Following the amazing The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese decided to stick with the genre and added a new layer of a nocturnal odyssey on top for good measure. After Hours is undoubtedly Scorsese’s most beloved cult hit although it was given the cold shoulder by audiences on its original release. Critics, on the other hand, loved it and it actually won him the best director award at Cannes. Anyone who claims to be a fan of Scorsese’s is simply a fraud until they’ve seen After Hours.
After Hours follows the misadventures, over the course of one very long evening, of Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a word processor who has a very grey existence indeed. His troubles begin when he meets Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) in a café and then calls her under the pretence of wanting a bagel paperweight. Arriving downtown he enters a twilight zone of insane characters and even stranger happenings. Hackett is ultimately encased in plaster and smuggled out past an angry mob baying for his blood. He ends up back at work, still encased in plaster, and leaving us to question everything that just happened.
Having only just watched The King of Comedy, I can honestly say that these two films now stand out as very odd pieces when considering Scorsese’s work as a whole. The overall oddness of The King of Comedy is pushed even further in After Hours to almost hallucinogenic effect. After Hours for me represents two classic Scorsese films weirdly conjoined for an entirely new experience.
Scorsese has always been a New York director and from his first hit, Mean Streets, the backdrop to practically all of his films throughout the 70s and 80s was the city he loved. Taxi Driver represented the nightmarish quality of the city. New York, New York represented the dreamy love he had for his hometown escalated to the heady dreams of classic Hollywood musicals. After Hours is essentially a coming together of both – it feels like a nightmare in certain scenes but the photography and the depiction of Soho’s neon is breathtaking.
The decision to cast the amazing Griffin Dunne in the lead role further adds to the unique cult quality of the film. Having made his name in An American Werewolf in London, Dunne was always an oddity at best. He brings that quality (and more) to After Hours, playing opposite such kooks as Rosanna Arquette, Linda Fiorentino and Terri Garr. His romantic entanglements are endearingly bizarre as he goes from one car crash to the next before being buried alive by the sculptor.
Looking back over Scorsese’s entire output as a director, I think it’s safe to say that After Hours may possibly be the weirdest thing he’s ever made. Some people might point to Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ, but for me not so as he was always highly religious. After Hours now stands now as a career landmark, because he never really captured New York the same way again. His subsequent films were Last Temptation, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Age of Innocence and Kundun before truly coming back for Bringing out the Dead. His part of New York Stories did come after Last Temptation but it’s an afterthought and doesn’t even scratch the surface of the city.
So after much deliberation what I think you have here is the last ‘true’ New York film by the legend that is Martin Scorsese. Having started that journey at Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, he moved on to Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, New York, New York, Raging Bull, and The King of Comedy to finally reach After Hours. at this point things came full circle, and to be honest for me it’s never quite been the same since. Don’t get me wrong – I adore both Goodfellas and Casino but the lack of New York strikes me as sad. Along with Woody Allen he is the director I associate most with the city, and oddly both have recently moved away from it(both directors’ most recent films – Scorsese’s Hugo and Allen’s Midnight in Paris – are both set in the French capital). After Hours is now considered a cult masterpiece and, as I said earlier, if you have a true interest in Scorsese and haven’t seen it yet, then you must.