Stand By Me (1986)

Starring -Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jery O’Connell, Keifer Sutherland, & Richard Dreyfuss

Based on Stephen King’s Short story “The Body”, “Stand By Me” tells the tale of Gordie Lachance, a writer who looks back on his preteen days when he and three close friends went on their own adventure to find the body of a kid their age who had gone missing and presumed dead. The stakes are upped when the bad kids in town are closely tailing – and it becomes a race to see who’ll be able to recover the body first.

Stand by Me is a 1986 American coming-of-age film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Wil WheatonRiver PhoenixCorey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell (in his debut film). The film is based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella The Body. Its title is derived from Ben E. King’s song, which plays over the ending credits.

Stand by Me tells the fictional story of four boys in a small town in 1959 Maine who go on a hike to find the dead body of another boy. The film was nominated for one Academy Award (for Best Adapted Screenplay) and two Golden Globe Awards (for Best Drama Motion Picture and Best Director).

In 1986, author Gordie Lachance reads in the newspaper that his childhood best friend, Chris Chambers, has died. Gordie narrates an extended flashback, later revealed to be a story he is writing. The flashback tells of a childhood incident when he, Chris, and two buddies journeyed to find the body of a missing boy near the town of Castle Rock, Oregon in 1959.

Twelve-year-old Gordie’s parents are too busy grieving the recent death of Gordie’s older brother Denny to pay any attention to Gordie. Gordie’s friends are Chris, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio. While looking for money that he buried beneath his parents’ porch, Vern overhears his older brother Billy talking with a friend. Recently, Billy and his friend saw the body of a missing boy named Ray Brower outside of town. Billy does not want to report the body because doing so could draw attention to the fact that he and his friend recently stole a car. When Vern tells Gordie, Chris, and Teddy this, the four boys – hoping to become local heroes – decide to go looking for the body. After Chris steals his father’s pistol, he and Gordie run into local hoodlum John “Ace” Merrill and Chris’s older brother, Richard “Eyeball” Chambers. Ace threatens Chris with a lit cigarette and steals Gordie’s Yankees cap, which had been a gift from Gordie’s brother.

The four boys begin their journey. After stopping for a drink of water at a junkyard, they get caught trespassing by junkyard owner Milo Pressman and his dog, Chopper. They escape over a fence, and Pressman calls Teddy’s mentally ill father a “loony”; Teddy, enraged, tries to attack him, but is restrained by the other boys. The boys continue their hike, and Chris encourages Gordie to fulfill his potential as a writer despite his father’s disapproval. Later, Gordie and Vern are nearly run over by a train while walking across a train bridge, but Gordie saves both their lives by throwing himself and Vern off the bridge at the last second.

That evening, Gordie tells the fictional story of David “Lard-Ass” Hogan, an obese boy who is constantly bullied. Seeking revenge, Lard-Ass enters a pie-eating contest and deliberately vomits, inducing mass vomiting (a “barf-o-rama”) among contestants and the audience. During the night, Chris tells Gordie that he hates being associated with his family’s reputation. Chris admits to Gordie that he stole milk money at school. However, he tells Gordie that he later confessed and returned the money to a teacher. Despite this, Chris was suspended; apparently, the teacher spent the money on herself instead of turning it in to her superiors. Devastated by the teacher’s betrayal, Chris breaks down and cries.

The next day, the boys swim across a swamp and discover that it is filled with leeches. Gordie briefly faints after finding a leech on his groin. After more hiking, the boys locate Ray Brower’s body. The discovery is traumatic for Gordie, who asks Chris why his brother Denny had to die. A distraught Gordie adds that his father hates him. Chris disagrees, asserting that Gordie’s father simply does not know him well.

Ace and his gang arrive, announce that they are claiming the body, and threaten to beat the four boys if they interfere. When Chris insults Ace and refuses to back down from him, Ace draws a switchblade to kill him. Gordie comes to Chris’s aid by firing a shot into the air with Chris’s father’s gun and then pointing the gun at Ace. Ace demands that Gordie give him the gun, but Gordie refuses, calling Ace a “cheap dime-store hood”. Ace taunts Gordie by asking whether he plans to shoot Ace’s entire gang, and Gordie responds, “No, Ace. Just you”. Ace and his gang depart, vowing revenge.

The four boys, agreeing that it would not be right for anyone to get the credit for finding the body, report it to the authorities via an anonymous phone call. They walk back to Castle Rock and part ways, and the extended flashback ends. The present-day Gordie explains that Chris later went to college and became a lawyer. When attempting to break up a fight in a restaurant, he was stabbed to death. Gordie ends his story with the following words: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Cast

  • Wil Wheaton as Gordon “Gordie” Lachance (aged 12)
    • Richard Dreyfuss as Gordon “Gordie” Lachance (adult; credited as “The Writer”)
  • River Phoenix as Christopher “Chris” Chambers
  • Corey Feldman as Theodore “Teddy” Duchamp
  • Jerry O’Connell as Vernon “Vern” Tessio
  • Kiefer Sutherland as John “Ace” Merrill, gang leader
  • Casey Siemaszko as William “Billy” Tessio, gang member and Vern’s big brother
  • John Cusack as Dennis “Denny” Lachance, Gordie’s big brother
  • Marshall Bell as Mr. Lachance
  • Frances Lee McCain as Mrs. Lachance
  • Gary Riley as Charlie Hogan, gang member
  • Bradley Gregg as Richard “Eyeball” Chambers, gang member and Chris’s big brother
  • Jason Oliver as Vince Desjardins, gang member
  • Bruce Kirby as Mr. Quidacioluo, store owner
  • William Bronder as Milo Pressman, junkyard manager
  • Scott Beach as Mayor Grundy
  • Madeleine Swift as Waitress
  • Andy Lindberg as David “Lard-Ass” Hogan
  • Popeye as Chopper, junkyard dog

The film was adapted from the Stephen King novella The Body. Bruce A. Evans sent a copy of The Body to Karen Gideon, the wife of his friend and writing partner Raynold Gideon, on August 29, 1983 as a gift for her birthday. Both Gideon and Evans quickly became fans of the novella and shortly thereafter contacted King’s agent, Kirby McCauley, seeking to negotiate film rights; McCauley replied that King’s terms were $100,000 and 10% of the gross profits. Although the money was not an issue, the share of gross profits was considered excessive, especially considering that no stars could be featured to help sell the movie. In response, Evans and Gideon pursued an established director, Adrian Lyne, to help sell the project.

In a 2011 interview with NPR, Wil Wheaton attributed the film’s success to the director’s casting choices:

Rob Reiner found four young boys who basically were the characters we played. I was awkward and nerdy and shy and uncomfortable in my own skin and really, really sensitive, and River was cool and really smart and passionate and even at that age kind of like a father figure to some of us, Jerry was one of the funniest people I had ever seen in my life, either before or since, and Corey was unbelievably angry and in an incredible amount of pain and had an absolutely terrible relationship with his parents.

Feldman recalled how his home life translated into his onscreen character:

“[Most kids aren’t] thinking they’re going to get hit by their parents because they’re not doing well enough in school, which will prevent them from getting a work permit, which will prevent them from being an actor.”

O’Connell agreed that he was cast based on how his personality fit the role, saying:

“Rob really wanted us to understand our characters. He interviewed our characters. […] I tried to stay like Vern and say the stupid things Vern would. I think I was Vern that summer.”

Reiner and the producers interviewed more than 70 boys for the four main roles, out of more than 300 who auditioned; Phoenix originally read for the part of Gordie Lachance.

Rather than start shooting right away, Reiner put the four main actors together for two weeks to play games from Viola Spolin’s Improvisation for the Theater (which Reiner called “the bible” of theater games) and build camaraderie, which led to a real friendship between them and several one-shot takes, where the young actors hit their cues perfectly. Wheaton would recall “When you saw the four of us being comrades, that was real life, not acting.”

Before settling on Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator (and the role of the adult Gordie), Reiner considered David Dukes, Ted Bessell, and Michael McKean.

The movie’s success sparked a renewed interest in Ben E. King’s song. Initially a #4 pop hit in 1961, the song re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 in October 1986, eventually peaking at #9 in December of that year. It was a UK #1 in 1986.

The film was a box office success worldwide. In North America it opened in a limited release in 16 theaters on August 8, 1986, and grossed $242,795, averaging $15,174 per theater. The film then had its wide opening in 745 theaters on August 22 and grossed $3,812,093, averaging $5,116 per theater and ranking #2. The film’s widest release was 848 theaters, and it ended up earning $52,287,414 overall, well above its $8 million budget.

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