Film: Down By Law

"I scream-a, you scream-a, we all scream-a for ice cream-a!"
Roberto AKA Bob

Down By Law is a 1986 independent film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It stars John Lurie, pre-Oscar Roberto Benigni and musician Tom Waits.

Jack (Lurie), a pimp, and Zack (Waits), a disc jockey, are both imprisoned in Louisiana for crimes they didn't commit. Before long they're joined by Italian immigrant Roberto (Benigni), who was arrested for manslaughter (which he did commit).

Roberto soon comes up with a plan that allows them to escape prison together; they then must navigate the swamps and forests of Louisiana without being recaptured.

Well known for its beautiful cinematography by Jarmusch associate Robby Muller.


This Movie Contains Examples of:

  • Beware the Nice Ones: Roberto, the friendliest man in the trio, is the only one jailed for a real crime - murder by cue-ball.
  • Deep South: The film was shot in and takes place in Louisiana and New Orleans and makes use of the swampy scenery.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The whole film is shot in black and white.
  • Frame-Up: As noted above.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Roberto is Italian and doesn't known much English besides the phrases he's written down in his notebook.
  • Great Escape: Played with. The film's focus is not on the escape itself (in fact the details are never revealed), but on the characters involved.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Averted and played straight in the first few scenes with Zack and the prostitute.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever method the trio uses to escape from the prison.
  • Power Trio: The three main characters. Roberto mediates between Jack and Zack who always end up fighting.
  • Prison Riot: Using the page quote above, Roberto manages to provoke a general outburst that comes very close to dissolving into an example of this
  • Punk in the Trunk: The reason for Zack's imprisonment.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Reversed. Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi met on the set playing charaters who fall in love and eventually got married in Real Life.
  • Tom Waits: Not only does the film star the man, it features two songs from his '85 album Rain Dogs: "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" and "Tango Till They're Sore".
  • What Are You in For?: The three prisoners go through this with each other.
  • You All Meet in a Cell: Or at least the three leads do.