The Bonfire of the Vanities
If you're going to live in a whorehouse, there's only one thing you can do: be the best damn whore around.
, written by Tom Wolfe, was originally serialized in Rolling Stone
in 27 installments starting in 1984. It was published in novel form in 1987.
New York City. Sherman McCoy is a married investment banker and self-proclaimed "Master of the Universe" who carries on an affair with socialite Maria Ruskin. One night, they take a wrong turn in the Bronx and encounter two (supposedly) threatening black youths. In their confusion Ruskin, who was driving, accidentally runs over one of them; he is left in a coma. When word of this breaks out, all hell breaks loose for McCoy. Meanwhile, an Amoral Attorney
, a tabloid reporter, a Strawman Political
religious leader from the Bronx, an ambitious district attorney, and...well, the bulk of characters that the book follows decide to use the racially and socially-charged case to further their own agendas.
In 1990 the book was filmed. Directed by Brian De Palma
and starring Tom Hanks
, Bruce Willis
, and Melanie Griffith
, it was a critical and commercial disaster. Writer Julie Salamon was granted full access during the Troubled Production
and her book The Devil's Candy
explains what went wrong.
The novel and film feature examples of:
- All-Star Cast: In a weird way, this may have actually contributed to the film's failure. The characters in the novel are almost uniformly self-serving, amoral, and unsympathetic. The filmmakers chose to cast actors like Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, and Bruce Willis, whom audiences then found some of the most likable actors in Hollywood.
- Big Applesauce
- The Big Rotten Apple: 1980s New York at its most dysfunctional on every level of society.
- Door Stopper
- The Eighties
- Epic Movie: The movie was intended as this — huge budget, A-list cast and director, based on a bestselling and award-winning book, lots of characters, some posh settings.
- Jerkass: Most of the characters in the book aren't supposed to be likable.
- Irishman And A Jew: Detective Martin and his partner Detective Goldberg; like most of the homicide bureau, Goldberg has assimilated to the prevailing Irish-American cultural ethos.
- It Tastes Like Feet: A character says that Chinese wine tastes like "Dead Feet," which is the nickname for his boss.
- Narrator: Fallow in the film adaptation.
- The Oner: The opening sequence of the film, tracking Peter Fallow as he arrives for an awards presentation, takes the viewer from a parking garage to a hotel ballroom in one long shot.
- Pretty in Mink: Maria in the movie wears a long sable coat.
- Quote Mine: Fallow successfully paints the victim of the accident as an honor student based on an interview with one of his teachers, who explains that anyone who shows up to classes and doesn't cause trouble at that particular school might as well be one.
- Race Lift: Alan Arkin was originally cast as the Judge, but when the producers decided to change the character from Jewish to African-American, he was replaced by Morgan Freeman. The change was due to complaints led by Spike Lee that, as it was, the story was racist.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The film version attempts this by changing the ending.
- Writing Around Trademarks: In the novel, while the characters ride in real car brands like Mercedes and BMW, they also eat at "Texas Fried Chicken" and use their "Global Express" card to buy things.