Romancing the Stone (1984)

 

Highlights

Romancing the Stone is a 1984 American romantic comedy-adventure film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Diane Thomas. The film stars Michael DouglasKathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito, and was followed by a 1985 sequel titled The Jewel of the Nile.

Romancing the Stone earned over $86 million worldwide at the box office. It also helped launch Turner to stardom, reintroduced Douglas to the public as a capable leading man, and gave Zemeckis his first box-office success.

Joan Wilder is a successful — but lonely — romance novelist in New York City. After finishing her latest novel, Joan leaves her apartment to meet her editor, Gloria, and is handed a letter that contains a map, sent by her recently murdered brother-in-law, Eduardo. While she is gone, a man tries to break into her apartment and is discovered by her apartment supervisor, whom he kills. Returning to her apartment, Joan finds it ransacked. She then receives a frantic phone call from her sister Elaine — Eduardo’s widow. Elaine has been kidnapped by antiquities smugglers, cousins Ira and Ralph, and instructs Joan to go to coastal city of Cartagena with the map she received; it is Elaine’s ransom.

Flying to Colombia, Joan is diverted from the rendezvous point by Colonel Zolo — the same man that ransacked her apartment looking for the map – by tricking her into boarding the wrong bus. Instead of heading to the coast, this bus heads deep into the interior of the country. Ralph realizes this and begins following Joan. After Joan accidentally distracts the bus driver by asking where they are going, the bus crashes into a Land Rover, wrecking both vehicles. As the rest of the passengers walk away, Joan is menaced by Zolo but is saved by the Land Rover’s owner: an American exotic bird smuggler named Jack T. Colton. For getting her out of the jungle and to a telephone, Joan promises to pay Jack $375 in traveler’s cheques.

Jack and Joan travel the jungle while eluding Zolo and his military police. Coming across a small village, they encounter a drug lord named Juan, who is a big fan of Joan’s novels and helps them escape from Zolo.

After a night of dancing and passion in a nearby town, Jack suggests to Joan that they find the treasure themselves before handing over the map. Zolo’s men enter the town, so Jack and Joan unknowingly steal Ralph’s car (with a sleeping Ralph in the back) to escape. They follow the clues and retrieve the treasure: an enormous emerald called El Corazón (“The Heart”). Ralph takes the emerald from them at gunpoint, but Zolo’s forces appear, distracting Ralph long enough for Jack to steal the jewel back. After being chased into a river and over a waterfall, Jack and Joan are separated on opposite sides of the raging river; Joan has the map, but Jack has the emerald. Jack directs Joan to Cartagena, promising that he will meet her there.

In Cartagena, Joan meets with Ira, who releases Elaine for the map. Zolo and his men arrive with a captured Jack and severely-beaten Ralph, interrupting the exchange. As Zolo tortures Joan, Jack surrenders the emerald to Zolo, but a crocodile bites off Zolo’s hand and swallows it along with the emerald. A shootout ensues between Zolo’s soldiers and Ira’s gang. Joan and Elaine dash for safety, pursued by Zolo, as Jack tries to stop the crocodile from escaping; he begrudgingly lets it go to try and save Joan. A crazed Zolo charges at Joan; she dodges his wild knife slashes and he falls into the crocodile pit. As the authorities arrive, Ira and his men escape, but Ralph is left behind. After a kiss, Jack dives into the water after the crocodile, leaving Joan behind with her sister.

Later, Joan is back in New York City, and wrote a new manuscript based on her adventure. Gloria is moved to tears by the story and tells Joan she has another best-seller on her hands. Returning home, she finds Jack waiting for her in a sailboat named the Angelina, after the heroine of Joan’s novels, and wearing boots made from the crocodile’s skin. He explains the crocodile died from ingesting the emerald and he had sold it, using the money to buy the boat of his dreams. They go off together, planning to sail around the world.

Cast

  • Michael Douglas as Jack T. Colton
  • Kathleen Turner as Joan Wilder
  • Danny DeVito as Ralph
  • Zack Norman as Ira
  • Alfonso Arau as Juan
  • Manuel Ojeda as Colonel Zolo
  • Holland Taylor as Gloria
  • Mary Ellen Trainor as Elaine Wilder
  • Eve Smith as Mrs. Irwin
  • Joe Nesnow as Super
  • José Chávez as Santos
  • Evita Muñoz “Chachita” as Hefty Woman
  • Camillo García as Bus Driver
  • Rodrigo Puebla as Bad Hombre
  • Paco Morayta as Hotel Clerk
  • Kymberly Herrin as Angelina
  • Bill Burton as Jesse Gerrard
  • Ted White as Grogan

Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the role of Jack T. Colton.

Filming locations for Romancing the Stone included Veracruz, Mexico (Fort of San Juan de Ulúa); and Huasca de Ocampo, Mexico. Parts of the film were also shot in Snow Canyon, Utah. The scene where Turner and Douglas get separated on opposite banks on a whitewater river, about two-thirds into the movie, was filmed on the Rio Antigua near the town of Jalcomulco, Veracruz.

Turner later said of the film’s production, “I remember terrible arguments [with Robert Zemeckis] doing Romancing. He’s a film-school grad, fascinated by cameras and effects. I never felt that he knew what I was having to do to adjust my acting to some of his damn cameras – sometimes he puts you in ridiculous postures. I’d say, ‘This is not helping me! This is not the way I like to work, thank you!'” Despite their difficulties on the film, Zemeckis would go on to work with Turner again, casting her as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Upon the release of Romancing the Stone, comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark were inevitable; Time magazine called the film “a distaff Raiders rip-off”. The screenplay for Romancing had actually been written five years earlier by a Malibu waitress named Diane Thomas in what would end up being her only screenplay. She died in a car crash shortly after the film’s release.

Studio insiders expected Romancing the Stone to flop (to the point that, after viewing a rough cut of the film, the producers of the then-under-development Cocoon fired Zemeckis as director of that film), but the film became a surprise hit. It became 20th Century Fox’s “only big hit” of 1984. Zemeckis later stated that the success of Romancing the Stone allowed him to make Back to the Future, which was an even larger success.

Romancing the Stone was well received by critics, and is considered by some as among the best films of 1984. It holds an 86% approval rating with a 7.3/10 average on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 49 reviews. The website’s critical consensus reads, “Romancing the Stone reaches back to the classic Saturday morning serials of old with an action-filled adventure enlivened by the sparkling chemistry between its well-matched leads.”

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