I think I saw Romancing the Stone once during my childhood. Cinemas had an endless roll-out of Indiana Jones, James Bond, Cannonballers, Smokeys and Bandits in the early 80’s 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. Then cutting down on the action a little and focusing on a love story and you have a more accessible adventure tale that doesn’t mimic what Jonesy and Jamesy were doing.
Picking it up again, 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. Mixed with some beautiful landscapes and a series of exciting chases. In all, it’s 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 arc. A meek woman who has trouble fighting a cold, becoming empowered. At a time when the cinema screen was full of male dominant action films this was a refreshing change. Michael Douglas’ Jack is a typical, flawed hero figure. The climax take place upon the walls of San Juan de Ulúa (A fortress I have been lucky enough to visit.) Jack fails (comically) to swoop in to River’s rescue as she does battle with the lead villain.
The sex appeal of the two leading actors is incredible. Douglas oozes charm but Kathleen Turner deserves the majority share of praise. Turner is phenomenal handling River’s transition.
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 one hell of a year.
Romancing the Stone has an odd combination of elements bu succeeds in most. As a bloke who loves his action movies, there is just enough to keep the film interesting. 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 read. Something I would recommend anyone with a fleeting interest in the movie should have a read at.
Robert Zemeckis had not directed for a couple of years following the failure of Used Cars, one of the best comedies of the decade. I’m sure he was going to have a serious rethink 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. There is a clever and quirky script. Colourful characters doted throughout. Thank-you Diane Thomas, Rest in Peace.
Poster Art for Romancing the Stone cover adventure and romance in equal portions. The original poster alongside the sequel Jewel of the Nile were sadly the last posters to be created by the great Richard Amsel.