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The Big Bounce

The Big Bounce(1969)

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While many writers have proven harder to crack in the transition from the written word to the silver screen, it's galling how often filmmakers have stumbled while adapting the prose of neo-hardboiled maestro Elmore Leonard. Discounting early westerns like 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre, the long-forgotten 1969 curio The Big Bounce marked the first "real" Leonard adaptation and kicked off decades of smart-talking, sharp-shooting crime yarns ranging from excellent but not entirely faithful stylistic exercises (Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, Mr. Majestyk) to well-intentioned misfires (Stick, 52 Pick-Up). Unfortunately this film falls into the latter category.

After losing his temper and whacking another player across the face with a baseball bat, young ne'er-do-well Jack Ryan (Ryan O'Neal) - no relation to the Tom Clancy character - becomes an aimless man for hire, thanks to a criminal record including such transgressions as assault (the aforementioned baseball incident, trumped up with a claim that Ryan was wielding a knife) to burglary (due to his former habit of entering people's homes and, well, sitting around for a while, apparently).

Enter Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young, of Peyton Place TV fame), a fresh-faced minx with a penchant for larceny and gold-digging. While not busy teasing potential sugar daddies by lolling around naked in swimming pools, she twists Jack around her finger and gets both of them embroiled with vicious criminals and stolen loot.

Amiable and sunny, The Big Bounce is difficult to really dislike but fails to make much of an impression. Leonard's snappy prose has been flattened out into a prosaic, question-response rapport between the characters more attuned to an episode of Route 66 (not surprisingly, director Alex March's resume consists almost entirely of television work). The normally plastic O'Neal is actually not a bad choice here, as his golden boy looks and blank demeanor make him a decent patsy figure. Unfortunately the smiling Taylor-Young doesn't fare as well; she's just too refined and intelligent to pass as a low-rent girl hustling for a buck. The major points of interest are the surprising amounts of nudity (both Taylor-Young and O'Neal flash more skin than expected) and Mike Curb's loosey-goosey jazz and lounge score, which shamelessly apes Jerry Goldsmith's contemporary efforts like Bandolero! and The Flim-Flam Man.

Warner's DVD marks the home video debut of this obscure Sunday afternoon TV favorite, finally restored to its original Panavision dimensions. Apart from the opening credits switch from Academy ratio home movie footage to anamorphic titles, the framing is never used in a particularly imaginative fashion but at least all of the actors finally appear onscreen during the many dialogue scenes. The sumptuous Monterey scenery comes across nicely thanks to a vibrant transfer; the shades of gold and blue on display here are simply luxurious.

The sole extra is a theatrical trailer, which at least sells this better than the incoherent promos for the 2004 George Armitage remake with a much more charismatic Owen Wilson stepping into O'Neal's shoes and a location switch to Hawaii. Designed to cross-promote with the remake's theatrical release, this DVD is still an odd footnote in the Elmore Leonard cinematic casebook but should prove diverting for crime film fans in an easygoing, forgiving mood.

For more information about The Big Bounce, visit Warner Video. To order The Big Bounce, go to TCM Shopping.

by Nathaniel Thompson