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Film / Diggstown

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Gillon: There's two things we never joke about here in Diggstown, Mr. Caine: our boxing and our betting.

Diggstown is a 1992 boxing-themed comedy-drama film directed by Michael Ritchie and starring James Woods, Louis Gossett Jr. and Bruce Dern. The film is based on a novel by Leonard Wise. It plays on cable television a lot.

Gabriel Caine (Woods) is a conman with a plan to hustle the corrupt city boss of Diggstown, John Gillon (Dern), with a daring boxing wager. "Honey" Roy Palmer (Gossett), a retired, almost-was boxer, must defeat ten opponents in 24 hours to win millions of dollars. Both sides of the bet try to out-fox the other with various schemes to rig the contest in their favor.

A young Heather Graham plays Emily, sister to Caine's prison buddy Wolf.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass:
    • In the book Honey Roy is thirty-nine years old, his fights with the other ten boxers are stretched over 48 hours and he suffers some permeant injuries by the final fight. In the film, Honey Roy is 48 years old, takes on the other ten boxers in 24 hours and comes out of it with no significant injuries.
    • Caine. 1) In the book he wasn't a Prison Escape Artist. 2) His final Batman Gambit, securing Torres cooperation to lose the final fight wasn't in the book and 3) he doesn't raise the stakes of the bet enough to break Gillon's bank, instead having to flee town with his winnings and his accomplices the instant the last fight is over.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Robby doesn't have a core of decency in the book, and along with minor boxers Sam Lester and Sonny Hawkins, is a KKK member and all around Jerkass who tries to shoot Honey Roy himself after the fight as opposed to stopping his father from shooting someone.
    • Torres is also genuinely nasty and dedicated to painfully defeating Honey Roy in the book.
  • Adaptational Villainy
    • Billy is a Nice Guy who throws his fight for Caine in the book as well as being the only one of the town's young men who isn't racist. In the film he is a racist and tries to beat Honey Roy.
    • In the novel, Boss Gillon never drugged Diggs (and even seems to view him as a Morality Pet), never orders any (successful) murders, and never cheated the town out of their land. He also takes his losses with a certain sense of grace and amusement (although he loses less in the book than he does in the film). In the movie, he's a poison-mean Sore Loser who's screwed over almost everyone around him with no remorse and is behind two successful murders.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Tank, the eighth boxer, is the only Diggstown fighter to go the distance with Honey Roy in the book but gets Ko'd in the film.
  • Adapted Out: Several of the Diggstown locals from the book were dropped from the film, including: Reverend Hawkins (father of Sonny Hawkins), Emily's friend Sally Kay Lester (sister of one of Honey Roy's opponents) and her father and other brothers, Buck Holland's wife and sister, Gillon's wife and daughter, Emily's parents, Chet Meeks (an African-American businessman and reluctant associate of Gillon), Cornelius Robbins (a poor farmer who trains as one of the boxers before forfeiting like Robbie did in the film) and local Miss Kitty Kelly Loveale (who recommends her bouncer Tank to be one of the boxers).
  • Auto Erotica: Implied - when Caine gets out of prison, a woman in a convertible is waiting for him, and the guards watching jeer at the fact she doesn't even kiss him hello. Then Caine and the women get into the car, and the women immediately bends down as if she's going to fellate him, at which point Caine turns to the guards and smile.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Slim Busby doesn't put on a very convincing show while he's Throwing the Fight.
  • Batman Gambit: Caine's plot requires a bunch of them:
    • Fitz's role depends on Gillon's son accepting his wagers and losing to the point that Gillon will find out and have to accept Fitz's boxing bet to rescue him.
    • Caine counts on Palmer joining the plan after it's already underway. Palmer objects to the trope's use but follows it anyway.
  • Battle of Wits: The anti-hero and villain are both hustlers and con-men. The central conflict is essentially a battle of wits to out-con the other and stack the boxing match in their favor.
  • The Bet: Caine and Gillon bet on whether or not Palmer can win ten fights in a single day against ten men from the county where Diggstown is.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Caine is a con man who is trying to win a bet by fixing a bunch of boxing matches. Gillon for his part is thoroughly evil and has no problem committing murder to win that same bet.
  • Canon Foreigner: Hammerhead Hagen, the only man to ever beat Honey Ray in a fight, wasn't in the book.
  • Caper Rationalization: Cain is taking down the corrupt Gillon and getting back all of the land he cheated away from the locals in the process.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Happened to Diggs during his last fight from having been poisoned by Gillon.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Frank challenges Fitz to a game of cards, Fitz tries to warn him, "Cards have a way of turning into money in my hands." Frank and the others decide to play him anyway, and sure enough, Fitz cleans their clocks not only at cards, but also at pool (which he also said he was good at).
    Fitz: Hustling?! Now ain't that a bitch. Did I ask you to play pool? Did I? Did I beg to play cards with you? Hell no! I told you I was going to win! Now you're all upset because you didn't listen?
  • Celebrity Paradox: Caine tries to inspire Roy by reminding him that he's black, saying, "It's a Roots kind of thing." Louis Gossett Jr. was in Roots.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: A fighter is disqualified for kicking Roy in the crotch. He goes on hitting the referee, before Roy strikes back.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Minoso Torres, the prison fighter seen giving a beatdown to Wolf Forrester in the opening scene, is brought back at the climax, as Palmer's 10th opponent.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In her first scene, Emily mentions she works at the bank. She later uses this position to steal Gillon's financial records.
  • Composite Character: Fitz, as Caine had two accomplices who shared his role in the book.
  • The Con: Subverted by the fact that both Caine and Gillon know that the other is trying to hustle them, but make the wager anyway, believing that they will get the upper hand.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Sonny, the unfortunate victim of Honey Roy's Tranquil Fury.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Gabriel Caine
    • When the prison warden is holding a gun on him...
    Caine: You know, Warden, I owe you an apology. When they told me you had blanks in your clip, I didn't know they meant your gun.
    • When the underling of the gangster who's fronting his bet is about to hang him from a tree:
    Paolo: It looks like I finally get to kill you after all.
    Caine: Well, that's a distinct possibility. But I'd bet, I don't know, four dollars against an hour with your mother that it doesn't turn out that way. (Paolo punches him in the stomach) You're right. That was insulting. I'm sorry. Five bucks.
  • Death by Adaptation: Slim Busby escapes being caught for throwing the fight in the book and isn't killed.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Emily has a much bigger role in the novel (although considering that she's also only 17 there and still in a relationship with Caine, the change isn't entirely a bad one).
    • All of the boxers receive a decent bit of characterization throughout the build-up to the fight in the book but half of them are just walk on characters in the film.
  • Deep South: As always, filled with violent racists!
  • Down to the Last Play: Partially justified. Hypothetically Palmer could have gotten knocked out by the third boxer or something, but then the movie wouldn't have had a Happy Ending.
  • The Dragon: Paolo, who really wants to kill Caine for some unexplained reason, is this to Victor Corsini.
  • Fat and Skinny: More like brawny and skinny, but the Busby brothers have this.
  • Good Counter Part: Caine and Guillon are both shrewd, well-dressed, and wager fortunes on boxing matches that aren't entirely fair, but Guillon is a killer, and Caine has a Caper Rationalization.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: Fitz on the morning after the setup. The pills he took when he was husting the hillbillies at cards and pool prevented him from getting intoxicated, but they can't stop the hangover.
  • Hope Spot: A rare villainous example when Gillon celebrated a little too soon when Gabriel threw the towel, before Honey Roy crushed his hopes by catching it.
  • Hustling the Mark: Fitz in the setup, with the rednecks in the bar.
  • Insistent Terminology: Gabriel is a conman, not a hustler. In the beginning, he states that hustlers flee town after scoring, while conmen can leave at their leisure. When Gillon thinks that he has Gabriel beat, he chastises him, "Never hustle a hustler," but Gabriel corrects him, "Never con a conman," just before pulling his final con.
  • Ironic Echo: A particularly awesome non-verbal example. Gillon signals to a fighter to throw a fight by standing up, straightening his tie, holding a thumb up and then turning it down. Caine does the exact same thing to Palmer's last opponent, Minoso Torres, to let him know it's time to throw that fight.
  • It's Personal: As Honey Roy put it after seeing the lives Gillon has ruined or ended:
    Honey Roy: It isn't about the money anymore.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Caine intends to bribe the Diggstown fighters. Gillon suspects this, and brings in Minoso Torres from the prison... who was also bribed by Caine, before the setup.
  • Kick the Dog: Gillon holds one boxer's brother hostage, threatening to kill him if the boxer doesn't knock out Palmer. He doesn't knock out Palmer.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Gillon, after building his empire by betting on a rigged boxing match, loses it the same way.
    • Frank and Billy, who fight dirty and hurl racial insults at Honey Roy, who makes sure to humiliate them and inflict a fair amount of pain when he defeats them.
  • Loophole Abuse: Both Caine and Gillon try to use the wording of their agreement to their advantage. Caine insists that a day must be 24 hours and that it must start exactly at midnight, hoping that the farmers wouldn't be used to getting up so early. Gillon insists on expanding the definition of "Diggstown" to encompass the entire Olivair County to be able to bring in a Super Ringer in the form of Minoso Torres, a prison inmate in the county. The time between the verbal and written agreements also makes an appearance, when Gillon moves another Super Ringer into the town the day before the written agreement is signed, thus allowing him to participate in the fight. Additionally, a fight only starts when both fighters enter the ring, so Gillon forces his son to step up to the ring and leave before entering. Caine and Palmer assume that it counts as a fight, but Gillon uses it to bring in Torres after Palmer is tired, since he technically counts as fighter #10.
  • Made of Iron: Honey Roy takes a beating from several fighters in a 24 hour period, only to emerge victorious. Even during one fixed fight, he encourages the fighter to hit him harder to sell the fix, stating, "I ain't made of glass!"
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: In Caine's Establishing Character Moment, a fellow prisoner comes up behind him and sticks a cigarette pack in his back pocket. Caine turns around, smiles, and says, "Alex - is that $10,000 or are you just happy to see me?" Turns out it is $10,000 so Caine can help the prisoner escape.
  • Out-Gambitted: Gillon is defeated after a back-and-forth battle of gambits to rig the wager. Realizing that he'd been bested by a superior conman, Gillon admits, "You beat me fair and square!"
  • The Place: The film is named after the town it is set in.
  • Playing Drunk: Fitz in the setup, faking intoxication to win a lot of money from the rednecks in the bar.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Frank Magrum and Billy Hargrove, two of Honey Roy's opponents. In the book, Sonny Hawkins, Sam Lester and Robby Guillon also are, but Sonny and Sam are Demoted to Extra here, while Robby receives a treatment of Adaptational Heroism, and Billy receives some Adaptational Villainy to fill that gap.
  • Prison Escape Artist: Caine found a way to make a business out of this by breaking other inmates out of prison in exchange for money while remaining behind himself to serve out his time. By the time he's released, the warden has gotten wise to this and is pretty hostile towards him over it.
  • Race Lift: Diggs was African-American in the book but is white in the movie.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Corsini is willing to let Caine raise the bet, but with implicit threats about what may happen if he tries to run out on it.
  • Red-and-White Comedy Poster: While the film has a lot more violence and death than your typical comedy, the film poster's color motif emphasizes its comedic aspect.
  • Scary Black Man: Hammerhead Hagen, the only man to ever beat Honey Roy in a fight.
  • Second-Face Smoke: One of Palmer's opponents takes a puff on a cigar as he enters the ring and then does this to Palmer. Palmer responds by knocking him out with ease.
  • Serious Business: Two things that the town of Diggstown lives by: boxing and gambling.
  • Shout-Out: When Caine is trying to inspire Palmer against a particularly tough fighter, he gives a little speech acknowledging how tough his opponent is, ending with, "But you remember this! You... are black." Palmer wonders what the hell that means, and Caine admits he was trying to inspire him; "It's a Roots kind of thing." Palmer retorts, "Well, you're shit at motivation."
  • Spanner in the Works: The fight with Hagan is the one on which the whole fight hinges. He's Roy's old nemesis and an even match for him even on a good day, he's fresh while Roy is fighting tired after besting 8 opponents already, and it's one of the few fights that isn't fixed. Neither Caine nor Gillon knows how this fight will go. Everything rides on whether Roy has enough left to go the distance against the toughest opponent he's had all day. Afterwards Caine tells Roy, "What you did today... couldn't be done."
  • Super Ringer: Played twice, for the two last fights. For the ninth, Gillon drafts Hammerhead Hagan, who had moved into the county before the rules were made. The second time, Gillon has recruited Minoso Torres from the prison, which is within the county.
  • Tattooed Crook: Prison boxer Torres is a tattooed felon with a fearsome reputation.
  • Throwing the Fight: Gillon does it in the introduction. Caine intends to do it later.
  • Training Montage: In the second act involving Honey Roy and the opponents Honey Roy was up against.
  • Tranquil Fury: Honey Roy, during his fight against Sonny. As Gillon lampshades, "His mind is at a different place right now"
  • Underestimating Badassery:
    • One reason why Slim Busby decides to throw his fight for a few thousand dollar, and convinces Hambone to do the same, rather than go for the bigger prize being offered to the winner, is by saying that Honey Roy might not even get as far as the two of them (he does, and then some), and so why not take the money in hand.
    • Also, Gillon gets some of this while thinking he can beat Caine and Honey Roy.
  • Villain Respect: While Gillon's associates all downplay Palmer's abilities when they're looking at his record, Gillon reminds them Palmer has won a lot of cash fights and is capable of knocking people out with a single punch, so they shouldn't underestimate Palmer. Even when Gillon is giving his fighters a Rousing Speech, he reminds them Palmer is dangerous, which is why he wants them to destroy Palmer's abilities.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Gillion gradually starts to lose his composure after losing the bet, snarling at passersby until he goes into a rage and tries to command the sheriff to execute martial law and capture Gabriel's crew in the street as they try to leave. He's rejected, having lost his power. He then grabs the sheriff's gun and tries to shoot Caine himself, only for his son to step in and disarm him, disgusted with his father.
  • Wardens Are Evil: The local warden is willing to shoot a gun within inches of an unarmed prisoner, outright have another prisoner murdered, and help Guillon slant the boxing match by supplying one of his fighters.
  • Wham Shot: The final boxing match seems like a desperate battle against overwhelming odds. Then, mere seconds into the match, Caine whistles for Torres's attention and motions for the opposing boxer to throw the fight while deliberately mimicking Gillon's body language from when he pulled the same stunt earlier in the film. This reveals that Torres is working with Caine, and has been since before the movie began, allowing Caine to triumph over Gillon.
  • You Need to Get Laid: When the warden tells Caine they'll meet each other again as Caine is getting out of prison, Caine tells him, "You know what your problem is? You need to get out more. You spend too much time in the company of men."
  • Your Mom: Caine offers to make a bet, "Four dollars against an hour with your mother" to Paolo.