20 Years Later: Still Obsessed With "The Firm" & Memphis

I saw The Firm on opening night with my older brother and some friends. I remember sitting on the floor of the sold out theater next to Nina, the worldly (about-to-be-former) Yugoslavian who had come to our small town as a foreign exchange student. It was 1993 and Tom Cruise was at the height of his diplomatic powers. His films will bringing people together by the millions. 

No matter what people say, I believe Grisham's plots are built for the big screen. I have always had a fondness for this film and I'm convinced that my love of it is why I eventually moved to Memphis. I was hoping to befriend Holly Hunter and hire Brimley as my personal bodyguard...

Press play for the greatest line of the movie:

So last month I had a chance to write up a Memphis-friendly travel article for a potential gig and I wrote about it being the 20th anniversary of The Firm and apparently it was such a good idea that my brilliance (or maybe the secret scientology mafia?) intimidated them and they didn't use it. Summer time and hence, the 20th anniversary, is about twelve hours from being over and because I was also unsuccessful in finding alternate place to publish it, I figure I will post it here for my dear readers and people stumbling onto my awesome blog by googling Yugoslavia and Tom Cruise. 

So... Here's the article - posted JUST IN TIME:

A Starring Role for Memphis: Tracing Tom Cruise’s Footsteps in the 
Bluff City 20 Years after The Firm

The late, great Roger Ebert gave the 1993 thriller The Firm three out of four stars saying, "The movie is virtually an anthology of good small character performances. ... The large gallery of characters makes The Firm into a convincing canvas...” 

One of the biggest brushstrokes on that canvas is Memphis itself. The Bluff City is cast as a key character in the Tom Cruise vehicle which opened in theaters twenty years ago this summer.

The real fun in this anniversary is looking back at the major landmarks and tourist attractions featured in The Firm, many of which have held up better than Cruise’s feathered hair and billowy button-ups.

Directed by Sydney Pollack, The Firm was adapted from a novel of the same name by Southern author and master of the legal thriller, John Grisham. It’s about a young lawyer, Mitch McDeere (played by Cruise), who learns that his new law firm is so corrupt, no associate has ever left the organization alive. 

Featuring an A-list supporting cast of Academy Award winners– including Gene Hackman and Ed Harris – the film was a massive hit at the box office, raking in some 270 million dollars worldwide. 

The film truly showcases Memphis, using landmarks like the de Soto Bridge, The Peabody, and the Mud Island Monorail as part of major scenes. The movie portrays Memphis almost as an exotic, foreign land – a place full of history, hospitality, kind words, bow ties, and mystery.

The Firm is worthy of a re-watching or a belated first-viewing, if only to see Hollywood’s interpretation of the beauty of Memphis’ “blockbuster” landmarks. Watch the film, then walk in Tom’s footsteps. Re-enactment is encouraged, you can even try to match your own pictures or videos shot-for-shot, although you may want to check with the Mud Island Monorail operator before directing a chase scene with your pals. 

See if your Bluff City heart doesn’t skip a beat when reviewing this rundown of The Firm’s major Memphis screen moments:

• The opening credits roll over a northwest view of the Mississippi River and Hernando de Soto Bridge. Next we see Grisham’s credit over a side view of The Peabody:  

• The limo pulling Cruise up to “The Firm” stops at North Front Street, between Madison and Monroe, the fictional location of the firm’s offices:  

• Cruise and his wife, Abbey, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, are gifted with a brand new Mercedes Benz at their home (actual filming location on Tuckahoe Street in East Memphis). They take it for a spin down the Riverfront: 

• One of the law firm partners takes Cruise on a walk down Beale Street. In imitation of the famous Beale Street Flippers, Cruise shows off his agility with a few flips of his own. Later in the film he’s seen walking down Beale in a less than chipper mood: 

• The firm hosts a barbecue at our favorite rooftop party spot: The Peabody. The iconic sign is clearly visible in a scene where Hal Holbrook and Cruise are talking. You can also see the “Memphis Business Journal” sign in a wide shot when the band is playing:

• When two associates are mysteriously killed, their funerals are held at beautiful, historic Elmwood Cemetery. The 19th century tombstones and monuments look especially haunting in this wide shot:

• The feds first meet Cruise when he is cramming for the bar exam at The Blues City Cafe (they order steak sandwiches):

• The exterior of the detective agency run by Eddie Lomax (played by Gary Buesy), is right on South Main and G.E. Patterson. There’s a historical marker near the corner by the Arcade Restaurant noting modern moviemaking in Memphis.  Cruise later meets up with Lomax’s partner, Tammy (played by Holly Hunter), at the Front Street Deli:

• Cruise meets with federal agent Harris to make a deal at the Southland Racing Park in West Memphis:

• Cruise hides from the bad guys by taking a tour of the Mississippi River Museum and riding the Mud Island monorail:

The bad guys catch up with him and there is a climactic chase scene right on the monorail and footbridge.

• Paul Sorvino, playing a Chicago mobster staying at the Peabody, talks on the phone with the Pyramid over his shoulder:

• Cruise leaves town to head back east - the end credits roll over a shot of him and his wife escaping down Riverfront drive, the majestic Memphis skyline behind them: 

The story of The Firm was revived in 2012, with a TV series spinoff set in Washington DC that was cancelled after just one season. What was missing in this reboot? Well, not just Cruise and his international appeal, but the film’s other star: Memphis. 

Take some time to revisit the sights and settings that Hollywood found so fascinating two decades ago and see if you can’t get into character on your own. 


The Firm review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, June 30, 1993
Box office stats from Box Office Mojo

Handy Firm Filming Location Map:

Map made by yours truly so holler if you use it! (Or if you need a custom map)


National Park Pop-Up Trip

One of my favorite birthday presents this year was the America's National Park Pop-Up Book.

The description says:
"The book is a coast to coast journey featuring 18 of our most visited national parks, six as stunning double page pop-ups: Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier and Yosemite national parks. Pop-up paper engineering is created by Bruce Foster, designer of 40 pop-up books, including the amazing Harry Potter pop-up book. The pop-up illustrations by Dave Ember are in the style of the WPA 1930s posters..."
I like the thickness of it - it let's you know this isn't really a kids pop-up book. I mean, you can let kids watch you look at it and they might enjoy from afar, but no dirty undexterous hands on this piece:

The back cover claims that the National Parks will come to life! And they do.

Here's the Grand Canyon:

And Yellowstone:

And a tiny book in the corner of the Glacier National Park page opens up to reveal a "jammer":

I loved this book almost as much as I love the National Parks and my National Park Passport. If they wanted any ideas for improvements on the next printing, I'd say they could include a useable human-size fold-out tent of the Ahwahnee Lodge at Yosemite:

I've always wanted to stay there. Imagine: Turn your card table into the Ahwahnee Lodge!  Grand idea. 

Get this book and then get me to the Everglades:


A Swiss Summer

A common theme on the road-trips this summer : Small & Swiss.

Thanks to a recommendation, while we were in Buckhannon on B's academic business, we took a switch-backy mountain drive up to a small swiss village in the WestVirginia hills. It is known as Helvetia. I do mean small - according the 2010 census the population is 59.

The town has a homey restaurant called the Hutte House:

Inside it looks like a lived-in treasure shoppe:

The owner proudly displays her West Virginia Business College degree:

You get a plate of cubed baby swiss as an appetizer and beer is served in giant cold ceramic steins:

After our late lunch we went for a stroll down the street. As in THE street. 

Settled in 1869 by some Swiss folks that just wanted to MYOB!

A beautiful flower bed on a pretty little bridge over a quaint little crick:

The town convenience store and post office - we were told that the woman who owns the restaurant is also the town postmistress:

The reason I love Swiss villages is because most buildings are called HAUS:

On my way back from Michigan I got off the highway after seeing the small hand-painted billboard that touts the quaintness of the swiss village of Berne, Indiana. I'd seen it on my trip a couple times and always wanted to stop and if there is one lesson I can teach y'all after my couple decades on the road - if you want to stop: DO IT.

I'm glad I did especially because my timing was perfect. The mechanical people and glockenspiel in the historic (looking) clock tower were about to do their noon dance!

If you don't have photosynth for your phone - get it. It is the most fun panorama app ever. 

The city center is quite fancy for a town of just around 4,000 people.  Here is a set of swiss arms:

The entertainment began at noon. 

I don't know anyone who doesn't like a good glockenspiel and mechanical figures coming out of a clock at noon. Here's a taste:

And here is proof that there was popcorn:

The tour bus:

In town, all the stores and buildings look like swiss chalets. Even the McDonalds!
Here is the fire station:

If I could have stayed two more days I would have been able to attend their swiss festival. I can only eat so much dense cheese and cheese soups in July. I will just have to come back another time.