying to envision what kind of writer Gordie would become and how that would play out as a 12-year-old. "Ultimately, in my mind, he became Stephen King," Reiner said. "And Stephen King is a great story teller and most of the stories he tells are supernatural or there's horror involved." He decided to go over the top with it and make it rather cartoonish, the way it would appear in a young boy's mind. According to Reiner, the audience went crazy for it, justifying his decision to leave it in.
Parts of the film were shot in Brownsville, Oregon, the fictional town of Castle Rock in the movie. Other scenes were shot in other parts of the state, including in and around Eugene, Veneta, Franklin, and Cottage Grove.
The scene of the boys outracing a train crossing the trestle was filmed at Lake Britton on the McCloud River Railroad, near McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, California.
In the train-dodge scene on the trestle, Reiner was having trouble getting the right emotion out of Wheaton and O'Connell. After several takes he screamed at them about what a lousy job they were doing. Both boys started to cry, so Reiner had them get on the trestle and shoot immediately. The fear and distress we see on their faces in the film was the result of the director laying into them so strongly.
In the shot where Gordie and Vern are running towards the camera with the train right behind them, the train was actually at one end of the trestle with the two actors far on the opposite end. A telephoto lens compressed the image enough to make it look like the train was right behind them.
The roughly 60-day shoot was favored with sunny days, unusual for that sustained a period in Oregon, but since the story takes place over only two days, it was fortunate to have consistency in the weather.
The lead actors weren't allowed to see Ray Brower (Kent W. Luttrell) until they unveil him on camera; this method was used to unsettle the four boys and gain the best reaction possible.
by Rob Nixon
Stand by Me (1986)
By the mid-1980s, Rob Reiner had begun to build a very credible resume as a Hollywood director with the clever mock-rockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and the underrated teen road romance The Sure Thing (1985). For his next project, he took his inspiration from an atypical novella by contemporary horror maestro Stephen King. The finished work, Stand by Me (1986), is a wistful coming-of-age narrative, a reflection on lost innocence infused with adventure and humor.
Upon learning of the death of a childhood friend, novelist Gordie Lachance (Richard Dreyfuss) drifts back in memory to 1959, and the most eventful summer of a boyhood spent in the tiny community of Castle Rock, Oregon. With high school in the offing, the 12-year-old Gordie (Wil Wheaton) spends his time hanging with three kids destined for vo-tech. The hard-edged Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) is smart beyond his years, and saddled with the low repute of his no-account family. Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) is a smart-mouthed loose cannon, bearing scars from the abuses of his now-institutionalized father, yet still fiercely proud of the old man's record in WWII. A day's reverie in the tree house is interrupted when the chunky Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell), none too swift in any sense of the term, breathlessly shares the biggest secret of his young life.
Vern, as it turns out, was eavesdropping on a frenzied discussion between his badass older brother Billy (Casey Siemaszko) and his cronies. While joyriding in a stolen car, the teens came upon the corpse of a local kid who had recently disappeared. Rather than go to the authorities and be asked questions they can't answer, Billy and his crew decided to keep silent. Realizing that the older kids will keep their distance, the boys concoct a plan to hike the 20 miles to the body's location, and reap the media attention and other perceived benefits from their "accidental" discovery.
Leaving excuses with their families for the requisite two-day absence, the boys set out on a journey marked by camaraderie, conflicts with one another and occasional physical peril. Matters get further complicated when Ace Merrill (Kiefer Sutherland), the bully amongst Billy's gaggle of punks, gets tipped to the secret, and becomes determined to take credit for the body's recovery.
Screenwriters Bruce A. Evans and Ray Gideon did a commendable job of both preserving the letter and capturing the tone of King's semi-autobiographical tale "The Body," originally published within the anthology Different Seasons. They received the film's sole Oscar nomination for their efforts. Between the period detail, a soundtrack laden with catchy pop songs of the era (including Ben E. King's rendition of the title tune), the comfortable pace at which the narrative unfolds, and the four engaging performances from the young actors, Reiner and his collaborators crafted an endearing and resonant effort. "I give a lot of credit for the movie's success to Rob Reiner," Wheaton stated in a 2000 interview. "He had the presence of mind to cast actors who were not too far away from their roles and he had the patience and everything else it takes to work with twelve-year-old boys. He did a great job." Stand by Me particularly helped establish Phoenix as the era's juvenile actor to watch, the first of a string of thoughtful performances that was ended too soon by his death from a drug overdose in 1993.
Sutherland, in one of his first film appearances, made a lasting impression as the callous thug Ace. A lot has been made of the saltiness of the four young heroes' discourse, which was sufficient to garner Stand by Me an "R" rating from the MPAA and to probably forfeit a chunk of its potential theatrical audience. It may not be to all tastes, but on the other hand, it's not a dishonest representation of twelve-year-old boys' capacity for swearing in each other's company. Hollywood has seldom had cause to regret mining King's oeuvre, and two other novellas of Different Seasons would ultimately be filmed as The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Apt Pupil (1998).
Producer: Bruce A. Evans, Raynold Gideon, Andrew Scheinman
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: Stephen King (novella), Raynold Gideon, Bruce A. Evans
Cinematography: Thomas Del Ruth
Film Editing: Robert Leighton
Art Direction: Dennis Washington
Music: The Chordettes, Buddy Holly, Jack Nitzsche
Cast: Wil Wheaton (Gordie Lachance), River Phoenix (Chris Chambers), Corey Feldman (Teddy Duchamp), Jerry O'Connell (Vern Tessio), Kiefer Sutherland (Ace Merrill), Casey Siemaszko (Billy Tessio).
by Jay S. Steinberg
Stand by Me (1986)
Because of the boys' language, the film garnered an "R" rating from the MPAA, which likely kept audiences the age of the characters from seeing it but still allowed it to be very well-received by its intended demographic, those who were young adolescents during the late 1950s setting of the story.
Casey Siemaszko was in Los Angeles the weekend the film opened in only a few theaters. He passed one in Westwood with a line around the corner and was astounded to realize it was for Stand by Me.
At the time of the picture's release in the summer of 1986, Rob Reiner was in London working on The Princess Bride (1987). "I was so nervous about it because it was the film that was most reflective of my sensibility of the films I've done," he said. "If it did well I would say 'OK this validates me and people are interested in the kinds of film I want to make,' and I thought if it doesn't do well, I don't know what I'm going to do because this is the kind of thing I want to do." His nervousness didn't last long. The film was a hit almost immediately.
Rob Reiner said that although the film was an instant success, it might not be considered so now, when it's necessary to do more than $20 million on the first weekend. "I don't think we ever made more than $3.5 million any weekend, but it just stayed in theaters forever. We just never dropped and people loved it."
Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. They were also nominated by the Writers Guild of America.
Both the film and Rob Reiner as director were nominated for Golden Globe Awards.
The film, director (Reiner), and the screenwriters were all nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards.
The National Board of Review named Stand by Me one of the ten best films of the year.
Stand by Me was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film by the Japanese Academy.
The film's title song, sung by Ben E. King, won the Most Performed Song from a Film at the 1988 BMI Film & TV Awards.
Casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson were nominated for Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama by the Casting Society of America.
Rob Reiner was nominated for his direction by the Directors Guild of America.
The four principal cast members (Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell) were given the Young Artist Award for their work.
"Stand by Me falls somewhat short of being a first-rate 'small' picture about adventurous small-town adolescent boys, although director Rob Reiner is to be lauded for coming close. ... Scripters have written inspired dialog for this quartet of plucky boys at that hard-to-capture age when they're still young enough to get scared and yet old enough to want to sneak smokes and cuss." - Variety, December 1985
"Stand by Me is the summer's great gift, a compassionate, perfectly performed look at the real heart of youth. It stands, sweet and strong, ribald, outrageous and funny, like its heroes themselves-a bit gamy around the edges, perhaps, but pure and fine clear through. It's one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed. The screenwriters, Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, have seen this trek by four tight buddies, about to move into junior high school, with the greatest clarity." - Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times, August 8, 1986
"I think [Rob Reiner] must have resonated with some of the boyhood experiences [in the story] because the direction is so sure-handed." - Stephen King, Walking the Tracks: The Summer of Stand by Me (2002), documentary about the film's creation. In the same program, King also declared that Stand by Me was the first completely satisfying adaptation he had seen of his work.
"The Ben E. King theme song and all the imagery of tousled adolescents preening themselves like miniature James Deans rekindle memories of old jeans commercials, but the film is so well-observed and so energetically acted by its young cast that mawkishness is kept at bay." - Geoffrey Macnab, Time Out Film Guide (Penguin, 2000)
"The line between sappy and sweet is a razor-thin one. We've all been held hostage by coming-of-age stories that shamelessly cudgel us into sniffling submission. And while they might succeed in making us reach for the Kleenex, we rarely feel good about it afterward. Then there's a movie like Stand by Me, which gets your tear ducts working honestly. ... Rob Reiner's film is all about the journey, not the destination. And all of his young actors are great." - Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly, March 17, 2011
by Rob Nixon