Home Movies by Decade Movies - 1990s Bonfire of the Vanities, The (1990)

Bonfire of the Vanities, The (1990)

Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel about the Greed Decade was penetrating. prophetic and incisively satirical. Director Brian De Palma’s $45 million film version of the book is superficial, shopworn and cartoonish.

Let’s start with the miscasting . . .

Tom Hanks is a comic actor of proven gifts. But he is not Sherman McCoy, the patrician bond trader whose career mirrors the rise and fall of such Wall Street “masters of the universe” as Michael Milken.

In the book, McCoy is imperious, a shallow user; Hanks plays him as goofy and sympathetic.

Melanie Griffiths has the curves and the Southern Belle voice of McCoy’s mistress, Maria Ruskin, but the movie Maria is a cupcake who spouts malapropisms (“I read spasmodically”) and arouses the limp McCoy with such come-ons as “I’m a sucker for a soft dick, Shuh-mun.”

The story pivots on one incident: Driving Maria home from the airport in his Mercedes, Sherman takes a wrong turn and ends up in the South Bronx.

Frightened by two black men blocking the ramp to the highway, they run down and critically injure one of the men while racing to escape.

Later, they conspire to hide the incident from the police. When the truth surfaces, McCoy becomes the centre of a media witch hunt.

Reverend Bacon (John Hancock) – a black religious leader – shouts about justice and lawsuits, while Bronx DA Abe Weiss (F Murray Abraham) – with an eye on becoming mayor – plots to throw the book at McCoy to win the minority vote.

Meanwhile, McCoy’s marriage to “social X-ray” Judy (Kim Cattrall) collapses, along with his career.

Bruce Willis is cast as Peter Fallow, the sleazy tabloid reporter (British in the book) who writes lies about McCoy to boost his own career. Willis also narrates the film, reciting some of Wolfe’s choicest prose and giving the illogical and misleading impression that Fallow is based on Wolfe.

De Palma has hyperbolised Wolfe’s stinging indictment of New York society into a flat-out farce, and as miscalculations go, this one’s a lulu. The author wisely had nothing to do with the film.

Sherman McCoy
Tom Hanks
Maria Ruskin
Melanie Griffith
Judy McCoy
Kim Cattrall
Peter Fallow
Bruce Willis
Jed Kramer
Saul Rubinek
Judge Leonard White
Morgan Freeman
Reverend Bacon
John Hancock
Tom Killian
Kevin Dunn
Albert Fox
Clifton James
Ray Andruitti
Louis Giambalvo
Detective Martin
Barton Heyman
Detective Goldberg
Norman Parker
Mr McCoy
Donald Moffat
Arthur Ruskin
Alan King
Caroline Heftshank
Beth Broderick

Brian De Palma