The Big Town Movie (1987)

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Director Ben Bolt, Harold Becker

Producer Martin Ransohoff

Writer Robert Roy Pool

Based on novel ‘The Arm’ by Clark Howard

Cinematography Ralf D. Bode

Editor Stuart H. Pappe

Distribution Columbia Pictures

Music Michael Melvoin, Frank Fitzpatrick

Genre Drama, Romance, Thriller

Runtime 109 min

Release Date September 15, 1987

Country United States

Language English

Main Cast

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 Betty

Cherry Jones Deacon Daniels

David James Elliott Ginger McDonald

Chris Benson Shooter


J. C. Cullen (Matt Dillon) is a petty crapshooter who heads to the big town of Chicago, Illinois, in search of greener pastures. He is a lucky dice thrower that draws them to any number he wants. On arrival in Chicago, Cullen hooks up with Mr. and Mrs. Edwards (Bruce Dem and Lee Grant), both professional swindlers.

The couple take two thirds of Cullen’s earnings in exchange for getting him on the best crap tables in the city. Afterwards, they introduce him to Sonny Binkley (David Marshall Grant), an old time gambler that shows him the rules. He finally adapts to the city life and makes a lot of money for the Edwards.

Cullen meets up with a music loving single mother, Aggie Donaldson (Suzy Amis), in a local record store. He later changes his path and joins strip joint where he would play with his own money and enjoy the full rewards. He then plays his first off the books crap game in the club owned by the no- nonsense owner George Cole (Tommy Lee Jones).

Luck never departs Cullen as he eventually wins $ 14,000 from the embarrassed George Cole. Cullen also manages to seduce Cole’s stripper wife Lorry Dane (Diane Lane). However, he is more attracted to the more decent Aggie in whom he starts a relationship with.

Cullen is bound for success and he takes on everyone who tries to hinder him. However, Cole and the Edwards prove a major obstacle to him becoming the best dice thrower in town. Cullen is almost killed in a fight involving the Edwards, Cole, and Phil Carpenter, with Mr. Edward alleging that the latter caused his blindness. He later develops to become the biggest gambler he ever dreamt of.


Set in 1957 and later released in 1987, The Big Town was not only superbly written but was also attractively acted much to the resemblance of the 50s noir. This film by Ben Bolt is presented in a concise pace with multiple subplots coming out clearly.

A fantastic soundtrack and a remarkable set design mimicking a typical Chicago city full of neon signs, huge buildings and attractive lighting. The producer also introduces us to the sounds of the time with music by Johnny Cash, Bo Diddley, and Joe Turner.

The producer got it absolutely right when it came to characters’ choice and their roles. Cullen is a smart, charming, and talented crap shooter. He is determined and has whatever it takes to succeed in the big city of Chicago. However, he has a poor judgement when it comes to ladies. He gets attracted to an engaged striper despite having a moral lady besides him.

Lorry Dane takes her stripper role by showcasing sexy fan dances as if it was something she is used to. Her attractive looks are undeniable to Cullen who ends up falling in love with her. The two seem to have great chemistry between them. George Cole is ominous looking and possesses a frightening voice.

One is deemed to fear for Cullen’s life who seduces his wife. The rest of the cast including the opportunistic Edwards superbly play their roles too.

Gambling being the main subject in the film, the producer backs it up with a periodic gambler slang dialogue throughout the film. The aspect of romance is clearly illustrated by the scenes of passionate kissing from Cullen and ladies. Bode’s cinematography perfectly illustrates the turn of events not leaving a single detail into question.

The script is bold and insightful in dramatizing moral wickedness. Intimate scenes and vulgar language are some of the things that did not suit me well. However, aspects of choice and determination stand out for anyone to emulate. Despite our vulnerability to most desires we can always amend our wrong choices.


Now, this film was a great production piece of the time, but it was not a box office success, which is obvious from its 5.9 rating. Nevertheless, it’s a good one to pass time when there’s nothing more serious on your table.

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