Forgotten Friday Flick – “The Bonfire Of The Vanities”

Forgotten Friday FlickThis week in our continued Friday dissection of past De Palma ditties I’m heading down a controversial road with a film that even the man himself has distanced himself from – welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick!  Destined to be one of the most discussed and disagreed with selections to date (it was after all nominated for five prestigious Razzie Awards!), my choice this week is a film I (and my movie loving father!) consider to be one of the most notable in the areas of black comedy.  Though short on signature style, there’s a distinctively devious and delicious over-the-top humor that cannot be ignored.  And for those who claim “it’s not like the book” remember this is a movie – a movie called…The Bonfire of the Vanities.


Sherman McCoy is a Wall Street investor who is on top of the world.  He makes millions, has power, a loving family, and even a great apartment in New York.  But far from being satisfied his greed and cold wife have pushed him into a lusty affair with Southern Belle named Maria Ruskin.  One night while picking her up from the airport the two make a wrong turn into the South Bronx and they find themselves confronted by various suspicious characters.  But when a tire blocking the ramp to the expressway forces Sherman to get out of the car, he finds himself face to face with a couple of intimidating African-American gents and things get out of hand.  Sherman jumps in the car, Maria speeds off and the two don’t realize that they’ve hit one of the guys on the way out.  Not wanting to report their accident or have their affair come to light, Maria demands Sherman keep it to himself, but thanks to an inquisitive down on his luck journalist named Peter Fallow all dirty deeds are about to come to light.

Bonfire 2

Sounds somber in the description above perhaps, but rest assured newbies (and for those who already watched it and didn’t get it the first time!) Brian De Palma’s The Bonfire of the Vanities is a comedy.  Broad, dark and twisted, but a comedy nevertheless. Look no further than the wild and chaotic memorable opening sequence – a long steadicam shot that follows Bruce Willis’s drunk Peter Fallow through many hilarious happenings on the way to his book launch.  (A handful of Salmon goes a long way!) It’s a fabulously funny piece of footage that seriously sets the tone for the sideshow antics to follow – and what a show it is.  In what can only be described as the inventing of a scapegoat, Tom Hank’s hapless and helpless Sherman McCoy is forced to pay for his sins by being vilified by folks willing to stoop lower than him.  The politically slimy F. Murray Abraham, the shameful religious zealot John Hancock (love me some Reverend Bacon!), the ass-kissing lower lawyer Saul Rubinek and even jaded journalist Geraldo Rivera himself all create larger-than-life caricatures to hammer the humor home.  (The only grounded person in this flying circus is Morgan Freeman’s stone-faced judge – and even he gets off some great zingers!)  Even the ladies in Sherman’s life bring their own self-serving baggage to the comedy table including De Palma regular Melanie Griffith as Hank’s shameless lust de jour Maria and Kim Cattrall as his shrew wife – all work to add ferocious to the funny.  (Racism, sexism and the like are salaciously skewered – nothing is off limits!)


Most may ask what makes The Bonfire of the Vanities a good De Palma film?  On the outset it isn’t – there’s little of his normal visual eye candy (only the opening and one split screen moment!), the tone is light (low on mystery and suspense!) and it doesn’t fit in the mold of what we’re used to seeing from the Hitchcock inspired auteur.  But a change in film categories doesn’t make the movie any less effective and from a comedic standpoint De Palma and team are right on the money with this one.  Much more than a simple comedy of errors, more scathing than cinematic Sunday afternoon fare and certainly not a book (never read it, never will!), The Bonfire of the Vanities sets fire to the source material and political correctness for warmth and then unapologetically roasts marshmallows – cause caustic comedy gets hungry too.

Bonfire poster


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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