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By Paul Fischer

Larry Bishop’s sardonically surreal gangster comedy, Trigger Happy, offers a unique slant on this most popular of genres. But then Bishop, whose father Joey was a member of the famed Rat Pack along with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, was determined to try something different.

"I’m driving around when suddenly the expression ‘there but for the grace of God -‘ pops into my head. And that’s curious to me. What does that mean exactly… It’s the relationship between ‘grace’ and ‘god’ that finally formed the basis for this movie. Trigger Happy is God looking for his lost grace; that’s what’s underneath the film." OK, now THAT’S settled, one wonders why Bishop decided on the gangster movie as the means to explore this highly philosophical theme.

"Once I took the normal conception of God as being all-powerful and all-good, with Grace taking on the latter, what do you have left? All power, and to me, that’s gangster land." After a lengthy stay at a mental hospital, mobster Vic (Richard Dreyfuss) is being released. In his absence, "Brass Balls" London (Gabriel Byrne) has taken over control of the operation. Now, though, it's time for Vic not only to reconcile differences with his wife (Ellen Barkin) and his mistress, his wife’s sister (Diane Lane) but to act like a mad dog and reclaim control of his empire. Vic's rivals can walk, hop or crawl away peacefully, but challenging him could prove to be fatal.

"There’s more to this movie than meets the eye."

At the outset, Trigger Happy seems like another shoot ‘em up gangster flick with a considerable number of dead bodies by its conclusion. But, says Bishop, there’s more to this movie than meets the eye. "Once I’d taken the Grace out of the Grace of God, I was not left with a story of good vs evil or a story of guilt. Because I’d taken the morality out of it, the standard of morality was Amoral, which was different to the redemptive stories that Scorsese was talking about or the desperate characters of Tarantino. Mine were characters who were in the high life sensibility, never short of cash. None of these characters were ever going to have to worry about money."

The film also pays tribute to the former rat pack, in ways you’d never thought of. "The way I actually see this movie as if the Rat Pack did Waiting for Godot. It’s as if Frank and Dean were hired by Samuel Beckett to go to Broadway and do Waiting for Godot, and then in the midst of the previews, they started to get so bored, that they decided to change some lines, get some girls in, get some guns, and start up a couple of nightclubs, and that turns into Trigger Happy."

"Because I’d taken the morality out of it, the standard of morality was Amoral."

The film also pays tribute to the Rat Pack by using many famous standards performed by Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr. Sinatra, himself a close and generous friend of Bishop, has been said to have had mob connections. "You couldn’t be involved in nightclubs in the 40s and 50s without being involved in what was known as ‘the underworld’. So it was something I felt existed. I never asked anybody ‘who that guy was’; I was trying to figure things out for myself. So when I was a boy, there seemed to me to be a PERMANENT link between entertainment and the underworld, because that was the way I was brought up. You knew that when someone came over to my father who did not look like a singer, a dancer or a ventriloquist and was acting differently from anyone else, that he was more likely from the underworld than the world of entertainment."

"I was delusionally confident on this movie; in fact I don’t think I even acted like a director."

This was Bishop’s first stab at being director, and it was, he confesses, far easier than he imagined. "I was delusionally confident on this movie; in fact I don’t think I even acted like a director. I wanted to direct the movie as if Dean Martin would direct it. I didn’t walk around with a cocktail in my hand, but I kinda walked around in an incredibly laid back and casual manner. To me, directing consists of so many pre-defined jobs, that I kept on wondering: do I really have to be here every day? I mean, the cinematographer has his shot list, the production designer knows how I want the sets built, the actors know how to act, what do they need ME for? I was surprised that I had to show up every day."

"I wanted to direct the movie as if Dean Martin would direct it.."

The former actor and Sinatra godson is now a film maker, and while Trigger Happy has very much divided critics and audiences alike, Bishop is keen to continue on this road to film making glory, and the gangster film is still of interest to me. "I have this gangster movie called Underworld, which I wrote, and stars Dennis Leary and Joe Mantegna." Then he’s about to star, produce and direct his next script, Flying Bullets, which he promises offers yet another slant on an all familiar genre.

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Larry Bishop


CAST: Ellen Barkin, Gabriel Byrne, Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, Dianne Lane, Kyle Maclachlan, Burt Reynolds, Henry Silva - with cameos by Paul Anka, Richard Pryor, Rob Reiner

DIRECTOR: Larry Bishop

PRODUCER: Judith Rutherford James

SCRIPT: Larry Bishop


EDITOR: Norman Hollyn

MUSIC: Earl Rose


RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes




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