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Film / Tough Guys Don't Dance

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"Oh God, oh man! Oh God, oh man!"
Tim Madden

Tough Guys Don't Dance is a 1987 crime mystery film noir drama film written and directed by Norman Mailer based on his novel of the same name.

Tim Madden (Ryan O'Neal), a former bartender and ex-con, currently struggling to make a living as a writer and who is prone to blackouts, awakens from a two-week bender to discover a tattoo reading "Madeline" on his arm, and a bloodbath in his car. He shortly finds a woman's severed head in his marijuana stash in the woods. He then must flash back to the events that led to this, with the help of his former girlfriend Madeleine (Isabella Rossellini).


This film contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: Of the most confusing kind. A majority of this film is told in flashback, but the flashbacks happen in random order, and trying to piece them back together in the order they happened is an exercise in frustration. It doesn't help that there are no visual cues whatsoever; hairstyles and ages stay the same, even years apart, and there aren't even any very helpful voiceover cues or title cards. It can be the most confusing when you think you're watching one time period when a character who's supposed to be dead shows up again.
  • Big "OMG!": The "Oh, God! Oh, man!" from Tim.
  • Gilligan Cut: Madeline warns Tim about the dangers of dealing coke. “I’ll never get busted,” Tim promises. Immediately the scene cuts to him in a holding cell with a bunch of rough-looking types.
    Inmate: Whaddaya in for?
    Tim: Dealing.
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  • How We Got Here: The film begins with Tim waking up from his bender and going back to his steps to find out what happened.
  • Off with His Head!: Tim finds a woman's severed head alongside him, which really puts a lot of pressure on his What Did I Do Last Night? dilemma. Soon another severed head turns up, that of Patty Lareine.
  • Title Drop: The film features one early on when Time ask his father Dougy about his drinking:
    Dougy: Six months ago, they told me to stop or I was dead. I stopped. Now the spirits circle around my bed and they tell me to dance. I tell 'em, "Tough guys don't dance." They answer me, "Keep dancin'."
  • Voiceover Letter: Madeleine is heard in a voiceover when Tim is reading her letter about her husband having an affair with Tim's wife.
  • Wham Line: The aforementioned Voiceover Letter, which horrifies Tim, and leads to him saying "Oh God! Oh man!" over and over.
    Madeleine: My husband is having an affair with your wife. I don't think we should talk about it... unless you're prepared... to kill them.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Tim wakes up from a blackout to find himself in a strange situation, included a woman's severed head.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: In most scenes, Patty Laraine's accent sounds like an exaggerated southern Belle type voice. In others, particularly the scene where she confesses she wants to leave her husband and ultimately be with Tim, the accent is closer to "stroke victim." In fact, there is a stroke victim in this film who is more intelligible.


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Tough Guys Don't Dance

Tim loses it after he finds out in a letter that Luther Regency is having an affair with Patty Lareine, and Madeline Regency has ordered him to kill them in this infamous scene.

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