Where else would Hollywood go to shoot a movie titled The Vagrant?
Phoenix, the setting for enough downbeat titles to program an all-existential film festival, is again playing host to makers of movieland magic and/or muck.
The Vagrant came to town last week. Production trucks, lights, cameras, actors--even a few key grips--have been observed clogging the short blocks of Cambridge Avenue and Virginia Street in midtown Phoenix, just west of Central Avenue.
All filming for the movie, which is scheduled to wrap in mid-May, will be done locally. About twenty area locations will be used, including the old Maricopa County Courthouse and a dusty trailer park near Buckeye. Interiors will be done at CJS Film Studios, a facility in the far-west Valley. At least one action sequence, featuring the obligatory careening automobiles, will be shot on Central Avenue.
The film's budget is $8 million--peanuts by Hollywood standards. A "black comedy" about a harried yuppie harassed by a neighborhood bum, The Vagrant is property of the Los Angeles-based Brooksfilms, run by legendary shtick-monger Mel Brooks. His only involvement, however, will be as executive producer. Though the stars and director are not household names, The Vagrant's creative team has been involved with some big Hollywood moneymakers.
Director Chris Walas is a special-effects ace who worked on Gremlins and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and directed The Fly II. Stars include Bill Paxton (Aliens and Predator II), Marshall Bell (Total Recall, Twins), and Michael Ironside (Total Recall and TV roles). Since an exotic advertising campaign will exploit the vagrant character's gruesome appearance, media access to filming has been tightly controlled. The location shoots and studio sets are officially "closed." When premiere night comes, however, The Vagrant's yucky mug will be revealed to the world. Only then will we know whether this production deserves a spot in the filmed-in-Phoenix hall of infamy, alongside such breezy titles as Psycho, Nightkill, Speed Trap, and the yet-to-be-released Highway to Hell. It is through these movies (some made just for TV), listed in chronological order, that the outside world has come to know our city: Lust for Gold (1949)
Stars: Glenn Ford, Ida Lupino.
Synopsis: Title to the contrary, this was not The Carolyn Walker Story. Local angle: Greedy miners hike into the Superstitions in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine.
Quality: Ore Ida!
Three Ring Circus (1954)
Stars: Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Synopsis: Martin and Lewis under the big top.
Local angle: Various Valley views long vanished.
Quality: Cotton candy.
Bus Stop (1956)
Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray. Synopsis: Adapted from the William Inge play, this comedy-drama about a cowboy and a saloon singer proved that Monroe's talent was more than skin deep. Local angle: Scenes were shot at Arizona State Fairgrounds and during the Rodeo of Rodeos parade down Central. Quality: Worth waiting for. Psycho (1960)
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh. Synopsis: Alfred Hitchcock directed this all-time-great creepfest, about a momma's-boy motel manager with an offbeat approach to guest relations. Local angle: The film's opening exterior is a panorama of downtown's skyline in the late 1950s. Quality: The right stuffed! The Nutty Professor (1962)
Stars: Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens.
Synopsis: Tippling teach turns luv god.
Local angle: College confidential, ASU style.
Quality: Maybe with French subtitles.
Stars: Cher, Barbara Londen.
Synopsis: Cher--midway through her Sonny period--goes on the road to find herself. Local angle: See downtown Scottsdale pass for a Mexican border town! Quality: Chaste makes waste.
The Christian Licorice Store (1971)
Stars: Beau Bridges, Maud Adams.
Synopsis: A disillusioned young tennis star finds emptiness on the other side of the net.
Local angle: Lots of Paradise Valley people in white shorts.
Quality: Bad serve.
Pocket Money (1972)
Stars: Lee Marvin, Paul Newman.
Synopsis: A contemporary comedy-western, whatever that means.
Local angle: Paul and Lee get clipped in the Westward Ho barber shop. Quality: A buck and change. Mixed Company (1974)
Stars: Barbara Harris, Joseph Bologna. Synopsis: A heartwarming snooze about orphans and athletes. Local angle: The basketball scenes were filmed at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum. Quality: Air ball. A Star Is Born (1976)
Stars: Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson.
Synopsis: Funny Girl meets The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea.
Local angle: Interiors were shot at Gammage Auditorium; exteriors were shot at Sun Devil Stadium. Quality: Yentl, it ain't.
The Gauntlet (1977)
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke. Synopsis: A good cop and a hooker drive a bus up the steps of Phoenix Civic Plaza while bad guys blast away from rooftops. Local angle: Picture the Iceberg Phoenix Grand Prix with a Greyhound bus. Quality: No fare.
Speed Trap (1977)
Stars: Joe Don Baker, Tyne Daly.
Synopsis: Cagney and racing.
Local angle: No asphalt went unfilmed. Quality: Shotgun!
A Fire in the Sky (1978) Stars: Richard Crenna, Elizabeth Ashley.
Synopsis: A large comet lands on the downtown Hyatt. Local angle: A miniature Phoenix skyline gets a special-effects broasting.
Quality: Lights out! Real Life (1979)
Stars: Albert Brooks, Charles Grodin.
Synopsis: A con artist films--and destroys--a typical American family. Local angle: Several local shopping centers get exposure. Quality: Occasionally real funny. Cloud Dancer (1980)
Stars: David Carradine, Jennifer O'Neill.
Synopsis: Look! Up in the sky . . . It's a bird . . . it's a plane . . . it's a turkey!
Local angle: From the ground up at Deer Valley Airport.
Quality: Over and out.
Stars: Jaclyn Smith, Mike Connors.
Synopsis: A West German film company came to Arizona to shoot a drama staring American television stars.
Local angle: By gum, it's the Wrigley mansion! Quality: Night-night. To Find My Son (1980)
Star: Richard Thomas.
Synopsis: A single man with a prominent mole struggles to adopt a child. Local angle: A single man with a prominent mole struggled to find a parking place at ASU. Quality: Too pooped to pop.
Used Cars (1980)
Stars: Kurt Russell, Jack Warden.
Synopsis: Rival car dealers go to war. Local angle: Automotive mayhem on Main Street in Mesa. Quality: A real creampuff.
The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981)
Star: Orson Welles (narrator).
Synopsis: Is the world really going to hell in a handbasket? Nostradamus thought so, and this hodgepodge of newsreel footage and clips from old disaster movies shows why.
Local angle: The destruction of downtown Phoenix (first seen in A Fire in the Sky) illustrates the 1999 nuclear annihilation of New York City.
Quality: No future.
Private Lessons (1981)
Stars: Sylvia Kristel, Howard Hesseman. Synopsis: Kristel (star of the Emmanuel series) plays a cradle-robbing maid. Local angle: Until local bluenoses caught on to the script's kiddie-porn plot, shooting was done at a big house near 20th Street and Camelback. Quality: Go sit in the corner. Death Valley (1982)
Stars: Paul Le Mat, Catherine Hicks, Peter Billingsley.
Synopsis: A New York City brat encounters slashers while visiting the wild, wild West.
Local angle: Ooga booga at Mystery Castle.
Quality: Strictly Ginsu.
Let's Spend the Night Together (1982)
Stars: The Rolling Stones. Synopsis: The English rockers come to America. Local angle: Bombastic concert footage lensed at Sun Devil Stadium.
Quality: Moss hysteria. Ninja III: The Domination (1984)
Stars: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kusugi.
Synopsis: The Exorcist with numchucks.
Local angle: Some scenes filmed in the downtown neighborhoods that were later destroyed by the Papago Freeway.
O.C. & Stiggs (1985)
Stars: Who were those guys? Synopsis: Based on a hilarious short story in National Lampoon, Robert Altman's largely unseen teen romp was even less funny than a fart on a first date.
Local angle: Tepid tomfoolery at Arcadia High School, Ernesto's Backstreet, and Bunny Auto Sales. Quality: Brain-roasting.
American Anthem (1986)
Stars: Mitch Gaylord, Janet Jones.
Synopsis: Olympic medalist Gaylord begins and ends his film career. Local angle: The competition scenes were filmed at now-razed Phoenix Union High School gym. Quality: Jock itch. Raising Arizona (1986)
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter.
Synopsis: Infertile trailer-trash couple hanker for young 'uns.
Local angle: The old Jokake Inn stars as adobe abode. Quality: Three-and-a-half diapers.
Campus Man (1987)
Stars: John Dye, Morgan Fairchild.
Synopsis: Based on the life story of chronic self-promoter (and Arizona State University alum) Todd Headlee, documents the campus beefcake-calendar craze. Local angle: Lots of posing and flexing on and around ASU campus. Quality: Keep your shirt on. Shattered Innocence (1988) Star: Melinda Dillon.
Synopsis: A thinly veiled rehash of the short life and times of suicidal porn queen Shauna Grant. Local angle: Downtown Phoenix at its sleaziest.
Quality: Totally limp.
Unholy Matrimony (1988) Stars: Patrick Duffy.
Synopsis: A true-crime honeymoon sours when a homicidal hubby flattens his new bride with a rental car. Local angle: Attorney Duffy checks dockets at local courtrooms. Quality: Hung jury.
Rattle and Hum (1988)
Synopsis: Irish rockers come to America.
Local angle: Bombastic concert footage lensed at Sun Devil Stadium.
Quality: For U2 eyes only.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter.
Synopsis: The Time Machine for dudes. Local angle: Metrocenter at its most bitchin'. Quality: Excellent!
Days of Thunder (1990) Stars: Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall.
Synopsis: Watch those fast cars go 'round and 'round. Local angle: Phoenix International Raceway never looked more oval. Quality: Tom who? The Grifters (1990)
Stars: Anjelica Huston, John Cusack.
Synopsis: A trio of small-time crooks bicker over money. Local angle: Scenes filmed at Turf Paradise and Sky Harbor.
Quality: Con film festival.