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In 1983, “The Last Temptation of Christ” fell apart when Paramount pulled the plug weeks before filming was about to start, and Martin Scorsese needed to make something, anything, to keep his career going. The script he picked, “Lies” by Joseph Minion, was mostly an excuse to shoot something quick and cheaply like he did back in his film school days. But “After Hours” turned out to be one of the director’s most stylistically adventurous films, and one of his funniest.
Joseph Minion apparently created the script in his mid-twenties as part of his work at Columbia’s Graduate Film Program. Much of the plot setup and some of the dialogue, a significant portion of the movie’s first 30 minutes in fact, were brazenly lifted from “Lies,” a 1982 NPR Playhouse monologue by Joe Frank, the great L.A.-based radio artist.
Joe Frank never received official credit for his contributions, and he appears to have been paid a generous amount of money to settle the plagiarism suit and keep everything quiet. There’s also a weird twist: The cabbie in the film is played by an actor named Larry Block who is apparently the same Larry Block who appeared on many of Joe Frank’s shows for KCRW in the 1990s.
In After Hours, Griffin Dunne plays a New York yuppie (Paul), who meets Rosanna Arquette (Marcy) in a cafe. He'd been reading ''Tropic of Cancer'' and she'd been fiddling with a cup of coffee. They discuss their common interest in Henry Miller and Marcy leaves Paul her number and informs him that she lives with a sculptor named Kiki Bridges, who makes and sells plaster of Paris paperweights resembling cream cheese bagels.
Later that night he goes to her SoHo apartment, only to find himself in for a night of misfortune. Paul loses his money, inadvertently causes a suicide, becomes a suspect in a series of robberies (committed by Cheech and Chong), and eventually turns most of the neighborhood against him.
In the middle of the film, Paul attempts to enter one Club Berlin in Soho, where he expects to meet Kiki Bridges and her boyfriend. At the door stands "Checkpoint Charlie," a beefy bouncer who bars his entrance, telling him that he may not enter at this time. He explains: "I'll take your money 'cause I want you to feel you haven't left anything untried." This line is virtually a direct quotation from Franz Kafka's parable "Before the Law” likewise spoken by a doorkeeper at a crucial point in Kafka's unfinished novel The Trial.
In Kafka's work the man asking entrance never does challenge the doorkeeper, but Paul Hackett forces his way into the club and encounters no further resistance on the part of the doorman, although this same bouncer later helps an overeager barber try to shave Hackett's head.
Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker cut down “After Hours” from over two hours to a lean 97 minutes, resulting in a film that’s all nervy energy and jittery rhythms. Schoonmaker’s editing and Michael Ballhaus’s camerawork actually serve as a punchline to some of the best jokes. One thing many viewers of the film have reported is the high level of suspense in "After Hours," which is technically a comedy but plays like a satanic version of the classic Hitchcock plot formula, the Innocent Man Wrongly Accused.