East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Adventure & Romance – Romancing the Stone

I mentioned there’s two pulp adventure movies, released in the aftermath of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I’ll just sit and watch every time they pop up on the telly*.
One is High Road to China.
Now let’s talk about the other.

Jack Colton: [picking up a magazine] Dammit man, the Doobie Brothers broke up! Shit! When did that happen?
Joan Wilder: How long have you been down here?
Jack Colton: Forever.

Let’s get personal: in 1984 I was in the cinema with my date, having the time of my life, when the joke about the Doobie Brothers came up.
I was the only one laughing in the whole room – and my date looked at me in a funny way**.

Romancing the Stone was released in 1984, and it was telling me I was already an outsider.
But who cares?

Romancing the Stone

The set up: when her sister is kidnapped by shady characters, romance writer Joan Wilder has to travel to Colombia to deliver a mysterious map as ramson. Lost in the Colombian jungle, she finds help in the absolutely mercenary rare birds smuggler Jack Colton. American expat gangsters, secret police thugs, drug smugglers and the cheerfully hostile nature complicate things.
And there’s a hidden treasure.
And a pit full of hungry alligators.

To me, Romancing the Stone is almost perfect.
There’s action, adventure, exotic locales, a beautiful woman in danger (Kathleen Turner is gorgeous in this movie), there’s a suitably knavish leading man (Michael Douglas has what is probably his best role). The dialogue is fun, there’s lots of in-jokes and yet the movie never winks at the viewer, never falters in its total dedication to the spirit of adventure narrative.
And it’s set in the ’80s – and therefore updates some classic pulp tropes, and shows that yes, it can be done.

There’s a sequel, called Jewel of the Nile, which sucks pretty badly.
And there’s been talk about something called Racing the Monsoon, which should be an Episode Three, but (thankfully?) was never shot.
And one wonders what would have come out of it had Sly Stallone or Christopher Reeve accepted the role of Colton, or Debra Winger as Joan.

To me, as an occasional author of adventure stories, being able to write something as tight, snappy, seriously tongue-in-cheek as Romancing the Stone would be enough.
Yes, I set myself impossibly high standards.

* It’s actually three, now that I think about it.
** In case you’re wondering, the Doobies disbanded in 1982.