Legal Eagles

Legal Eagles is a 1986 American trial film directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. from a story by Reitman and the screenwriters, and starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger, and Daryl Hannah.

Legal Eagles
Legal eagles.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byIvan Reitman
Produced byIvan Reitman
Screenplay byJim Cash
Jack Epps, Jr.
Story byIvan Reitman
Jim Cash
Jack Epps, Jr.
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyLaszlo Kovacs
Edited byPem Herring
Sheldon Kahn
William Gordean
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • June 18, 1986 (1986-06-18)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million
Box office$93.2 million


Tom Logan (Robert Redford) is an Assistant District Attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. He is slated as the next District Attorney. Laura Kelly (Debra Winger), an attorney representing performance artist, Chelsea Deardon (Daryl Hannah), seeks out Logan to discuss her client's case. Chelsea is accused of attempting to steal a painting from millionaire Robert Forrester (John McMartin). Chelsea claims that the painting was a gift from her artist father, Sebastian Deardon (James Hurdle), eighteen years earlier for her 8th birthday. That same day her father and most of his paintings were lost in a mysterious fire.

At a formal dinner to publicly launch Logan's candidacy as the next District Attorney, Kelly unexpectedly arrives with Chelsea and holds an impromptu press conference as a means to coerce Logan's cooperation. Soon after, Forrester drops all charges against Chelsea after swapping the Deardon painting for a Picasso with art gallery curator Victor Taft (Terence Stamp). Both Taft and Forrester were Sebastian Deardon's associates and do not want Chelsea prosecuted. Taft later shows Logan and Kelly the swapped Deardon painting, which does not have an inscription to Chelsea written on the back as she claims. Shortly after, police detective Cavanaugh (Brian Dennehy), who investigated the Deardon fire, provides Kelly with proof that the supposedly lost paintings still exist and says that Chelsea's father was murdered.

Late one night, Chelsea arrives at Logan's apartment claiming a man has been following her. She insists that the painting Taft showed Logan and Kelly was not the one that belongs to her. Logan escorts Chelsea home. As he leaves her building, someone shoots at him then runs off. Logan and Kelly later follow Taft to his warehouse and sneak in. They find evidence of an insurance fraud scheme between partners Taft, Forrester, and a third man, Joseph Brock. Taft locks them inside the warehouse, then makes a quick getaway. The two barely escape unharmed as the building explodes, apparently triggered by Taft to destroy evidence.

A distraught Chelsea arrives at Logan's apartment, revealing she went to Taft's residence and threatened him at gunpoint for information. She claims Taft took the gun away and hit her. Chelsea spends the night with Logan. The next morning, police burst into the bedroom and arrest Chelsea for Taft's murder. The resulting scandal ends Logan's D.A. career, and he reluctantly teams up with Kelly.

During her murder trial, Chelsea experiences a flashback memory and openly accuses Forrester of being involved in her father's death. When an assassin attempts to run down Logan and Kelly, the man is fatally hit by a taxi. Logan retrieves the assassin's wallet and finds Forrester's business card. Logan and Kelly discover Forrester's dead body and find Chelsea hiding at the scene, though she proclaims her innocence. Logan goes to the police department to find Cavanaugh while Kelly and Chelsea head to Taft's gallery where his memorial service is in progress.

Detective Cavanaugh is actually Joe Brock, Taft and Forrester's former business partner they framed for the fraud scheme, resulting in Brock being sentenced to prison. At the Taft Gallery, Brock forces Kelly and Chelsea to break open a large hollow sculpture where Sebastian Deardon's missing canvases, now estimated to be worth $20 million, are hidden. Brock takes the canvases, then sets the gallery on fire to escape during the evacuation. Logan arrives and struggles with Brock, who falls to his death. Logan finds Kelly and Chelsea, grabs the paintings, and the three exit the burning gallery. Outside, Chelsea tearfully reveals the "To Chelsea" inscription on the back of her father's painting. After all charges against Chelsea are dropped, Logan's former boss, exploiting Logan's publicity, offers him his old job. Logan chooses to continue working with Kelly, with whom he is now romantically involved.



The script was written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps who were represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), based on a story by Cash,, Epps and Ivan Reitman from an idea by Reitman, who was also represented by CAA. Reitman had long been interested in doing something set in the art world, with lawyers as protagonists "because they are our contemporary hired guns, involved in every aspect of modern life. I thought the interaction of the two worlds would make for good comedy as well as drama."[1]

The film was originally meant to be a vehicle for Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray, the latter a CAA client, and was written as a buddy movie. Murray pulled out. Ivan Reitman met with Robert Redford, another CAA client, about another project, and mentioned Legal Eagles. Redford expressed interest in doing a romantic comedy, so Reitman decided to rework it as a Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn-type movie. Redford agreed to make it. "It was easier getting Redford than it was getting Bill Murray," said Reitman.[1]

The film was set up at Universal, run by CAA client Frank Price. Tom Mankiewicz was called in to rewrite the script.[2][3]

In October 1985 it was announced that Reitman would direct, and Redford, Winger and Hannah would star.[4] "I love the sophisticated comedies of the late 40's, and I see this as that kind of film," said Reitman.[5] "For years I've felt like parafin has been poured over me," said Redford. "I wanted to do something lighter."[1]

The shoot took six weeks with a two week break. Redford's fee was a reported $4 million and the budget more than $30 million.[1]

"Redford takes screen better than anyone I've ever seen," said Reitman during the shoot. "To go up against him on the screen, you need someone of great substance. You need another star. And the films where you don't have someone with the strength of women like Streisand and Fonda or men like Hoffman and Newman, they get wiped off the screen. I think Debra Winger has that kind of stuff. I'm counting on that. It seems to be in the footage that we've shot so far."[6]


The film's score was composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein, his final collaboration with Ivan Reitman. The soundtrack album was released by MCA Records, featuring selections from the score re-recorded in England under the composer's baton, and the songs "Good Lovin'" by The Rascals, "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf, and Daryl Hannah's "Put Out The Fire" (which she performs onscreen). Rod Stewart's "Love Touch" was featured in the movie, but being a Warner Bros. Records exclusive it does not appear on the album.


Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 44% based on reviews from 16 critics.[7] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade B+ on scale of A to F.[8]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2.5 out of 4, and wrote: "The movie has so much stuff in it, it's top-heavy. The wonder is that so many scenes play as well as they do." [9]

Box officeEdit

With a production budget of $40 million, the film was one of the most expensive ever released up to that point. It grossed a total of $49,851,591 in North America and $43,300,000 internationally, totaling $93,151,591 worldwide.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d SEEING REDFORD IN A NEW LIGHT: REDFORD Taylor, Clarke. Los Angeles Times 12 Dec 1985: f1.
  2. ^ Tom Mankiewicz, My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider's Journey Through Hollywood (with Robert Crane) University Press of Kentucky 2012 p 278-279
  3. ^ Evans, Bradford (17 February 2011). "The Lost Roles of Bill Murray". Archived from the original on 20 May 2015. Retrieved 25 May 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ NY CLIPS Security theme intrigues director O'Toole, Lawrence. The Globe and Mail; Toronto, Ont. [Toronto, Ont]04 Oct 1985: D.1.
  5. ^ AT THE MOVIES: [INTERVIEW] Lawson, Carol. New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]11 Oct 1985: C.12.
  6. ^ [Headline Missing] Though endowed by nature with matinee-idol looks, Charles RobertRedford Jr. was never enthusiastic about playing the role of PrinceCharming. Women have costarred as equals in only six of Redford's 24: [ALL EDITIONS] By Joseph Gelmis. Newsday, Combined editions; Long Island, N.Y. [Long Island, N.Y]22 Dec 1985: 04.
  7. ^ Legal Eagles at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ "LEGAL EAGLES (1986) B+". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 20, 1986). "Legal Eagles movie review & film summary (1986)". Roger Ebert. Chicago Sun-Times.
  10. ^ Legal Eagles at Box Office Mojo

External linksEdit