Bill Murray’s lesser known New York movie, Quick Change is part Dog Day Afternoon and part After Hours, where a trio of bank robbers desperately try to get from the heist to the airport before getting nabbed by the cops. Murray (who co-directed the film with screenwriter Howard Franklin) plays Grimm, a jaded city planner who holds up a bank dressed as a clown, and Geena Davis and Randy Quaid play bank customers who are really in on the plan. After successfully absconding with the cash strapped to their bodies, the three thieves spend the rest of the movie lost on the streets of New York.
While not a perfectly constructed film, there are several moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout Murray’s one and only directing effort. One intriguing theme that gets a little lost along the way is the Grimm character’s growing disgust with NYC — not just with the typical rudeness and disorganization of the city, but with the emerging gentrification that’s causing century-old buildings to be replaced with luxury condos. Even Grimm’s pursuer, Police Chief Rotzinger, seems to share this sentiment.
Naturally, a film that’s all about the trials and tribulations of New York City life had a lot of on-location shooting, with production utilizing four of the five boroughs, as well as Newark, NJ. While the geographical logic is a bit topsy turvy, Quick Change does offer up several interesting and non-traditional NYC locations, especially for the time.
Traveling to the Bank
Even though the train has the red number 1 “bullet” on it, I quickly identified this subway station to be the 42nd Street-Times Square shuttle, based on the distinct rounded columns and curved track. I knew this station very well from when I worked in Westchester County in the early 2000s and have to take the shuttle to Grand Central where I’d then take a Metro-North train upstate.
This shuttle from Times Square to Grand Central Terminal has been a popular location for film and TV productions over the years since its Track 4 was only used during rush hour and could be taken over by a crew during the off-peak hours.
However, after the MTA’s recent renovation of the line, the days of the shuttle being used by productions are probably now gone. Starting in 2018 and completed in 2021, the MTA’s renovation involved eliminating Track 3 and covering it with a platform, merging it with the already-existing platform over the former Track 2. So now there are only two tracks at both stations, making it impractical for it to be used by a film/TV crew.
The new station at Times Square looks pretty nice with its dark grey color scheme, and has retained a few remnants of the original 1904 station, including “G-rail” railings and an old door that used to connect to the Knickerbocker Hotel.
And it might be noted that since the original Track 4 platform has been abandoned, the “modern” image above was taken from the western end of the new center platform, which is the closest you can legally get to a matching vantage point. The old platform is still there but closed to the public, so access to it is limited to MTA workers or bold urban explorers willing to cross over the tracks.
When it came to the strip club, Show Center, I thought finding its address would be a piece of cake, but it turned out to be a little tricky. I even ended up enlisting my research partner, Blakeslee, to help out.
Going into this, we were both surprised that there wasn’t already a dedicated website out there that cataloged all the adult entertainment venues in Times Square during the 1970s and 80s. So, without a centralized database, we had to do some digging on our own.
One problem I kept encountering when I did Google searches for “Show Center” was getting results for “Show World Center,” which was a different place altogether, located at 669 Eighth Avenue. Amazingly, this adult shop was one of the last of its kind to survive the 1990s “Disneyfication” of Times Square, sticking around until 2018.
But there are still a few remnants of the old gritty Times Square around, including an adult shop called the Playpen at 687 Eighth Avenue. Originally located inside a theater a few blocks up, the Playpen moved to its current location in 2007 when the theater was demolished and replaced with a Shake Shack.
But as I continued my search for the filming location of this scene, I thought I found a major clue when I discovered a circa 1980 photograph of a “Show Center” in Times Square that looked a lot like the one in the film.
This “Show Center” was located near the southwest corner of 49th and Broadway and seemed to be part of a larger venue called, “Pussycat Theater.” However, after much scrutiny, Blakeslee and I determined that it was not the same place as the one in the movie. The biggest difference was with the neighboring buildings, which just didn’t line up with what appeared in this scene.
Back to the drawing board, Blakeslee did some more research and finally found a late-1970s photo of a Show Center at 259 W 42nd Street which we determined to be the correct location. Even though the marquee was different from the film, there were several very promising similarities. And to further confirm things, I looked up a 1980s tax photo of the address and it was a perfect match.
Today, the Show Center building, as well as several of its neighbors on 42nd Street, are long-gone. They got torn down around 1997 and replaced with a large office building that now has family-friendly shops and restaurants on the ground floor.
The Bank Heist
This was one of a handful of locations already identified on the web. Certainly the viaduct and nearby Grand Central Terminal made it easy for online sleuths to figure out the bank was at 100 Park Avenue.
While the building is still there today, you might not recognize its façade due to a major renovation that took place on the property in the mid-2000s. Aside from the reconfiguration of the windows, one of the building’s more apparent updates was at its 41st street corner where the bank’s front entrance was located. Back in 1989, the entrance was cut out of the corner, creating a sort of alcove, but it has since been squared off and the entrance got moved down Park Avenue.
Another noticeable change to this area is in the stretch of road between the bank and Grand Central where Bill Murray first appears. This section of Park Avenue used to be a proper street open to vehicular traffic but has since been closed off and turned into a pedestrian-only plaza (completed around 2019).
One funny thing about Grimm’s walk from the subway station to the bank is that he basically does a full circle. When we first see him getting off a train, he’s getting off the shuttle which just arrived from Grand Central. He then bounces along 42nd Street, finally ending up on Park Avenue back where Grand Central is. (I know storywise, Grimm was supposed to be getting off a 1 train, but it’s still an amusing juggling of 42nd Street locations, and it won’t be the last time the movie takes some geographical liberties.)
Calling the Chief
This was an easy location to find since the initial wide shot gives us a great view of the Manhattan skyline, and a later shot of the ruffians driving away shows several extant buildings along N 6th.
And continuing with some illogical geography, the time it would take to get from the bank on E 41st in Manhattan to Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn would be much longer than what’s implied in the story. It could easily take 30-45 minutes to get there, but the characters act as if only a few minutes has gone by.
Of course, I’m sure this location was chosen by the filmmakers for its unobstructed vista views of Manhattan, which is also why this part of Brooklyn has now become a hotbed of luxury hotels and high-end apartments — a big difference from what the neighborhood was like when this movie was shot in 1989.
Entering the Bank
I keep going back and forth on these interior bank scenes. While I’m almost certain the fictitious “iC Bank” was a set built by production, I can’t decide whether they filmed the interiors at the same Park Avenue address used for the exteriors, or at a completely different location.
Normally, a set like this would be built on a soundstage, but as far as I can tell, this production wasn’t based at any official studio spaces (which were already scarce in New York in the 80s). So my guess is that they built this bank in some large industrial/retail space that was empty at the time, which very well could’ve been the ground floor of 100 Park Avenue
Shortly after its completion in 1948, 100 Park Avenue’s ground floor was occupied by Chemical Bank, but I haven’t been able to find out if they were still there in the summer of 1989 when this movie was being made. They were still there around 1985 when the city tax photo was taken, but they could have conceivably moved out by the late 80s.
If you look at the retail space there today, the layout looks very similar to what is seen in the film, albeit a little narrower, but that could be due to the repositioning of the walls when the building was renovated in the mid-2000s.
The fact you never really see the street from inside the bank makes me suspect that it was shot somewhere else.
The front doors were frosted and the windows were covered with dark opaque drapes, blocking any clear views of the outside. These design choices could’ve been done to deliberately obscure any signs of the bank’s actual location, but it could’ve been done simply to serve the film’s storyline since it’s necessary for the cops to be unable to see inside the bank as Grimm switches out of his clown getup.
Looking for the BQE
This location took a little doing to find, mainly because I was looking in the wrong borough.
Since the scene was all about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I assumed they shot it in Brooklyn or Queens. Without any visible street signs or landmarks, the one big clue to go on was the triangular-looking building where the neighbor screams from. While not entirely unusual, the building’s footprint was unique enough that it would help narrow my search.
I basically looked through maps of any Brooklyn or Queens neighborhood that could’ve been used for this scene, searching for any intersection that had an acute triangular block. While I found a couple intersections that were similar (especially in Astoria and the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area), none of them were a perfect match.
I was about to give up on my search when I found an article on the AFI website that mentioned that production filmed some stuff in the South Bronx. Since there were no scenes in the film that explicitly took place in the Bronx, I figured it was possible they used it to double for Brooklyn-Queens.
So, with some newfound hope, I began a new search for an acute triangular building, this time in the South Bronx, and after a little scanning around, I found the one on West Farms Road.
Since discovering production was using the Bronx to double for Brooklyn-Queens, my research partner Blakeslee took a stab at this scene, guessing that it too was filmed up there. He basically looked in the same neighborhood as the BQE scene, trying to find a street layout that matched the film — namely one that created a large triangle. (See the first “before/after” image above to get a good sense of this shape.) Fortunately, this location wasn’t too far from the BQE location, and he was abe to find it within an hour or so.
I’m a little curious as to why production decided to film these two scenes up in the Bronx (which was still a little dicey back then), especially since storywise, nothing was supposed to be taking place there. Perhaps the crew needed to be up there to shoot some interiors, or perhaps Murray and Franklin just wanted to add some variety to the locations.
In any case, the next scene jumps back to Brooklyn.
This is one of those locations that I immediately knew I could figure out since it included a shot of the Statue of Liberty.
Judging by the angle of the famous landmark and the presence of industrial-looking buildings, I guessed that they shot this scene in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. So I searched any streets near the water in Google Street View, keeping an eye open for that large building that appeared behind the “scenic drive” sign.
However, since the Red Hook neighborhood has been going through a lot of changes lately, I thought there’d be a good chance the building would now be gone. Luckily, it’s still around today (while most of its neighbors have recently been razed), which made finding this location a little easier.
One thing that bugged me about this scene (other than the fact that it magically transported the characters from the Bronx to Brooklyn) was the presence of that “49 Mile Scenic Drive” sign. Even when I saw this film in 1990, I thought the sign looked out of place. By the time I started researching this movie in 2017, I was certain that the sign was fake, but according to some online commenters, this scenic route was real, meandering along the East River and South Shore.
But I wasn’t buying it, and decided to dig a little deeper.
Turns out, the sign in this film was actually real! The only thing is — it’s from San Francisco, California, hence the seagull on it. I can only assume production used this West Coast signage as some sort of inside joke (or maybe it was just lazy set design), but it comes off as being very un-New York.
Beloved by Californian day-trippers today, this 49 Mile Scenic Drive opened in 1939 during San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition as a way to show off the city to visiting drivers. And the reason it’s an odd 49 miles is apparently to match the size of the city in square miles.
Starting at Union Square and ending at City Hall, the scenic drive takes you past a gallimaufry of sites and landmarks, including a buffalo herd, a pet cemetery, the 100-year-old Castro Theatre, a Dutch windmill, and of course, the famous Golden Gate Bridge. But if you ever take the drive yourself, be aware that many of the signs may be missing, as these cute, bird-adorned markers are a popular target for thieves (who apparently sell them on eBay.)
The big clue to help me find the location to this scene was a sign behind the second jouster, which had a company name and street number on it. Amazingly, the company, Joaquin Industries, is still around today and still has the same hand-painted sign on its building. There’s not much info about the business online, but they apparently are a supplier of HVAC components and “Your Trusted Sheet Metal Contractor.”
After confirming the location, I was disappointed to discover that some buildings went up in what used to be an open parking lot (probably for the church) where this jousting match took place. So I figured the only modern photos I’d be able to get would be limited to the streets. However, once I got to the site in person I was happy to discover there was still a decent amount of open space mid-block and it was easily accessible.
This, by the way, is one of the few scenes that makes any geographical sense, as the location of the previous “scenic route sign” scene was only a few blocks away. So, it would be quite logical for them to drive to this location from the there.
Man with a Map
While I thought this location ,might be difficult to figure out, there were a couple decent clues in the scene to help me hone my search. The first was the L-shaped road that makes a sudden, 90-degree turn, which is a pretty unusual street layout for NYC. It’s almost like one diagonal half of an intersection got taken away.
The other clue was a large industrial tank behind the trees and what looked like open sky behind it. That indicated that they were probably close to some big industrial facility along the river — something that used to be very common in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Of course, there used to be a ton of facilities like that for miles and miles along the river, but since a previous scene was shot in Williamsburg, I thought nearby Greenpoint would be a good place to start.
While I wasn’t relying on the large tank to still be there today, I hoped that the L-shaped street was still intact. So I started looking through a map of Greenpoint, focusing along the East River, and eventually found the intersection of Eagle and West Streets which formed an L shape.
The large industrial facility is long gone but several of the smaller buildings along Eagle Street are still around and I was able to match them up with the film. But who knows how much longer those older buildings will last. A lot has changed to that area, even from when I took those modern pictures in 2019. What was still an open space a couple years ago is now getting filled with several large buildings.
Talking with the Bank Manager
This location was a breeze to find since I was already familiar with this courthouse next to Madison Square Park, having already identified it in other films and TV shows, including the short-lived, Carrie Diaries, which I actually worked on the day they filmed there.
I’ve always loved this marble Beaux-Arts courthouse, whose modest size is often overshadowed by its towering neighbors. Established in 1899, this building was constructed during the “City Beautiful Movement,” a period when architects and urban planners were trying to elevate the monumental grandeur of cities.
A perfect example of this can be seen at the courthouse’s 25th Street entrance, where the steps leading to a portico are flanked by a pair of splendid marble sculptures of seated figures, named Force and Wisdom. These statues give the courthouse a certain majestic quality and make it stand out from its larger and better-known counterparts in Lower Manhattan,
While finding the location to this scene was pretty easy, the one thing that briefly confused me was the reverse shot of Chief Rotzinger (played by Jason Robards). By my estimation, a true reverse shot would’ve been looking directly into Madison Square Park. But Murray and Franklin chose to cheat it by placing the camera a half a block south and pointing it at the Metropolitan Life North Building (which incidentally was featured in 1985’s After Hours). I can only assume they did this because they wanted an urban landscape in the background.
Another New Building
After I discovered that the scene at Phyllis’s Apartment was filmed in Manhattan, Blakeslee and I took a guess that this scene, which immediately precedes it, was also filmed in Manhattan.
The first thing I focused on was the corner apartment building Grimm was disgusted by. Since it was actually in the middle of construction at the time of filming, I thought that could be a helpful clue.
While I couldn’t find any online databases that listed all the Manhattan buildings by construction date, I did find a cool interactive map that was color-coded based on general building age. Interestingly, I discovered there wasn’t a lot built in Manhattan during the late-80s/early-90s except for a few pockets in the Upper East and Upper West Sides (as well as Midtown, but I eliminated that since it’s almost exclusively big office buildings there).
As Blakeslee and I searched these upper Manhattan areas, things got a little easier once we noticed in the last shot from this scene an avenue in the background with two-way traffic. That meant they were probably one block away from either Park Avenue or Broadway (both of which are two-way). And since the street leading up to that avenue was on an incline, they were most likely east of Park or west of Broadway (since there are hills on each of those respective sides).
With all this additional info, it didn’t take long for Blakeslee to come upon that building on the corner of 93rd and Lexington and confirm a match. And the building did indeed have a construction date of 1989.
And need I mention — storywide, this location is completely out of whack with where the characters were before, which was about five miles southeast in Brooklyn.
I worked on this scene before I worked on the previous “Another New Building” scene, so the idea of Manhattan being used hadn’t yet occurred to me. I was actually fooled by the dialogue in the film that implied Phyllis’s place was in Queens. Plus, in a 2010 interview for Entertainment Weekly, Howard Franklin claimed the bank was the only Manhattan location used in the film.
But then I noticed a valuable clue. In the shot where the car backs into a wooded park, I could see part of a street sign showing the last four letters, “SIDE.” I then went to a website that listed the name of every street in New York and did a page search for the word “side,” which got me a couple hits, but the most logical one was Riverside Drive in Manhattan because of the park that runs alongside it.
From there, I just cruised up Riverside Drive in Google Street View looking for a match, only focusing on streets that went east and that were on a hill. And within an hour or so, I found a match on 146th Street.
In retrospect, I should’ve realized they were in Manhattan based on the yellow color of the street sign. Even though in 1989 the city was phasing out its color-by-borough street signs, they hadn’t gotten around to switching them all over to the now-familiar green ones.
Hailing a Cab
I ended up inadvertently identifying the location to this scene while researching the location of a completely different scene (see “Walking to the Airport” below).
Because this “Hailing a Cab” scene was darkly lit and in what looked like a generic industrial area, I thought figuring out the location would be a nearly impossible task. The only two clues I had to go on were the Gulf gas station that appears behind Randy Quaid, and a unique-looking building with curved windows that appears behind the tow truck — a building I thought might be discoverable.
The first thing I did was go to the 42nd Street Library and look up Gulf locations in 1989 phonebooks for Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan. However, none of the addresses I found seemed to fit the bill (although I knew phonebooks tended to have incomplete listings when it came to gas stations). After that, I took a break from this scene and started investigating the “Walking to the Airport” scene which I suspected took place at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
In order to confirm the Brooklyn Navy Yard location, I started searching for photos online, trying to find a building that matched one of the ones in that scene. It was during this image search that I stumbled upon a PDF document about the architecture of defense buildings that featured a picture of 25 Washington Avenue. As soon as I saw that picture, I could tell it was the building with curved windows from this scene.
And when I checked out the area in Google Street View, I was pleased to see that all the other visible buildings from this scene were still standing today, including the gas station. Since 25 Washington is now part of Steiner Studios, it’ll probably remain in place for a while, but I have a feeling the other buildings will eventually get demolished, so, I’m glad I was able to get pictures of the area when I did.
(It might be noted that there’s a slight connection between this movie and the 2019 film, Joker, which involves the building at 25 Washington Avenue, but I’ll cover that when I do a write-up for that film.)
Jumping From the Cab
The location for this extended sequence was already identified on a couple websites when I began researching this film in 2017, including IMDB.
There were several clues in these scenes to help identify the location, but I imagine the most obvious clue was a street sign in one wide shot that clearly showed the names of both intersecting streets.
While some of the stores there have changed hands, this part of Jamaica, Queens hasn’t changed much over the years and feels a lot like it probably did in 1989 — just more people on cell phones.
Encountering the Mob
The second half of this extended sequence, which primarily deals with the mob, mostly took place in the same vicinity in Jamaica, Queens. The only exception was the interiors of the warehouse where Grimm and his partners accidentally stumble into a criminal operation. Those parts were reportedly shot at an old taxi garage at 175 Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
While there’s an apartment building at that address now, there definitely used to be a garage at that spot in 1990. And judging by the tax photos of its exterior, it’s quite plausible that this scene was shot there.
I haven’t found any definitive visual proof to confirm this, but I found some pretty reliable documentation, including an AFI article which sources its information to production notes found in the AMPAS library. I also found a contemporaneous New York Times article that gives a detailed account of the day’s shoot on Lorimer Street, down to the props used inside the old taxi garage.
Riding the Bus
As soon as I saw a bunch of car dealerships out the bus’s windows, I took a guess that this scene took place in the Woodside area of Queens on Northern Boulevard which is sort of known for having a large concentration of dealerships.
I then focused on the gas station that appeared behind the hippie on a corner lot. Luckily, it had a nice, big legible sign next to its car wash that read, Merit. And after a little digging around, I was able to find a want ad in a 1980 issue of the Daily News for a Merit gas station at 39-04 Northern Boulevard — a corner address that looked very promising.
According to a March 17, 2000 article in the New York Post (that was all about New Yorkers dealing with the outrageously high cost of $1.74 per gallon of gas), there was still a Merit at that address at that time. And there remained an active gas station on that corner lot up until 2019 — most recently a Speedway, preceded by a Hess, which I discovered had a car wash that looked a lot like the one seen in the movie.
Things were looking pretty good for calling this location confirmed, but to help strengthen the case, I looked up a 1980s tax photo of the former Merit station. Even though the tax pic was taken from the reverse angle, I could tell that the cashier stand had the same door/window configuration as the one in the film, only flipped, since we were looking at the opposite side of the stand.
Once I saw that, I was pretty sure I got the right spot. Although, I was a little disappointed the gas station was now closed after having a long history of being on that lot since at least 1940 when it was a Texaco.
In late 2018, the property was reportedly purchased for $31 million by Bay Ridge Automotive Management, a New Jersey-based company that owns a string of dealerships. After the deal was completed, it was assumed the site would become another car dealership, but as of 2022, there’s nothing new there — just the decommissioned Speedway gas station covered in graffiti .
When it came to the reverse shot of the bus driver (played by the great Philip Bosco), it soon became evident that it was shot at a different location, but most likely still on Northern.
After a little searching, Blakeslee was able to find the spot after figuring out that it was a Mazda dealership that appeared out the windshield. Turns out, it was about 1 mile away from the gas station, and even though the dealership looks a lot different today, back in 2012 before it got remodeled, the building was a perfect match.
There’s one other shot of the bus racing down a street, but I didn’t officially include it because I’m still only 75% certain of the location. I believe it took place about a half mile away from Northern Boulevard at the intersection of Broadway and 65th Street, with the bus heading east on Broadway and going over the actual BQE.
Walking to the Airport
I remember when I first saw this scene, I thought it looked like it was filmed on a Hollywood backlot. There was something a little unnatural about it. But since I hadn’t read anything about production filming in Los Angeles, I had to conclude they filmed it at a real location in the NYC area. (This included New Jersey, which I knew was the location of the airport scenes.)
Once I was open to the idea of this scene taking place at a real location, I noticed something in the background that struck me as odd — some sort of metal tower and overhead metal trusses. Once I saw that, I almost immediately thought of the Brooklyn Navy Yard which I knew had that kind of apparatus on the grounds.
Unfortunately, at the time I was trying to verify the location of this scene, there was no Google Street View of the Yards (although Google has since added them to their maps), so I did a basic online image search, hoping to find a matching building. It was during this image search that I stumbled upon a photo of 25 Washington Avenue, which helped me figure out where the “Hailing a Taxi Cab” scene took place.
After that, I was able to find a few images of the Brooklyn Navy Yard that confirmed the location of this “Walking” scene. Next, I visited the site to snap some modern pics, but that turned out to be a little challenging since most of the Navy Yards are closed to the public.
The security guard who stopped me was pleasant enough, but he was steadfast in keeping me out since I had no official business there. Fortunately, I knew a little workaround — Steiner Studios. All I did was wait until I got a day job on one of the productions at Steiner, which is inside the complex, and then bike over to where this scene took place on my lunch break and grab some photos.
Searching the Bus
Like a domino effect, the location to this “Searching the Bus” scene was found almost immediately after the locations to “Hailing a Cab” and “Walking to the Airport” were found because all three were only a few blocks away from each other.
It’s fortunate that this location was so close because upon first inspection, it looked like an impossible place to identify. I originally thought it took place behind some warehouse or something, which I figured would be pretty hard to nail down.
In fact, I didn’t even try to look for it. But after I told Blakeslee about the “Hailing a Cab” location on Flushing Avenue, he took a guess that this scene was shot somewhere nearby, and eventually identified the extant building at number 280.
Numerous sources list Newark as the filming location for these airport scenes, and after checking out the terminals, I could see the architecture matched. But it was hard to know which terminal they filmed in because they all look kind of similar.
The only evidence I found that they shot in Terminal C came from a forum on the aviation news website airliners.net. On the site, one of the users claimed he was there during the filming of the scene at the check-in counter.
It’s always possible he was mistaken or just plain lying, but it seems somewhat credible and there are a few things that help support his claim, in particular, the moving sidewalk which appears in one of the later scenes.
While there were moving walkways in other parts of the airport, the one in the movie was on a slight decline before flattening out and the one in Terminal C near Gate 70 had the same dip in it,
These moving sidewalks in Terminal C are now gone, having been removed during a major renovation at the airport ending around 2019. But the general layout looks about the same.
As to the airplane scenes, there were several news articles indicating that they were filmed at the Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida on an L-1011 fuselage.
This fuselage was actually the front section of the first L-1011 TriStar built by Lockheed, dating back to 1970. After the plane was retired, a 65-foot section was salvaged by a team in 1989 and trucked from Oklahoma to Atlanta, and then to Orlando. The fuselage was then mocked-up as an airplane set to be used for commercials, in-flight safety videos and feature films (like Quick Change and Passenger 57, starring Wesley Snipes).
It remained at the Disney theme park for ten years, when it was returned to Atlanta to serve as a gift shop at the Delta Flight Museum. After that, the L-1011 was retrofitted as a conference room to be rented out for special events. (However, according to its Facebook page, the fuselage is currently under repair and unavailable for rentals.)
Quick Change was the first of three collaborations between Bill Murray and Howard Franklin, and by far their best production.
While I do enjoy this movie a lot, I also have some problems with it, such as some glossed-over plot points and a few of the “New York gags,” most notably, the scenic-route sign and the Mexican jousting match. Not say there aren’t some great jokes in there, too (the strip club barker yelling, “clowns welcome” is one of my favorites), and I always found the ending to be very satisfying.
However, my biggest problem with the movie is the casting of Randy Quaid as Grimm’s childhood friend, Loomis. His cartoonish portrayal of a slow-witted person comes off as forced and consequently unfunny. And while some people seem to be fine with his performance, I think he took what was supposed to be a basic blue-collar lummox and turned him into some sort of weird man-child.
On the other hand, when it comes to all the secondary characters, the casting was superb, with a roster of amazing character-actors, many of whom were relatively unknown at the time. The stand-outs include Phil Hartman as the nervous apartment owner, Kathryn Grody as his wife (who happens to be the real-life wife of Mandy Patinkin), Philip Bosco as the by-the-book bus driver, Bob Elliott as the security guard and Tony Shalhoub as the foreign cab driver.
Another nice performance comes from Stanley Tucci, playing one of the mob’s foot soldiers. He would later go on to co-star with Tony Shalhoub in the wonderful foodie film, Big Night. While they technically don’t ever share the screen together, Tucci and Shalhoub do appear in the same scene. They each point out the three main characters as they’re getting on the bus, but do so from opposite sides of Jamaica Avenue.
Of course, one of the best things about this film is all the NYC locations, even if the geography doesn’t really follow any logic.
But unlike other studio films made at that time (like Bill Murray’s more-famous Ghostbuster films), they shot almost everything in the NYC area. And from that, most of it was shot in the outer boroughs, away from the traditional sleek Manhattan landscape. As co-director Franklin put it, “We were sort of in the Archie Bunker New York.”
However, choosing nonconventional locations in 1989 did have its consequences. For instance, according to Franklin, two production assistants who were checking out a block in Brooklyn were shot at during an attempted hold-up. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but I can only guess a shooting incident like that inspired the crew to work much faster.
‘We were worried about a lot of the neighborhoods,” Franklin said in a 1989 New York Times interview, ”but most of the time it’s been almost festive, because the kids were all very excited to see Bill Murray. And a lot of them know Geena, too.”
But sometimes the harsh conditions of a poor neighborhood could sap the cast and crew’s spirits, as Murray lamented, ”We….shot in the South Bronx, and it’s very hard to be funny when you see how people are living.”
But overall, the twelve weeks of NYC shooting went fairly smoothly, in no small part to the skilled work of a seasoned crew. Except for the cinematographer, everybody was part of Woody Allen’s New York team. That’s because one of the film’s producers was Allen’s long-time collaborator,Robert Greenhut.
Murray was very happy with his crew, commenting, “We inherited this very affable group that gets along with each other already and knows each other’s habits.”
Of course, it was a bit of a change for a crew that was used to working in New York’s more affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side or the West Village to be suddenly working in places like Brooklyn and Queens. And considering the somewhat anti-New York theme running through Quick Change, it was a little ironic having Woody’s Allen’s crew working on it, since Allen’s films were often considered love letters to the Big Apple.
That being said, I always thought Quick Change fully embraced the array of colorful characters and disparate places found in New York (a New York that, quite frankly, doesn’t really exist anymore). In the end, I think this movie is actually a salute to the city, even if it’s a sort of backhanded salute.
So, Quick Change isn’t really a love letter — it’s more of a Dear John letter.