Romancing The Stone (1984) and Jewel of the Nile (1985)

Romancing the Stone is a film I watched perhaps once during my childhood. At the time of it’s release the early 80’s was too full of Indiana Jones, James Bond, Smokey’s and Bandits for me to investigate a movie with Romance in the title. However, Romancing the Stone had a trick up it’s sleeve, taking the ingredients that made Raiders of the Lost Ark a success, cutting down on the action a little and focusing on a love story and you have a more accessible adventure tale for a larger audience.

I certainly enjoyed it, the script is a perfect combination of everything that could sell at the box office in that period. A healthy dose of comedy, wise-cracks and larger than life characters, alongside some beautiful landscapes and a series of exciting chases. To watch this today is a joyous romp that doesn’t stand up quite as well, due to imitations over the years and the smaller scale adventure.

One of the main things Romancing the Stone does well is playing the leads against type. The character Kathleen Turner plays, Joan Rivers, has a simple story arch. A meek woman who has trouble fighting a cold becoming empowered and at a time when the cinema screen was full of male dominate action films this was a refreshing take. Michael Douglas’ Jack is a typical, flawed hero figure and during the climax upon the walls of San Juan de Ulúa (A fortress I have been lucky enough to visit,) Rivers is left to fend off the lead villain alone as Jack (comically) fails to aid her.

Danny DeVito puts in a memorable turn as the shifty, comic relief third wheel and the movie leans on his character’s actions rather than being an afterthought. DeVito is funny, and sleazy in the role perfectly complimenting what the audience recognised him for at the time, Taxi. Having just appeared in Terms of Endearment, DeVito was having a hell of a year.

Even the back story of how Diane Thomas managed to bring her script to the screen is an enchanting tale despite being marred with tragedy the further you go.

Robert Zemeckis had not directed for a couple of years following the failure of Used Cars, one of the best comedies of the decade, and I’m sure he was going to throw in the towel had Romancing the Stone not worked out. Thankfully it was a smash.

Romancing the Stone is worth revisiting as a simple piece of early 80’s fun. It’s doesn’t have to try hard to impress and deserves every bit of the love that has been heaped on it over the years. Thank-you Diane Thomas, Rest in Peace.

A year later we got Jewel of the Nile. From the director of… Alligator and the writers of… The Legend of Billy Jean.

The Jewel of the Nile made money and it had some amusing interplay between Douglas and Turner that can raise a smile, aside from this, The Jewel of the Nile is a horrible, regressive, xenophobic pile of junk that needs to be forgotten.

The character of Joan Rivers is back to being pushed around by the dominant males, unable to take decisions into her own hands and needs her heroic lover to save her at every turn.

Danny DeVito returns looking well, however, his character is given a collection of horrible “wisecracks” that are either against the African savages he has having to deal with or the impoverished foreign beggars he hates with a passion. The character has been thrown in at a moments notice and there is little justify his inclusion save of a payday for DeVito. He is much, much better than this.

Then there is the Jewel. As the movie is over 30 years old I would like to think the twist is known, if not then skip this paragraph. Jewel is woefully underwritten. The writers obviously want to avoid any controversy or similarity with Jesus, yet the whole movie is folded around the character’s wisdom and ability to perform miracles. Certainly there is a clever idea following the first movie’s precious, valuable stone. A human can be just as precious and value to the people, however, there needs to be a logical reason for our heroes to go to such lengths for him. Yet they are putting their faith in Jewel and landing the film right back in biblical territory.

The Jewel of the Nile is a horrible experience that undoes almost everything Romancing the Stone does right. Do yourself a favour and forget this movie is out there, it’s desperate!

A third film was planned and thankfully shelved, a couple of times.