The Big Town (1987 film)

The Big Town is a 1987 film drama about a young man who comes to the big city to work as a professional gambler, in the process becoming romantically involved with two women—one of whom is already married. The film was directed by Ben Bolt and Harold Becker and it stars Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, and Tommy Lee Jones.

The Big Town
The Big Town (1987 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBen Bolt
Harold Becker
Produced byMartin Ransohoff
Written byRobert Roy Pool
Based onnovel The Arm by Clark Howard
Music byMichael Melvoin
Frank Fitzpatrick (Music Editor)
CinematographyRalf D. Bode
Edited byStuart H. Pappé
Albacore Productions Inc.
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • September 25, 1987 (1987-09-25)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$10 million[1] or $17 million[2]
Box office$1,733,000[3]


In 1957, J. C. Cullen is a small-town crapshooter who heads to Chicago, Illinois, to seek his fortune. There he becomes the pawn of two high-rolling professional gamblers, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards. He later gets mixed-up in a revenge scheme cooked up by Lorry Dane, the embittered stripper wife of strip-joint owner George Cole. Before he knows what's happened, Cullen is embroiled in two torrid romances: one with Dane and the other with nice girl Aggie Donaldson. He also nearly loses his life by ending up in the middle of a deadly feud between Edwards, Cole, and Phil Carpenter, the man Mr. Edwards accuses of causing him to lose his eyesight.

Main castEdit

Actor Role
Matt Dillon J. C. Cullen
Diane Lane Lorry Dane
Tommy Lee Jones George Cole
Bruce Dern Mr. Edwards
Lee Grant Ferguson Edwards
Tom Skerritt Phil Carpenter
Suzy Amis Aggie Donaldson
David Marshall Grant Sonny Binkley
Don Francks Carl Hooker
Del Close Deacon Daniels
Cherry Jones Ginger McDonald
David James Elliott Cool Guy (as David Elliott)
Chris Benson Shooter


The movie was based on the Clark Howard novel, The Arm, published in 1967.[4] In October 1967 it was announced Peter Thomas would produce a film version of the novel from a script by Dennis Murphy for CBS Films.[5] No film resulted. The novel was published in paperback in 1970.[6]

In 1986 producer Martin Ransohoff signed a three-picture deal with Columbia and Vestron Video, off the back of Ransohoff's success with Jagged Edge (1985). The first movie he wanted to make was an adaptation of The Arm. Matt Dillon signed to star.[7]

Ransohoff and previously made The Hustler, about pool sharks, and The Cincinnati Kid, about poker; The Arm was about dice. Ransohoff said, "I made The Cincinnati Kid 20 years ago and I was amused at the possibility of filling in a third - pool, poker and craps, they're sort of the three major areas of table gambling. This area of dice hadn't been dealt with." Ransohoff admitted he was unhappy with the title of the novel. "We're reviewing it because people are misled. Some people think it's a sequel to The Natural. Others think it deals with druggies. Whatever it's called, this could do it for Matt Dillon like Hustler did for Paul Newman and Cincinnati Kid for Steve McQueen."[1]

Filming took place in Toronto, Canada. The original director was Harold Becker. He left the film during production and was replaced by Ben Bolt. Bolt was a suggestion of Columbia's new head of production, David Puttnam, who had started his job after the film had been greenlit.[8]

Filming finished several weeks later than originally intended meaning Diane Lane had to miss out on a theatre job she had lined up.[9]

Dillon said "it's not really about a kid but about growth. Umm, he's a small-town guy who outgrows the town. He's nocturnal, a gambler who shoots dice all night - but he's got a certain amount of naivete. He's naive. He's not a dark character, even though he lives in the dark. He's honest even though he doesn't make an honest living. He's got purity."[1]



The movie received a mixed reception.[10][11][12]

The Los Angeles Times said the film "is so entertaining, so true to its period that it's easy to peg it as another '50s nostalgia piece when it actually possesses the kind of complexity usually associated with less commercial, less starry productions. It is very much in the spirit that former Columbia Pictures Chairman David Puttnam said he wanted to bring to Hollywood. The film also marks a terrific screen coming of age for Matt Dillon, who for the first time seems more man than boy, and it is a strong directorial debut for Ben Bolt... Robert Bolt. No element, however, is more impressive than Robert Roy Pool's superlative script."[13]

Box officeEdit

The movie was not a box office success, earning less than $2 million.[14][15]


  1. ^ a b c Dillon's career gets a shot in The Arm: [SU2 Edition] Rita Zekas Toronto Star 12 Oct 1986: E1.
  2. ^ Yule p 330
  3. ^ The Big Town at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ List of New Books New York Times 30 Oct 1967: 42.
  5. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: Roth Organizes Company Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 16 Oct 1967: c28.
  6. ^ School days: PAPERBACKS Petersen, Clarence. The Washington Post, Times Herald 27 Sep 1970: Page 17.
  7. ^ PRODUCER'S PROJECT: `THE ARM': [SUN-SENTINEL Edition] United Press International. Sun Sentinel1 Aug 1986: 15.
  8. ^ Yule p 232
  9. ^ John Denver busy waiting for play: [FINAL Edition] Beck, Marilyn. The Windsor Star 17 Dec 1986: B9.
  10. ^ "Matt Dillon in 'The Big Town'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  11. ^ "Matt Dillon in 'The Big Town'". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  12. ^ "The Big Town". PopMatters. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
  13. ^ Romance and Adventure in the Right Hands `The Big Town' Comes Out a Winner at All the Creative Games Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 25 Sep 1987: 1.
  14. ^ Yule p 330
  15. ^ "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 3, 2012.


External linksEdit