“All we’ve got going for us is the city. Our only hope is they’re mired down in the same shit that you and I have to wade through every day.”
To rectify having been away for so long — I know, it’s been months in fact — another fave will be shown the spotlight. An underrated American crime comedy that may have bombed at the box office, but surely deserved better. Quick Change‘s opening titles sequence cleverly condensed its characters’ love/hate relationship with New York City — aptly wore it as a badge of honor, even. Visually and musically making the point, much like another of the same ilk did a couple of decades before.
All while its fellow Big Apple inhabitants pushed right past it off the subway.
And as was done before with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, let’s give the Howard Franklin and Bill Murray-directed film some perspective. The beginning of the ’90s at the felony receding tail of the big city’s crime problem that dominated the ’70’s and ’80s. Still, if you’d survived those dark times, with the economic recession, fiscal crisis, blackouts, and the drug epidemic fueling it, whatever optimism the new decade brought certainly tinged with a, “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude.
May not be initially evident after the traditional Warner Bros. logo splashes passed and we’re plunged into a black backdrop, which reminds one of the bad ol’ subway days featured in Pelham…, before being upended. The mood stirred when the “A Devoted Production” title appears, accompanied by some unexpectedly gentle chords. A few old timers will instantly recognize the classic tune as the great American singer and jazz pianist Nat King Cole croons the ironic pulse of this opening.
The affectionately smile-inducing “L-O-V-E”, the bouncy B-side1 of his 1964 Top 40 single, “I Don’t Want to See Tomorrow”. Originally an instrumental penned by Milt Gabler for Bert Kaempfert’s Blue Midnight album the same year. That it also charted2 led to it being the title track for Nat King Cole’s final LP, released in January before his death from lung cancer in February 1965 3. While the “L” lyric launches the actor credits along with a shot of a vibrant skyline, it too toppled soon enough.
The scene turn turtle’d as a faint police siren is heard in the background and the familiar subway train sound rumbles up to reveal where this commencement really gets underway… underground. The faces the camera pans across, minus the updated fashion sense in the absence of world communism, recalls those of …One Two Three. That is, till it reaches Bill Murray’s deadpan schemer character onscreen. The appropriately named “Grimm” in surprisingly grease-painted clown makeup and attire.
Appropriately for this town and especially New Yorkers, no one even gives him a second glance…or a break.
By the time Nat is through to “E” in the stanza and Bobby Bryant’s equally honed trumpet solo kicks in, as the credits begin to shift over the frame, Grimm arrives at his appointed stop. And is promptly greeted with par for the course pushing and shoving each subway commuter stomachs every single day on Manhattan isle. “Thanks, MTA.” Just as the lyrics reprise, Grimm uses determination, spite, and balloons to make his way out and up to the street and his unlawfully detouring destiny.
What’s more, the metropolis that has caused this city planner to finally break bad and attempt to leave it with his sanity, along with a few FDIC-insured funds, in hand, will go about its parting shots above ground. Not without some mockery as the strategically placed, “JFK Express, The Train to the Plane”, ad paid no heed by Grimm at the top of the stairs, along with DP Michael Chapman’s credit. The one thing, if he’d have noted it sooner, would have saved him and his cohorts significant grief.
Yet, that’s purely the paradoxical joy of this titles clip, along with keeping stride4 with a first-rate melody that runs counter with everything on display. Crescendoing as Grimm thinks it’s going to be better on the surface, somehow. Clashing to what his toes will tell him after being run over by garment district racks or his sensibilities given pause as a peep show5 hawker adjusts his call to take him into account. The contradistinction in music, pacing, and deed, by the time it ends, is simply priceless.
- Nat King Cole also recorded L-O-V-E in four other languages – French, German, Italian and Japanese ~ Songfacts. ↩
- The song peaked at the #81 position for Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1964. ↩
- Cole’s daughter, Natalie, would also cover L-O-V-E on her 1991 Unforgettable album, which focused on covers of standards previously performed by her father. ↩
- The entire sequence runs the length of Nat King Cole’s buoyantly genial piece of music. ↩
- The last of the seedy peep shows near Times Square and Penn Station were in the midst of their decline by the time it had reached this decade. Today, just about anything in the adult entertainment business with location value is being bought out for pricey office space. ↩