August 15, 2021, will mark 20 months and change since the passing of Robert Forster, an upstanding actor, and a most treasured friend of the New Beverly Cinema. Film crews and regular folks alike still speak warmly of their interactions with him. The theatre has done several tribute screenings of his work, and his Academy Award nominated turn in Jackie Brown continues in regular rotation in our Friday midnight movie offerings, but there’s one lesser-spoken of performance that’s always been a house favorite going back several years, and for this date, we’re bringing it back, with substantial support from a new and exciting company of like-minded film lovers, and a surprise second feature!
Short-term ballplayer turned hardscrabble taxi driver and numbers runner Jason Walk (Forster) crosses paths with distraught widow Christine Holloway (Nancy Kwan) when he unwittingly drives her to the locations where she summarily kills two associates of local thug Brusstar (Joe Spinell), all of them responsible for the death of her shady husband and innocent son. Now effectively drawn into her quest for catharsis, he first offers her material support through his own cash operations, and when his best friend Tony (A Martinez) is murdered by the still-healthy Brusstar, his own revenge lust goes into full gear. This unlikely duo brought together by mutual loss may prove to be the best team to strike down an entrenched criminal enterprise, as they all go about Walking the Edge, from 1983.
Austrian-born director Norbert Meisel started out as an actor, often playing Germanic bad guys on WWII-themed TV shows as “Combat!” and “The Rat Patrol.” He began writing, producing, and directing unique, sexually-tinged dramas in 1972 with The Adultress, starring Tyne Daly and Eric Braeden. During a stay in the Phillipines during the mid-70s, he met actress Nancy Kwan, who was filming Night Creature with longtime friend Ross Hagen; the two married and became frequent collaborators, beginning with this film. Producer Manfred Menz had started his company Marketing Film in 1972 to create Super 8 highlight reels of popular movies for German homes, later turning it into a major home video label for the region; his brother Dieter had previously launched Atlas International, who helped produce several ‘70s drive-in hits as Jess Franco’s Succubus, Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil, and Amando de Ossorio’s Tombs of the Blind Dead. When Meisel and Menz met Forster at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, they pitched the actor on working with them, and three months later, the screenplay was written. The project went into a quick 2 week shoot in the latter half of 1982.
Much of Edge unfolds as a sort of dry run for the dramatic and romantic beats that would later be found in Forster’s unmatched performance in 1997’s Jackie Brown. Jason Walk and Max Cherry are both men essentially past their prime working in unsavory occupations (numbers running and bail bonding) that regularly puts them in the presence of folks they’d just as soon not socialize with. And when desperate women, be they revenging wife Christine or forward-thinking Jackie, come into the picture, each of his protagonists find themselves drawn into their respective plights, to the point of stepping outside of their comfort zones and risking their own lives to help them. Indeed, it is likely that the former film was a significant influence on the latter, as before Quentin Tarantino cast Forster in Brown, he had directly told him how much of a fan of it he was. And Edge has played the Bev frequently in recent years; Forster introduced a screening in November 2016 during a month-long salute to Nancy Kwan, in September 2017, it played as part of a midnight double feature, and was included in a November 2019 triple feature shortly after the actor’s passing.
Another significant fan of Edge has been Jonathan Hertzberg, a longtime Director of Repertory Sales and Acquisitions for Kino Lorber, and founder of his own boutique blu-ray label, Fun City Editions, serviced by Vinegar Syndrome, all of them friends of the theatre. Hertzberg took the name from an infamous quote from NYC Mayor John Lindsay, who, on the first day of a brutal 1966 transit strike, proclaimed, “I still think it’s a fun city.” Before working directly with classic films, Hertzberg had written about them for years under the pen name Ned Merrill, at his blog Obscure One Sheet. He also edited together a series of supercuts made up of striking moments from several NYC-set movies, which he alternately called “Dirty Old New York” and, again, “Fun City.” While Edge is set an entire coast away, Hertzberg has been a regular booster of it, hosting a screening of it at the Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn in August 2017, and just recently, debuting in on BluRay this past June on the FCE label.
“I was initially drawn to Walking the Edge because it’s Robert Forster and Joe Spinell in another grimy revenge thriller from the early ’80s, except this one is in LA.,” Hertzberg told this writer in a recent conversation. “And, as to acquiring it, its scarcity made it all the more attractive. It had been out of circulation since the Anchor Bay DVD from the late ’90s. That lack of availability is certainly something that makes it all the more imperative to get it back out there, in this case via Fun City Editions.”
Fun City Editions’ blu-ray releases are not all set in New York, but all of them do have a common thread suiting Hertzberg’s choice of name: the films all offer a deep look past a location’s facade to the gritty truths living underneath: be it small-town pettiness behind a California beauty pageant in Smile, the corruption of Montana cowboy ethics in Rancho Deluxe, the menace beneath handsome British boys in I Start Counting, and of course, the seedy night dwellers of the East Village in Alphabet City and of East Hollywood in Walking the Edge.
“I don’t have strict, unbreakable rules for what constitutes a Fun City title, but it’s certainly a plus, if in addition to be a good movie, it’s been hard to see or locate for a long time,” he elaborated. “Generally, I am always looking for titles, whether as a viewer or distributor, that are more than meets the eye… films that have not won awards or been big box office hits, films that have perhaps been sold short or narrowly defined. Films that failed in one way or another upon initial release, but which I and / or a sizable part of the audience have identified as sleepers or uncelebrated for too long.”
Edge is also notable for providing a springboard for new talent as well as a haven for proven actors. It was the first produced screenplay for writer Curt Allen, who later wrote Robert Forster’s sole directorial outing Hollywood Harry, as well as a sequel to Forster’s big hit Alligator, though the actor did not return for that project. Besides its veteran cast, there are also cameos from Dolemite screenwriter Jerry Jones, Alex Cox regular Luis Contreras, grindhouse actress turned producer Jacqueline Giroux, and frequent comic relief “old lady” Ivy Bethune.
The Fun City-sanctioned screening on Sunday, August 15th, will have a surprise second feature. We aren’t giving any hints. Consider that, much like Billy Wilder’s lament for Ernst Lubitsch, part of the sadness of not having Robert Forster among us is that there are no more new Forster movies to come. So treat this as an opportunity to experience a Forster performance that will likely be new to you!
Perhaps historian Ariel Schudson summed up the appeal of Walking the Edge best in a 2016 essay on its radiant co-star Nancy Kwan, when she described Forster’s Jason Walk as a, “Wrong place, wrong time guy who gets caught up in Christine’s hurricane. His idea of dinner is a glass of wine and McDonald’s. But it makes him happy. And he believes in three hugs a day.” As Forster would say as Max Cherry in Jackie Brown, ain’t nothing wrong with that!