On Friday 24th June 2011 I found myself, for the first time in my life, with my leg in a plaster cast. As is my usual practice in challenging situations, I turned to the movies for tips on how to cope, and with the help of the good people of Twitter, compiled a list of films featuring plaster casts.
Here is the Top Ten of my favourites:
“I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” says Melanie Griffith in this very 1980s corporate fairytale about a secretary who gets her own back on the female boss who stole her ideas by posing as an executive in her absence. The big hair, power-dressing and shoulder-pads have dated badly, but Sigourney Weaver, who should do comedy more often, is huge fun as the evil bitch boss who breaks her leg on a skiing trip; Joan Cusack steals scenes in a supporting role. Griffith’s recent career has been so low-key it’s easy to forget how appealing she used to be with her not so dumb blonde attitude and disarming streak of Monroe-like vulnerability, though Carly Simon’s Oscar-winning theme song makes me want to kill someone (preferably Carly Simon).
PLASTER CAST TIP: Just because you have a leg in plaster doesn’t mean you should let your standards slip. Weaver is quite possibly the sexiest plaster-cast wearer ever as she dolls herself up in lingerie for a visit from Harrison Ford, unaware that he has unaccountably become smitten with Griffiths in her absence.
I’m sorry, but Live and Let Die was the only Roger Moore Bond film that coincided with my adolescence, so I couldn’t be bothered to shell out the ticket money for the others. Even now I’m not entirely sure I’ve seen all the Moore Bonds – they tend to run together in my head in a brume of bad quip and raised eyebrow acting. But I do know I’ve seen For Your Eyes Only, mainly because I was interested in Carole Bouquet, who’d played one of Luis Buñuel’s Conchitas in Cet obscur objet du désir, and also because one of the villains is played by Michael Gothard, and I’ve been a Gothard completist ever since seeing him in 1967 as Milady de Winter’s vengeful son in the BBC’s The Further Adventures of the Musketeers. The plaster cast is basically a throwaway gag in Q’s laboratory; it swings sideways off its wearer’s arm and smashes a dummy’s head, at which Bond quips, “That’ll come in handy.”
PLASTER CAST TIP: Never forget that your plaster-cast can be useful as a weapon. But it’s a shame Bond didn’t use this one in the field.
“You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” Let’s hear it for the archtypal “putting on a show” musical, starring Warner Baxter as the Producer, Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel as wisecracking broads and Ruby Keeler as the chorus girl who steps into the limelight after leading lady Bebe Daniels breaks her ankle, and magnanimously says to Keeler, “You know Peggy, when I started for the theater tonight I wanted to tear your hair out, but then I started thinking… Well after all, I’ve had my chance, and now it’s your turn!” Busby Berkeley stages the musical numbers (including the naughtily suggestive “Shuffle off to Buffalo” and “Young and Healthy”) with his customary flamboyance, but what galvanizes the attention nowadays are the dancers’ figures. No Showgirls-type muscled hardbodies here – it’s chubby thighs a-go-go.
PLASTER CAST TIP: It’s my contention that Bebe Daniels didn’t really want to take part in that stupid show anyway. Never forget your plaster cast will provide you with the perfect excuse to get out of doing stuff you don’t really want to do.
Jerry Lewis plays an accident-prone orderly at a plush private sanitarium. Looney Tunes alumnus Frank Tashlin directed this comedy, and the best parts are cartoon-inspired slapstick; the last ten minutes, a beautifully choreographed medley of runaway stretchers and supermarket mayhem, are particularly brilliant. Elsewhere, Lewis’ exaggerated mugging has fallen so far out of fashion that it often seems grotesque, and it’s hard to watch without wondering if his ingratiating idiocy is merely a cover for the sour misanthropy he later displayed in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy, while his physical antics seem laboured compared to the graceful stunts of, say, Jackie Chan. But there are good moments, including a peculiarly pertinent board of directors’ meeting that makes comic hay out of naked capitalism.
I bet there aren’t many hospital-set comedies that don’t feature some comic business featuring plaster casts, but The Disorderly Orderly has three variations on the theme:
1) Jerry pushes a wheelchair containing a cigar-puffing man with a comically exaggerated cast on his foot. Blinded by cigar smoke, Jerry accidentally pushes the chair into a wall; hilarity ensues behind the opening credits.
2) Jerry accidentally tapes a nurse to a patient’s plaster cast.
3) Jerry accidentally lets go of a plaster-covered patient while out strolling in the hospital grounds. The man rolls down a grassy incline, the plaster smashes against a tree… and there’s no-one inside.
PLASTER CAST TIP: People in plaster casts are invariably seen as amusing, which is no doubt why they appear in so many comedies. You can always bring a smile to people’s faces with a well-timed pratfall. Though if you’re saddled with a plaster cast yourself, you’re unlikely to see it as a source of humour.
George Sluizer’s Franco-Dutch psychothriller begins with the disappearance of Saskia, a young Dutchwoman at a service station in the south of France and ends with one of the most nightmarish denouements in film history. In the interim, we become almost as obsessed as the missing woman’s boyfriend with finding out what happened to her, though unlike him we’re privy to the kidnapper’s identity – he’s an ordinary-seeming family man played with chilling affability (and slightly dodgy Karswell beard) by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu. But the game here is not whodunnit, but how and why, with missing pieces falling into place to show us how the madman ticks. All he needs now is an audience to appreciate his cleverness.
American serial-killer Ted Bundy would sometimes wear plaster casts, slings or crutches to gain the trust of his young female victims. In The Silence of the Lambs, Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb approaches a victim with his arm in a sling. In The Vanishing, we watch Raymond Lemorne meticulously planning the abduction of a young woman – any young woman – by wearing a fake plaster cast on his arm. In the end, ironically, he doesn’t need it to lure Saskia into his car; her misgivings are put at rest when she spots a photograph of his family.
PLASTER CAST TIP: A plaster cast can easily win you a stranger’s trust. Try not to abuse this trust by killing them.
Richard Harris plays an Irishman living in Canada who harpoons a pregnant female whale. Its mate seeks vengeance by attacking boats, houses, people, including Bo Derek, whose leg is in plaster following an earlier attack. Bo is chillaxing with a glass of wine in a seafront house on stilts (as you do) when the vengeful killer whale headbutts the stilts, tipping the house and sending Bo sliding down the floor. While she’s clinging on for dear life, waiting for Harris to rescue her, Orca chomps off her leg, plaster cast and all.
PLASTER CAST TIP: While your leg is in plaster, try to avoid situations involving killer whales, houses on stilts and Richard Harris.
One summer I got myself fitted with a slutty gold ankle chain as a special tribute to Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in this classic film noir adapted (by Raymond Chandler, among others) from a James M Cain novel. Babs plays Phyllis Dietrichson, a duplicitous housewife who seduces insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into helping her bump off her husband, only for things to go horribly wrong as they invariably do in such tales. Me, I flaunted my ankle chain like mad, but have yet to meet my Walter Neff.
The plaster cast first appears, in silhouette, during the opening credits, and plays a pivotal role in the plot; Dietrichson has a broken leg in plaster and walks with crutches, making it easy-peasy for Neff to impersonate him after his death.
PLASTER CAST TIP: People will remember your plaster cast, not you. Unless you also wear an orange fright wig and spangly tutu, in which case they’ll probably remember what you’re wearing as well as the cast. I haven’t put this to the test, but it seems quite logical they’d be more likely to remember your signature injury rather than your face or your sparkling wit.
Before he went on to direct such films as Three Kings and The Fighter and yell obscenities at Lily Tomlin (see YouTube), David O Russell cobbled together Spanking the Monkey on the short ends of other productions’ film stock and did such a splendid job of it that you readily forgive the odd rough edge in his writing-directing debut. The title is a slang term for masturbation, and the film itself is about incest, but don’t let that put you off – this is a classy coming-of-age black comedy that treats its themes in a thoroughly entertaining but responsible way.
Jeremy Davies is the antithesis of heroic, cool or witty in his breakout role as Ray, a medical student forced home to nowheresville in upstate New York to look after his attractive but neglected mother (Alberta Watson, also excellent) who has broken her leg in a botched suicide attempt. For Ray, it’s hell on earth. He is bored, frustrated, and thwarted in his attempts at sexual relief by the family dog. It’s only a matter of time before enforced intimacy turns into an intriguing combination of a boy, his mother and a plaster-cast.
PLASTER CAST TIP: If you fancy someone, you could try asking them to rub moisturizer into the skin around your plaster cast. Or you could get them to help you take a shower. Though probably best if you’re not related to them by anything other than marriage.
This brilliant Hong Kong thriller stars Tony Leung (Chiu Wai, that is, not the other Tony Leung) as a dishevelled cop who has spent a decade in deep cover amongst the Triads and Andy Lau as a dapper Triad who has been infiltrating the police department at the same time. Each is assigned by their respective bosses (Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang) to flush out his counterpart mole, leading to edge-of-seat tension, steely visuals and sparse but effective bursts of violence.
You’ll need to keep your wits about you to work out who’s who, who knows what, and which side they’re on – especially since the two lead characters aren’t always too sure themselves – but your reward will be one of the most gripping thrillers of the noughties. Martin Scorsese won an Oscar for remaking it as The Departed, but sacrificed the original’s tight narrative and knife-edged tension to sloppy storytelling and an out-of-control star performance from Jack Nicholson.
In the tense, pivotal scene in which each mole first becomes aware of the other’s existence, Tony Leung communicates by tapping out Morse code with the plaster cast on his arm, to let the cops know where a Triad drug deal is going down, while Andy Lau is simultaneously feeding information about the planned drugs bust back to the Triads.
PLASTER CAST TIP: Yeah, Morse code. Sometimes, SOS is all you need.
The pleasures of voyeurism have seldom been served up more seductively than in Hitchcock’s film of Cornell Woolrich’s story; it’s the Master of Suspense at his most gloriously entertaining. James Stewart, laid up in his apartment with a broken leg, starts spying on his neighbours through a telephoto lens, with results so fascinating it’s almost a shame when the plot proper kicks in and takes over. Has Raymond Burr murdered his nagging wife, or is our hero letting his imagination run away with him? Thelma Ritter is a riot as Stewart’s wisecracking nurse, while Grace Kelly as his fiancée is such a vision of gorgeousness – kissing her beau in slo-mo or saucily unpacking her negligé with the words, “Preview of coming attractions!” – you’ll be asking yourself why he’s finding it so hard to commit to her. All the answers, of course, are to be found in those windows across the yard, each of them cynically illustrating one of the many different stages in the eternal battle of the sexes.
PLASTER CAST TIP: In a perfect world, we would all have Thelma Ritter to rub us down and Grace Kelly to awaken us from our reveries with a magical kiss. But in the absence of either of these angels, we can console ourselves by spying on the neighbours in the house opposite. Or, if your window is too high and your vantage-point too low, by gazing mesmerised at Magritte-esque cloud formations and the gently swaying branches of the sycamore outside.
Honourable Mentions: A Clockwork Orange, The Tenant, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Frida, A Fish Called Wanda, Splash!, GoldenEye, Assassins, Office Space, Election, Spider, Goodfellas, The Incredibles, Les amants du Pont-Neuf, L’astragale, Verso sera. (Please don’t hesitate to suggest other plaster cast-related titles to add to this list, which I realise is nowhere near exhaustive.)
If you’re looking for PHALLIC PLASTER-CASTS (and search engine terms in my stats suggest that some of you are) here’s a post about them.
- Printable Penises Are The Future Of Dildos (huffingtonpost.com)
- More Plaster Leaf Casting (artfulparent.com)
- Face Studies, Deglamorized (artamaze.wordpress.com)
- Plaster Casting with Playdough Molds (artfulparent.com)
- Sculpture: A richness of forms and materials (leslierankow.wordpress.com)