Legal Eagles

As murder-mystery, romantic-comedy movie capers go, Legal Eagles is an oldie but a goodie.

Director Ivan Reitman, best known for the smash hit Ghostbusters, pairs Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment) with Robert Redford and brings a kind of Hepburn-Tracy sensibility to the antics and sparks that animate these characters. Daryl Hannah, coming off her splash in Splash, offers the appealingly ditzy waif-child-victim-seductress as the third leg of the romantic triangle and the centerpiece of the story’s art caper mystery. Nice mix.

Of course, the filmmakers blow up a warehouse for good measure, too. And for you music aficionados out there, a film that starts off with The Rascals Good Lovin’, segues into Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride, and ends with Rod Stewart’s Love Touch over the final titles has its bona fides solidly in place.

In the brief (9-minute), old style (promo-like) “Making of…” bonus feature on the DVD, the backstory reminds us of Redford’s comedic talents, not seen since his stint with Jane Fonda in the film version of Barefoot in the Park. Hints of his dryly humorous flair appear in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but most of the time, the serious topics of Redford’s films give nary a clue to the wry humor beneath the blond locks, baby blues, and chiseled chin.

Legal Eagles offers both story and character, letting us in early on the contradiction of Redford’s bumbling lawyer — who tap dances in the bathroom at midnight when he can’t sleep (really!), drops the grocery sack instead of sitting it on the counter, and burns the toast (fire in the oven) for his daughter’s breakfast, but nails the case as a top-notch lawyer in the D.A.’s office. Go figure.

Winger and Hannah — both equal to the task of standing up to Redford’s screen presence — bring their characters to life in realistic ways. We’re also treated to excellent performances from wonderful veteran actors Brian Dennehy, Terence Stamp, John McMartin, and Roscoe Lee Browne, with sightings of then-new performers Christine Baranski as Redford’s legal assistant and David Clennon as a legal bean-counter looking to take over Redford’s job. Great fun.

The New York City modern art scene also serves as an important ‘character’ in the film and director Reitman makes the most of it. Not only do we see real Picassos and more, an impressive two-story Giacometti sculpture is used as a fire pole during the last escape sequence. The amazing special effects around all the episodes involving fire in the film include a moving flame in a performance art piece of Hannah’s.

With nice parallels in story construction, a multi-layered tale, deft comedic touches, and enough star power to light up the city, Legal Eagles wins the case hands down.

Cast: Robert Redford, Debra Winger, Daryl Hannah, Brian Dennehy,
Terence Stamp, Steven Hill
Director: Ivan Reitman
Theatrical release: 1986; available on DVD

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos