31 user 26 critic

Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987)

Writer, ex-con and 40-something bottle-baby Tim Madden, who is prone to black-outs, awakens from a two-week bender to discover a pool of blood in his car, a blond woman's severed head in ... See full summary »


Norman Mailer


Norman Mailer (screenplay by), Norman Mailer (based on his novel)
1 win & 10 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Ryan O'Neal ... Tim Madden
Isabella Rossellini ... Madeleine Regency
Debra Stipe ... Patty Lareine (as Debra Sandlund)
Wings Hauser ... Capt. Alvin Luther Regency
John Bedford Lloyd ... Wardley Meeks III
Lawrence Tierney ... Dougy Madden
Penn Jillette ... Big Stoop
Frances Fisher ... Jessica Pond
R. Patrick Sullivan R. Patrick Sullivan ... Lonnie Pangborn
John Snyder ... Spider
Stephan Morrow ... Stoodie
Clarence Williams III ... Bolo
Kathryn Sanders Kathryn Sanders ... Beth
Ira Lewis Ira Lewis ... Merwyn Finney
Ed Setrakian Ed Setrakian ... Lawyer


Writer, ex-con and 40-something bottle-baby Tim Madden, who is prone to black-outs, awakens from a two-week bender to discover a pool of blood in his car, a blond woman's severed head in his marijuana stash, and the new Provincetown police chief, Captain Luther Regency, shacked up with his former girlfriend Madeleine. As his father Dougy helps him try to unravel the mystery, he is dogged by the psychotic Capt. Regency, who has it in for Tim as a car-crash that he was involved in with Madeline has left her unable to have children. Flashing-back to the past, Tim remembers the time when he encouraged Madeline to swing with a Li'l Abnerish couple from down South, the fundamentalist preacher Big Stoop and his Daisy Mae-ish wife, Patty Lareine, whose ad Tim had come across in 'Screw' magazine. It's on the trip back that the car crash occurs, since Madeline is incensed that Tim has so enjoyed Patty Lareine's charms. Except for his father Dougy, who is dying of cancer, Tim suspects everyone, ... Written by Jon C. Hopwood

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A love story shadowed by murder. A comedy laced with horror. See more »


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Though she received second-billing actress Isabella Rossellini only appears in the movie in a supporting role. See more »


Wardley Meeks III: Madden, take it in the mouth or you'll die. Will you take my pride and joy into your mouth?
See more »


Referenced in Doogie Howser, M.D.: Tough Guys Don't Teach (1990) See more »


You'll Come Back (You Always Do)
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Lyrics by Norman Mailer and Angelo Badalamenti
Sung by Mel Tillis
See more »

User Reviews

one of the ultimate so-awful-it's---something films ever
23 October 2015 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

Oh, Norman Mailer - acclaimed author, won more prizes than you can count in one minute, and occasional maker of films (a number of them basically like shoots in a weekend with friends in his living room, or so I've been told, I haven't seen the Eclipse box-set yet of his other works). In 1987 he was given carte blanche, via Cannon films and producer Francis Ford Coppola, to take his windy, warped novel that poked fun at pot-boilers and crime fiction (film noir especially) and made it into a movie. And the results are completely befuddling.

I think a lot of it comes down to plot logic. In that, this doesn't have that much. Sure, we follow along Ryan O'Neal as he is trying to figure out a mystery involving a lost woman, an old affair, and, uh, other things. It even has one of those plot-framing devices that opens the movie, where O'Neal is telling his story to father(?) Lawrence Tierney and then this just... disappears for a LONG stretch of the film, to the point where I forgot it was even a thing. There's also Isabella Rossellini (in seemingly the one performance playing it straight, or trying to), and another actor - damn if I forget his name - who is a cop that often appears wigged out (probably on coke, who knows it was the 80's).

I wish I could explain what happens in this movie and why it's so f***ed up, but it just boggles my mind! So much of it comes down to Mailer not really being able to transition his dialog, which probably worked OK on the page (and even there one wonders if it was still questionable), to the format of the screen. People just... don't talk like this! The verbiage is off the charts in this one - but there are moments where, I THINK anyway, Mailer knew he had something really warped and just went for it. The scene that I know I'll never forget and many others haven't is when Ryan O'Neal's character discovers a letter from a woman from his past, it gives him some crucial, heartbreaking information, and then he just bursts with "OH MAN, OH GOD, OH MAN" for about 15 minutes as the camera pans around him in a dizzying effect. If this was meant for comedy then it's genius on par with the Zucker brothers or Mel Brooks. If it's supposed to be in any kind of Earth reality, it's a disaster-zone.

But oh, what a watchable movie made of WTF. Part of what helps is that it is competently shot and edited, and the performers, alongside those I mentioned Penn Jillette and Frances Fisher pop up, are trying to give it their all and be true to the material. But by being true to it means showing how completely nuts it is. Maybe the most golden part of the experience is the theatrical trailer for the film itself, where Normal Mailer on camera reads the mix of reviews - the good, the bad and the 'Uh say what' - and that makes me happy alone the movie was made. I have a feeling doing a double feature of this and another 1987 Cannon films art-house release, Godard's King Lear, could be just the thing to make you go run for the hills... or break your brain laughing. It may be awful, but it's awful in a spectacular way.

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Release Date:

18 September 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Tough Guys Don't Dance See more »

Filming Locations:

Massachusetts, USA See more »


Box Office


$5,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Ultra Stereo


Color (TVC)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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