ROXANNE [1987]: on Dual Format 21st November

Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,




REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic



C.D. “Charlie” Bales, the fire chief of the small American ski town of Nelson, Washington, is intelligent, humorous, charismatic and athletic. He’s sensitive about his large nose, which many in town have learned to not mention, and is unable to have it surgically altered because of a dangerous allergy to anesthetics. He becomes immediately attracted to beautiful newcomer Roxanne Kowalski, an astronomy graduate student searching for a new comet. She really likes C.D., but only as a friend, preferring Chris, a handsome but dim fireman also newly arrived in the town. Roxanne goes to C.D. for help when Chris fails to advance their relationship further than curious glances, and, through a sequence of events, thinks Chris is intelligent. Then Chris asks C.D. to help him win Roxanne….


I only got around to seeing Roxanne for the first time a couple of years ago, principally because seeing Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac as a teenager made such an impression on me that the thought of an American updated ‘rom com’ version with a happy ending even then filled me with horror. Then in 1990 I saw the wonderful French film version, which made up my mind not to see this vulgar Yank travesty even more, despite its good reputation and my liking for some, though not all, of Steve Martin’s films. But around Christmas last year a second hand DVD decided to make its way into my possession for the princely sum of £1 and actually….the film surprised me in a really positive way. It was very sweet, very funny and extremely whimsical without being cloying. It had probably the best performance from Martin I’d ever seen. And there was actually a hell of a lot of the original play in it, and the overall adaptation done with taste and care. Watching it for the second time on Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray confirmed my feelings that the final act doesn’t entirely work, not necessarily because happy has replaced sad, but because parts of it seem rather contrived. However, it doesn’t ruin the overall experience.

Much like myself, Martin had seen and loved the play at an early age [12 in his case] and throughout the 1980’s wrote 25 drafts, as well at one point giving up and asking Gore Vidal to script the movie. Early versions had Chris die in a fire, and at one point Roxanne was pregnant with his child and C.D. ended up helping to raise the kid. Eventully his final script was greenlit by Columbia, and it was studio head David Puttnam who suggested casting Daryl Hannah as the female lead over Martin’s choice of Chrstine Lahti. The film was shot in the real town of Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, using the local fire hall on as a primary set as well as nearby Anmore and Vancouver. Martin’s nose make up took 90 minutes to apply every day and two minutes to take off. Typically for a Martin film, some of the funniest moments were improvised on set. The famous scene which has him supposedly say 20 funny insults about his nose but actually rattle off 25 had seven comments cut, while other deleted moments including an opening of C.D. running into the old ladies  who appear later] who are obsessed with the TV programme Dallas, Chris struggling to buy supplies in a stationary store, C.D. dressing his firemen down for being annoyed that they have to leave their day jobs to rescue a cat in a tree, and some scenes with the Mayor. Roxanne was released to a very positive critical and commercial response.

The opening saxophone music, coming as it does from a time when so many films, especially lighter ones, had opening saxophone music, does immediately date the movie somewhat, though unusually the majority of the rest of the score tends to use classical music. We are then introduced to C.D., a happy, carefree sort of person who would rather jump or skip along a path rather than just walk, and we immediately get the first transferring of a scene from the original when, instead of a sword fight, C.D. easily bests a couple of drunks wielding ski poles with a tennis racket. He first meets the newly moved-in Roxanne when she accidently locks herself out of the house naked [I won’t take the trouble to explain exactly how] and C.D. goes and gets his box of tools….which only contains a Master Card. Then he climbs and swings and jumps up the house [his incredible athletic ability goes unmentioned throughout the whole film] to get in through a lucky window open in the loft. Of course he’s immediately besotted, and when the two characters seem to bond over a shared interest in astronomy, it seems like you’re about to get that scene when two people fall in love [well, one of them does], but once Roxanne has spotted Chris in a bar, he’s all she wants, especially as this woman who wants to meet an intelligent bloke for a change mistakenly thinks he’s clever. After all, C.D. can’t even have a drink without using a straw. He’s extremely popular, and may have the love of the town, but feels that he’ll never have the love of a woman.


The peculiar love triangle that develops, with both Roxanne and Chris wanting help them win over the other person, and C.D. actually writing letters for Chris, manages to be amusing, sad and painful to watch at the same time, just like in the play, and reaches hilarious peaks when telling Chris over the radio what to say to Roxanne and some police reports are tuned into which Chris inadvertently repeats, and when the hidden Chris is actually speaking for C.D. [we’re forgive the silliness of Roxanne being able not to recognise C.D.’s voice]. C.D. pouring out his own feelings to Roxanne for the benefit of Chris is so poignant and it was at this stage in the film where, on my first viewing, I truly realised how good a version of Cyrano de Bergerac this was, largely because it was giving me all the complex and mixed [they even retain Roxanne being just a bit dislikeable to the point where you sometimes wonder if she’s worth all this] emotions of the original. After this though things do go downhill a little as the mechanisms in the story required to bring us to the new happy ending don’t always convince, and it’s a shame that Chris, who, with his rather sweet shyness [to the point of running away and throwing up when Roxanne appears] and lack of brain cells, is turned into someone far less likeable. There’s also C.D.’s god-sister Dixie [Shelley Duvall in a great little part], who seems to be quietly in love with him [just compare her reaction when it is clear that C.D. is in love with Roxanne, to when Roxanne tells C.D. that she’s interested in Chris – both Dixie and C,D. have the same expression of dejected acceptance]. It’s a mark of the success of the film though that, come the end, I was still pleased that it ended the way it did [and I didn’t have to cry for a change].

There’s a lot of random, throwaway stuff in this film, like C.D. scaring off some old ladies with talk about aliens who want to mate with older women, though even this is inspired by a scene in the play, as is the nose insults scene when someone insults C.D.’s nose and C.D. responds with a series of far funnier insults to his nose which is a truly side splitting couple of minutes which should get anybody laughing away [in fact if you’ve never seen the film before then you’ll probably find yourself rewinding bits because you’re laughter may make you miss the next joke]. Then there’s the antics with C.D’s incompetent team of firemen who lose control of the hose, drive the truck while bits fall of it, and don’t even bother to take the truck [they just run off] when answering one call-out. These bits have no bearing on the plot but I’m so glad they’re there anyway. It’s great to have a film like this with so many type of humour; slapstick, verbal, subtle, crude [just a little], you name it – and it means that everyone should get at least a few laughs out of it. Fred Schepisi, a solid director of various subjects probably best known for A Cry In The Dark [but who in my opinion should be best remembered for his shattering drama The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith], handles all this extremely well, adeptly balancing the often disparate aspects of the film and choosing to use lots of wide shots to emphasise the quaint, small town environment.

Roxanne was kind of a transitional movie for Martin who was starting to get away from his “wild and crazy guy” persona he’s previously established. His part here required a far broader range than he’d demonstrated before, and he totally pulls it off, nailing the serious bits as well as the silly ones, and showing an ability to be subtle when needed. The under-appreciated Rick Rossovich also does well in a part which in some ways is almost as hard [and which Martin would probably have played several years before], especially considering the awkwardly scripted arc of his character. Daryl Hannah lets the side down a little, not really convincing in certain moments, but it’s not enough to derail the film. Overall, Roxanne is one of those movies that really shouldn’t be anywhere as good as it is. It’s really quite delightful.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆


The 2009 Region ‘A’ Blu-ray of Roxanne has been criticised for being too dark and too soft, but I can’t certainly can’t make those criticisms of Eureka’s version, which obviously comes from a much better restoration. Colours are strong and there’s plenty of depth, even if overall it’s hardly what could be considered reference quality. Sadly aside from the trailer there are no special features. I guess it was thought that many who would buy this movie wouldn’t be interested in such things, but I reckon that many fans of the film and Martin fans would have liked to have seen, for example, the deleted scenes, or some information on then. If a making-of documentary wasn’t feasible, then a featurette covering all the references to Cyrano de Bergerac would have also been nice. O well, the film’s still worth buying, and has probably never looked better.



*New high-definition presentation
*Stereo and 5.1 soundtrack options
*English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
*Original theatrical trailer

About Dr Lenera 3110 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.


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