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Roxanne (1987, Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah)

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There’s a cruel gag to be found in the later nose-dive of STEVE MARTIN’S career, but with Roxanne he was at his versatile, spontaneous and likeable best.

This romantic comedy sees him as small town Fire Chief C.D Bales. His character’s initials offering a clue to the film’s source – Edmond Rostand’s play, Cyrano De Bergerac, the story of a poetic swordsman who falls for a local beauty but is thwarted by an accident of birth which has cursed him with an oversized nose.

Bales is similarly afflicted and has developed a seemingly thick skin. This disguises his natural shyness, and prevents him from making advances to Roxanne Kowalski (DARYL HANNAH), an astronomer who has recently moved to the town. Another obstacle is Chris (RICK ROSSOVICH), a handsome but shallow member of Bales’ staff who soon becomes the target of Roxanne’s attention.

Unsure of his own literary talents, Chris asks his boss to write her a love letter. Its poetry and power instantly succeed, making Bales the unwitting third point in a love triangle. While trying to coach Chris in the art of seduction the ruse is accidentally revealed. Roxanne’s next move will decide both their fates.

Loving echoes of W.C. Fields and Mack Sennett hint at the old-fashioned nature of MARTIN’s tour-de-force. Nevertheless, he is not afraid to update the material, best illustrated in the famous bar-room scene where he is asked to crack 20 nose-related gags. He ends up telling 25 (‘keep that guy away from my coke’), and does his own stunts throughout. Director Schepisi wisely leaves the movie in his hands, but adds some superior sight gags and an admirable lack of fuss to ensure his first comedy project remains among his personal best.

Perhaps the film’s biggest achievement is its genuine crossover appeal. Any movie that can unite the Daily Mail (‘a highly acceptable way of passing an evening’) and the NME (‘sparkling one-liners…bravura routines’) is surely worthy of closer scrutiny.

production details
USA | 107 minutes | 1987

Director: Fred Schepisi
Writer: Steve Martin, after Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac

cast
Steve Martin as C.D. “Charlie” Bales
Daryl Hannah as Roxanne Kowalski
Shelley Duvall as Dixie
John Kapelos as Chuck
Michael J. Pollard as Andy
Fred Willard as Mayor Deebs
Rick Rossovich as Chris McConnell
Max Alexander as Dean
Matt Lattanzi as Trent
Damon Wayans as Jerry
Jean Sincere as Nina
Ritch Shydner as Drunk #1
Kevin Nealon as Drunk #2
Caroline Barclay as Girl in Street
Heidi Sorenson as Trudy
Shandra Beri as Sandy
Merrilyn Gann as Mrs. Quinn
Blanche Rubin as Sophie