Imagine if Sylvester Stallone told a reporter that Creed is such a terrible movie that it’s making him retire from acting. “It’s worse than Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot,” he might say to the disbelief of everyone in show business. Such a quote would be published on every movie site going, with critics and bloggers asking what it could mean for the fate of a presumed blockbuster. It’s difficult to conceive how that scenario would play out today, what with studios pumping small fortunes into marketing campaigns and even the most anticipated bombs finding salvation in foreign markets. But 25 years ago, that kind of remark had the power to torpedo a surefire hit.
Andrew Bergman may not have had to worry about the Internet in 1989, but the salacious news could still spread like wildfire. Marlon Brando proved that when he referred to The Freshman, his first starring role in almost a decade, as “horrible” and “a stinker” in a conversation with a Globe and Mail reporter. The reclusive actor told Murray Campbell that Bergman’s comedy was “going to be a flop” and that it was forcing him to retire. “I’m so fed up,” the legend said of show business. “I wish I hadn’t finished with a stinker.” Years later, Campbell wrote that he didn’t make much of the interview at the time, claiming that if anything, it was an “amusing little story I could tell at dinner.” Only after he saw the global reaction did he understand that Brando had used him.
Twenty-five years after the film’s release, Brando’s sabotage serves as a reminder of how powerful one man’s word was in a time when film marketing wasn’t injected into every aspect of our digital lives. For someone of Brando’s stature to claim his latest film would be a flop, well, it meant certain box-office doom for The Freshman. That’s a shame because The Freshman remains a charming, mostly brilliant mafia comedy overshadowed by the more serious films of the genre, including the film to which it paid direct tribute – The Godfather.
Bergman, who both wrote and directed The Freshman, doesn’t believe in ranking or comparing his own work with other mob classics. “That’s for other people,” he tells us, (which is fine because we’re more than happy to rank The Freshman near the top). “There are other mob movies that are quite amusing,” the 70-year-old says. “Mafioso is terrific. Married to the Mob, the Demme movie, is really good. But to rank my own work, it’s sort of pointless. I’m happy with the movie and there’s some nice satisfaction. Some parts could have been better, some parts turned out better than I could have ever dreamed of. And that’s the nature of making movies. But it’s certainly a movie I’m proud of.”