Follow TV Tropes


Film / Foul Play

Go To

"Beware of the Dwarf!"

A 1978 comedy/thriller film written and directed by Colin Higgins, starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.

Hawn is Gloria, a shy divorcee and librarian living in San Francisco, back during the time when a librarian could afford to live in San Francisco. One day, she decides to follow a friend's advice to throw caution to the wind, asking out a stranger whom she helps out when his car breaks down. When they meet at the movies that night, however, he's been shot, and manages to blurt out a cryptic warning — "beware of the dwarf!" — before dying. She goes to get help, only to find that someone has taken the body before she can get back to her seat.

Suddenly embroiled in a lethal conspiracy, Gloria finds herself being hunted by various parties who are eager to find out what she knows and make sure she doesn't tell anyone else. Various complications — including a diminutive salesman (played by the legendary Billy Barty), albino assassins, a lecherous British bachelor (Dudley Moore) and Detective Tony Carlson (Chase), a handsome police officer assigned to investigate her increasingly bizarre story — ensue.

Hawn and Chase reunited two years later for Seems Like Old Times, a Screwball Comedy in the Tracy/Hepburn tradition.

Miller/Boyett also adapted the film as a short-lived TV series in 1981 starring Barry Bostwick and Deborah Raffin (who play Suspiciously Similar Substitute characters for the originals for some reason), with an instrumental theme tune based on "Ready to Take a Chance Again".

This Film Contains Examples Of:

  • Actor Allusion: Dudley Moore once again plays a character named Stanley, as he had in Bedazzled.
  • All Part of the Show: In the climax, the villains try to assassinate the Pope at a theater, leading to a shootout backstage when the authorities intercept them. When the curtain rises to show two dead bodies, the Pope thinks it's part of the performance and claps.
  • Artistic License Biology: Albinism is usually associated with a host of eye disorders causing visual problems. In other words, an albino probably is not going to get work as a sniper. Plus, his eyes should be pink, not white.
    • It could be that he isn't a true albino and is just referred to as "The Albino" because of his white hair and eyes and tendency to dress all in white.
  • At the Opera Tonight: The film climaxes with a chase for the assassin through the San Francisco Opera House during a performance of The Mikado.
  • Bald of Evil: The Turk, one of the Mooks, is bald as a cueball.
  • The Brute: Whitey Jackson, a tall, intimidating albino man who never speaks and is the biggest physical threat.
  • Cain and Abel: Archbishop Thorncrest and his brother Charlie. Charlie is one of the main plotters to assassinate the Pope, and murders his brother the Archbishop in the opening scene.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Stanley wants to be a Kavorka Man but doesn't manage to get anywhere.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tony weaponizes his clumsiness by shoving several racks of bottles onto Rupert Stiltskin.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: If a TV or radio is on during this movie, it will mention the Pope's visit to San Francisco.
  • Cold Sniper: The albino, whose face hardly moves even while he's shooting people.
  • Concert Climax: It takes place at a performance of The Mikado.
  • Concert Kiss: Tony and Gloria at the climax, onstage, after the albino has been killed.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The second and third meetings of Gloria and Stanley—randomly at a massage parlor, then randomly at an opera—are pretty unlikely.
  • Cool Old Guy: Gloria's elderly landlord Mr. Hennessy is patient with her You Have to Believe Me! stories, doesn't charge her nearly as much as he could for an apartment the size of hers, and defeats two of the villains in a goofy martial arts duel.
  • Curtain Camouflage: Played with. Gloria enters her apartment and has a feeling that someone else is in there. She goes to the bathroom and whips open the shower curtain, only to find nothing. Then she turns around to discover the man with the scar in the doorway.
  • Dragon Their Feet: While the main planners in the plot to assassinate the Pope are already defeated, Whitey Jackson has already been sent to shoot the Pope at the theater, and killing him is the object of the climax.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Many, many shots framed to show the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Bay Bridge, or cable cars, or Alcatraz. There's even an audio effect of a cable car's "ding ding" bell thrown into one scene for no reason.
  • Evil Laugh: Mr. Hennessey's snake somehow makes one.
  • Evil Twin: Archbishop Thorncrest has an evil, murderous brother Charlie.
  • Feng Schwing: Stanley's apartment.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: Sure, San Francisco wasn't as much of a theme park for the rich in 1978 as it is in the 21st century, and sure, maybe kindly old Mr. Hennessey is giving Gloria a break on the rent. But still, it strains credulity that a librarian could afford an apartment of that size.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Gloria brings a vase down on J.J.'s head. It doesn't seem to affect him that much, although she certainly does maim him afterwards.
    • Mr. Hennessey takes out Charlie by hitting him in the head with an empty Perrier bottle.
  • Happy-Ending Massage: Gloria is held prisoner in an apartment above a massage parlor. She briefly escapes downstairs, only to find poor Stanley waiting for his happy ending.
  • Hot Librarian: Gloria is played by Goldie Hawn, after all.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Actually Scotty gave her the microfilm well before he was mortally injured, but he does meet her as he's dying and she is stuck with the microfilm.
  • In the Style of: It's an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, with a plot that freely borrows elements of The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps, a scene that's an extended reference to Dial M for Murder, and the San Francisco setting of Vertigo, along with some nods to his other movies.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: The bad guys have a nasty tendency to keep pulling this on Gloria.
  • Japanese Tourist: As Tony and Gloria race to save the day in the climax, they commandeer a car with a Japanese couple in the back. They don't understand much English, but they know what Kojak is, and when the heroes communicate that they're in a Kojak-esque situation, the tourists are thrilled to be along for the ride! ("Bang bang!")
  • Just One Little Mistake: Tony and Gloria would have completely bought the fake Cardinal Thorncrest's cover story about why criminals are riding around in his limousine if not for the fact that his supposed secretary has a "Tax the Churches" pamphlet in her purse, odd reading material for an employee of the Catholic Church. Without that slip up, Tony wouldn't have known where to look for Gloria after her kidnapping, and he'd have never known about the assassination attempt at the opera.
  • Kill and Replace: Happened with the Archbishop after his twin brother killed him in the opening scene and impersonated him when Gloria and Tony show up at his house.
  • Little People Are Surreal: Billy Barty as a Bible salesman.
  • MacGuffin: The microfilm that the dying man slips to Gloria. It gets burned up before anyone ever sees it, but by then she's already enmeshed in the criminal conspiracy to kill the Pope.
  • Meaningful Name: The albino assassin is named Whitey Jackson.
  • Monochromatic Eyes: The albino assassin has completely white eyes.
  • Murphy's Bed: Stanley has one that's tricked out for kinky sex, with a trumpet noise as it folds out, a mirror above, the works.
  • Not Quite Dead: Gloria stabs "Scarface" with knitting needles. He gets back up from that and tries to attack her with a poker, but Whitey finishes him off from the window with a thrown knife.
  • Oh, Crap!: A minor one at the end; Stanley, who was conducting the orchestra during the climactic performance of The Mikado, noticed the Concert Kiss between Gloria and Tony, recognized that Gloria was the same blonde he ran into twice before, and then noticed that Tony was carrying a police badge. He immediately felt the need to slip on a pair of sunglasses.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations:
    • Scotty finds Gloria at the movie theater. Scotty, who is rapidly bleeding to death, says things like "There's going to be a murder" and "Call the police" to Gloria, but she thinks he's talking about the Alan Ladd movie playing on the scren.
    • Gloria is trying to persuade Stanley to escort her home because she's been attacked by a hired killer and fears for her life. Stanley thinks she's throwing herself at him. Things get increasingly misinterpreted.
    • Later, Gloria thinks a dwarf is threatening to kill her. He's actually just trying to sell her a bible.
  • One Head Taller: 5'6" Goldie Hawn paired with 6'4" Chase. She has to stand on tiptoe to kiss him at the climax.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: The audience at The Mikado gets one during the climax after Tony shoots Whitey, who falls into the rigging of a fake HMS Pinafore, combined with the weight of a cop Whitey shot earlier, causes the ropes holding the fake ship above the stage to slip free, and the fake ship comes down to the stage, with the bodies in the rigging.
  • The Peeping Tom: When, at Stanley's apartment, Gloria requests a pair of binoculars (to better monitor the albino who has been pursuing her):
    Stanley: Binoculars? Are you into that as well?! I read about it in Penthouse magazine!
  • Phallic Weapon: The film's poster art includes a very unsubtle example.
  • P.O.V. Cam: A spinning POV shot as Gloria collapses in a faint.
  • Professional Killer: Rupert Stiltskin, who has been hired to kill a very important figure.
  • Punny Name: Gloria Mundy and Rupert Stiltskin. As well as an albino known as "Whitey".
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Subverted; a snake appears in Gloria's landlord's apartment with sinister fanfare, but it turns out it's the landlord's pet snake Esmee, whom Gloria is fond of.
  • The '70s: Oh man, Stanley's apartment... Probably as close to Room Full of Crazy as posible without hinting at actual obsession. Bonus points for Stanley being just an ordinary perfect stranger to Gloria.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Gloria is wearing a revealing cocktail dress in the last act.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Silver Streak, which was also an Alfred Hitchcock homage laced with broad comedy written by Colin Higgins.
  • Straw Atheist: Assassinating the Pope?
  • Straw Feminist: Gloria's friend Stella has tendencies towards this, appearing to view every man Gloria mentions — or every man in general — as a potential rapist.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Two of the villains commit assassinations by throwing knives at their targets.
  • Villain in a White Suit: Professional Killer Whitey Jackson mostly wears a white suit, which he swaps out for a similarly colored jumpsuit when he goes to assassinate the Pope.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The film opens with one of the villains assassinating his brother, a Cardinal.
  • The Voiceless: The Albino doesn't say a word in this movie. He's seen talking on the phone at one point, but the viewer can't hear him.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The villains present themselves as this; they claim to have initially tried peaceful methods to provoke the reforms they seek, only to have become radicalised as powerful interests moved against them.
  • Western Terrorists: The radical atheists who want to kill the Pope.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Archbishop Thorncrest's secretary isn't seen at any point after the opening scene. Since the archbishop was killed and replaced, it can be implied the same was done with her.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Mr. Henneseey has a kung fu fight with a villain who is an elderly woman.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Played with; although Gloria is reasonably calm and articulate when she tries to make her case (or at least as calm and articulate as a meek librarian with little experience in being plunged into a murderous conspiracy can be under such circumstances), she has difficulty in getting anyone to believe her story partly because it sounds so crazy, and partly because people keep hiding the evidence before she can show it to anyone (such as moving dead bodies).