Actor-director Danny DeVito, reports Trevor Johnston, started out by single-handedly shooting cockroach snuff movies, now he’s a top Hollywood hyphenate. In his latest blockbuster, The War ofthe Roses. he stands back and watches as fractious yuppies Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner beat
‘What is that? Is that a fan or something? Can we get that shut off?’
Danny DeVito announces his arrival at Claridges on a drizzly February afternoon with a demand that the swish hotel’s too-insistent air-conditioning be shut down. As he bursts into a previously placid lounge for a promotional audience with a select band ofjournos, his compact five-foot frame spurts forward with the dead-ahead impetus of a bowling-ball heading down the alley. His roly-poly build and sheeny bald pate confirm the notion, as we unwitting hacks prepare to be toppled like pins by the diminutive actor/director’s whammo acerbity.
Wow, just five feet. That’s quite impressively small for a movie star. I can’t help but think of the old Randy Newman song Short People, the lines that run They got little hands,/ They got little feet,/ Drive little cars that go beep beep beep. But then I always was a deeply caring individual. Anyway, he can't be that sensitive about his height, or before you could say ‘Alan Ladd‘ we would’ve been doing a first ever press conference from a trench. Still, best. to avoid the subject perhaps, dinky Danny looks the irascible type; a man who wouldn’t think twice about chinning you one, if there was a step-ladder handy.
He‘s fresh off the plane from the Berlin Film Festival screening of his latest movie The War of The Roses. A marital black comedy starring long-time associates Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner, it should not only consolidate his endearingly agitated screen presence but add to his growing reputation as one of Hollywood‘s most fearless directorial stylists. a process initiated by the sleeper success of'his first behind-the-lens offering, 1987‘s matricidal chortler Throw Momma From The Train. Having turned out a number ofself-financed low-budget shorts in the early Seventies, he cut his pro teeth behind the camera on the TV comedy classic Taxi where he shone as the tyrannical controller Louie [)ePalma for five award-winning seasons from 1978. so his burgeoning A-list directorial statUs is hardly attributable to mere movie idol arrogance.
each other to a pulp.
In the flesh, first impressions are that he‘s making out to be just as cantankerous as the fictive curmudgeons he’s made his speciality. Little men with clenched fists like Vincent Benedict, DeVito’s scheming sibling to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins, Baltimore aluminium salesman Ernest Tilley who gleefully rams rival Richard Dreyfuss‘s brand new cadillac in Barry Levinson's splendid Tin Men, and Ruthless People‘s especially mean small-time tycoon Sam Stone, a man delighted when Bette Midler, his loving spouse, is kidnapped, leaving him free to trot off with his mistress. In these movies he‘s an energy-packed misanthrope, but somehow sympathetic because the audience shares his enjoyment in the misfortunes ofothers. And we all love the little guy, perhaps even more so if he‘s a total bastard.
‘You know why I made this movie?‘ he declares. ready to begin pronouncing upon his favourite subject: Danny DeVito. ‘I had this fantasy when I first read the script for War Of The Roses that I was gonna be able to take Michael and Kathleen, who by the way are great friends ofmine, grease ‘em up. hang them 35 feet in the air and shout UK
Kathleen Turner everyone, that's lunch.I A half/tour please." A broad, self-satisfied leer tops the statement with a ﬂourish as the death throes ofthe air-conditioning spew forth an unearthly ‘ Vvvzzhurrgghh'.
‘Whoah, I think we got a little backwash there.‘
Lighting up his face is the same keen sense ofmischiefthat runs through the new movie. While Throw Momma From The Train was
content merely to snap at the heels of mumsy-wumsy sentiment, The War Of The Roses goes at the whole idyllic bourgeois caboodle of lurve, marriage, brats, success and apocalyptically fractious divorce like a pit bull terrier whose incisors never loosen their grip. Though DeVito is right to stress that it‘s not a sequel but ‘another canvas‘, the film draws on the Tracy-Hepburn charisma that Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner developed through the two Romancing The Stone movies (where, incidentally, DeVito himself upped his profile as the baddie-cum-comic relief), as the ideal couple Oliver and Barbara Rose make life‘s journey from love at first sight to fear and loathing in suburbia. ()r, as DeVito describes it, ‘from ththering Heights to Full MetalJacket in under two hours.‘
For a Hollywood picture it's pretty tough stuff. DeVito plays Gavin d‘Amato. a lawyer charged with the briefofhandling the Roses’ divorce proceedings and also acting as the narrator whose telling of the tale frames the uproarious action. Priceless jade statuettes are smashed. faces punched. Morgan sportscars totalled. and dogs churned to pate as the tussle for the domestic spoils, always dirty, finally rolls right on past that last exit to cop-out city.
In a particularly eye-watering moment 'I'urner takes the opportunity ofan initially friendly bout of fellatio almost to bite off that which she could not chew. leaving the by now thrice shy Douglas to cool off over a soothing bidet. ‘You might not know this.’ Danny confides, ‘but Mike is one of the sickest people you're ever gonna meet in your life. A great guy though. gives a hundred per cent. Only time he'll back off is when there‘s an LA Lakers game on. ya know what I'm saying. And he is completely naked in that bathroom. Yep. there‘s a nude scene in my movie but they still show it on airplanes. The Pope could see my movie.‘
'l'hat‘s right. my movie. The War Of The Roses never lets you forget for a moment that it's being very vigorously directed by Mr Danny DeVito, going one further than Throw Momma From The Train in sheer llitchcockian brio. At first I
thought he was merely showing off. as the camera swoops and cranes and dollies and peers at the action from a variety of rather oblique angles. I began to realise that the style is actually impressively integrated with the content: as the characters' psychology escalates to a maniac crescendo, so the directorial style gets increasingly extreme. He obviously knows what he‘s doing. but how does he handle the pressure of being auteur and star rolled into one‘.’
‘()ccasionally as a director I gotta deal with Danny DeVito the actor. who‘s like a big shot and won't come out ofhis trailer. so I gotta talk him into it because I'm over schedule and he gives me a real hard time. But then the way I look at DeVito as a film-maker is that he couldn't direct traffic. So it‘s a two-way street. And if you accuse me of being a schizophrenic, I‘m gonna dig deep down and find a way of abusing you real bad right here in front of all your coHeaguesf
Still, he's earned the right to joshgj
4'l‘he List 23 March - 5 April 1990