As the hardest working UK script consultant in the business I like to watch a lot of classic films from the past. This week, in between script reports and my work as a script writer for hire and script doctor I thought I’d write a blogpost about one of the much influential films of the 80s – Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs…
48 Hrs was made in the very early 80s but watching it now, the style and attitudes in the first part of the film feel more like a film of the mid 70s (or even earlier). Hill is a great director in my opinion, and has connections to other great action directors of the past (including Don Siegel). The film’s opening prison escape is shot like something from a Siegel film (and the score is also feeding into that).
So, for the first 10/15 minutes of 48Hrs I felt I was watching something like Dirty Harry, or Charley Varrick – there are even hints of Madigan (1968) – all classic movies directed by Don Siegel in the 60s and 70s. However, the tone changes as we near the end of the first ten minutes of the film – and as Reggie Hammond appears (played by Eddie Murphy) the film is suddenly pulled out of the past and dragged into the future.
This was Murphy’s film debut and it’s astonishing to see him totally take control of it (people underestimate what a good actor he can be). He’s a strong black man, funny, cheeky, but with an edge that threatens other white characters (see the famous scene in the redneck bar). This isn’t just a great performance it’s actually a real statement of intent and an important one – even better that it’s delivered with a cheeky Murphy grin.
The film is also one of the first ‘buddy movies’ of the 80s. But, it plays a lot more serious (even gritty) than I recalled, while there are laughs (provided mostly by Murphy) this is still a fairly tough action film and it can be tense at times.
To look back at Murphy’s performance in this film is like seeing lightening caught in a bottle. Murphy is paving the way for black stars, and even black directors (as Spike Lee has sometimes acknowledged) and his performance is brilliant and honest about who he is. I think Hollywood toned Murphy down for films after this, and Eddie and the studios made a lot of money from his likeability. But 48hrs stands as a major film debut for Murphy, a black actor making an uncompromising debut and grabbing it with both hands.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org or hire him on Peopleperhour
His directorial debut Markham will be released in 2019.