Absence Of Malice



An absorbing drama of the power of the press and the pursuit of the truth.

Release year: 1981
Runtime: 125 Minutes

Production Notes

The modern newspaper-- its pace, pressures and moral dilemmas is the subject of Columbia Pictures' "Absence of Malice." Paul Newman and Sally Field star in the new film produced and directed by Sydney Pollack, based 'upon an original screenplay by Kurt Luedtke. Set in Miami, the motion picture dramatizes the dilemma of a man who picks up his morning newspaper and finds that he has become a front page headline. Suddenly everything he'd ever worked for is in jeopardy and inquiries to local law enforcement officials, as well as the newspaper itself, confirm that someone is investigating him, but no one will say who or why.

As the story unfolds, "Absence of Malice" explores the parameters of a complex and tenuous relationship: that of journalist and subject and shows the tensions that exist between individual and societal rights. The drama begins with the disappearance of a prominent union leader. As time passes without a solution, pressure mounts to break the case. A zealous government investigator tries to entrap the guilty party by starting a bogus investigation of one Michael Gallagher, a wholesale liquor dealer and the son of a deceased mobster.

Included in the investigator's game plan is a news leak to Megan Carter, an equally zealous reporter. As the story unfolds, the equation is reversed and the crisis becomes that of a journalist who has written a story she now believes is false. "Absence of Malice" is about what happens when these two people confront each other: one a seemingly powerless individual and the other a representative of a revered institution.

Michael Gallagher is a street-smart, second generation Irish! Italian American whose entire life has been shadowed by his father's association with gangsters. Owner of a legitimate wholesale liquor business, Gallagher. has largely succeeded in keeping his nose clean and - laying out of the spotlight -- until now. Paul Newman plays Gallagher.

Megan Carter is a hip investigative reporter whose life revolves around her job. Feisty and tenacious, she is proud of her commitment to truth and objectivity. Nothing and no one has shaken her gritty confidence until she encounters Gallagher. Sally Field is Megan Carter.

Though their backgrounds and life-styles are very different, Gallagher and Megan have something in common: each is a strong, hardheaded player, willing to take a fight to the finish.

Director Sydney Pollack has often created challenging situations for complex characters while displaying a genuine sympathy for their frailties. Interested in polarities and extremes, his previous films have pitted unique individuals against fate ("They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" "Bobby Deerfield"), against nature ("Jeremiah Johnson"), against someone else different but equal (liThe Way We Were," "The Electric Horseman") and against institutions ("Three Days of the Condor").

"It's a way of arguing out whose side I'm on, which is, finally, the most interesting part of picture-making for me," he comments.

It wouldn't be fair to tip the director's hand at this juncture, but suffice it to say that Justice Holmes' dictum holds sway: "There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the. devil." But "truth" is a prickly concept. Do facts and statistics lead to truth, even if accurate? The sworn testimony of one man? Or ten? One person's "truth" can be another's tragedy, as the film's reporter finds out too late. When a schoolteacher who wants to help clear Gallagher naively confides in Megan as if to a girlfriend, or a priest, the resultant story destroys her.

Melinda Dillon, an Oscar nominee for her performance in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," plays the schoolteacher. "The modern news problem is the intricate result of a civilization too extensive for any (one) man's personal observation."
-Walter Lippmann

Kurt Luedtke's screenplay dramatizes the difficulty of monitoring the truth on a 24-hour-a-day basis. Thematically the story explores and raises questions about the very real collision between individual and societal rights; between truth and accuracy. In a process that depends on conflicting responsibilities, it asks how can people look beyond their own priorities and duties to something larger.

All information-giving organizations are under enormous pressure from myriad special interest groups, and the responsibility for sifting and weighing the facts is entirely on them. There are three different branches of law enforcement involved in "Absence of Malice" along with a faceless collective called "the public" with its too ardent acceptance of what it reads or hears and sees from media. Each of the lawmen thinks himself in the right or, like Rosen, the investigator who triggers the Gallagher imbroglio, justified in whatever liberties are taken. Getting the job done is of paramount importance. "That's what they're payin' me for," says Rosen, who is played by Bob Balaban ("Prince of the City").

Indeed, with the exception of Gallagher, who works simply to earn a living, each of the characters has unwittingly allowed allegiance to his work to replace a personal sense of rightness and justice.

Waddell, played by Barry Primus ("Heartland") is "a pretty good cop" who confuses heart with duty. District attorney Quinn, played by Don Hood ("Pretty Baby") is a decent-enough man whose political ambitions outweigh his judgment.

There are also McAdam, the city editor who needs the privilege of executive detachment from palpable human concerns and Davidek, the newspaper attorney who is forced to translate human problems into legal issues. These characters are respectively played by Josef Sommer ("Rollover") and John Harkins ("Being There").

The film is further enriched by the presence of the legendary Luther Adler in the role of Santos Ma1derone, a man whose position
is very clear.

"Absence of Malice" was filmed entirely on location in Miami during the winter of 1980/81. The southernmost city in Florida, gateway to the romantic "Keys," it has a great many unusual pictorial qualities. The brilliantly clear, turquoise water is one, the luminous light another. Reflections in the bays, marinas and tributaries mirror the contradictory personality of the city itself: its proximity to the Everglades as well as its extraordinary business vitality, to which the many bridges and "causeways," highrises and vast building machinery testify.

Except for the film's culminating 15-minute scene, it was shot entirely in functioning restaurants and bars, banks and government buildings. Some were dressed for the occasion: the back of the Flagship National Bank on Brickell Avenue became the front of the fictitious "Miami Standard" by virtue of some temporarily painted-on gothic lettering; a huge warehouse on Biscayne Bay convincingly became "Gallagher Imports" in a like manner.

Biscayne Bay itself figures importantly in an early scene between Field and Newman who lunch together aboard his antique boat, "Rum Runner." A 46-foot classic cruiser built in 1941, the vessel's birthname is actually "The Optimist," and it was certainly in that spirit that the director, crew and stars ventured out onto the Bay interruptedly, weather permitting, over a period of nearly three weeks.

The gardens of Vizcaya provide pastoral counterpoint to a pivotal scene between actresses Field and Dillon. Presently a Dade County museum, the gardens are part of an estate which belonged to the late industrialist, James Deering. The mansion was completed in 1917 after two years of construction, but work on the ten acres of formal landscaping ceased upon America's entry into World War I and the gardens were not completed until 1922. Diego Suarez adapted the formal aspects of an Italian hill garden to Miami's subtropical climate.

Offices of the Miami Herald became those of the film's fictitious "Miami Standard." Part of the Knight-Ridder chain, it shares production facilities with a Cox paper, the Miami News. First begun in 1910, the Miami Herald now has more than a million readers throughout Florida and in the major cities of the Caribbean, Central and South America. The film company's primary location was the main newsroom and attendant executive offices, utilized between midnight and dawn in order to minimize disturbance to the newspaper.

Heroism in a minor key has characterized the persona of PAUL NEWMAN throughout his 30-year career as a stage and film actor, director and late-blooming auto racer. From "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956) to "Fort Apache, The Bronx" (1980), his place in the imagination of filmgoers and critics has been secure, and it has not mattered whether his characters were good, bad or merely maladjusted. His four Academy Award nominations reflect that spectrum in reverse chronology: "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "The Hustler," "Hud" and "Cool Hand Luke."

As a director, he has taken risks, most recently with "The Shadow Box," a film for television. His other directorial efforts are "Rachel, Rachel," for which he received the New York Film Critics Award, "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" and
"Sometimes a Great Notion."

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1925, Newman interrupted his studies at Kenyon College to serve for three years in the U.S. Navy. He returned with a serious interest in acting which led eventually to the Yale Drama School. Upon graduation, he went to New York where he became Ralph Meeker's understudy in "Picnic" and was accepted by the Actors Studio. A Warners contract took him briefly to Hollywood where his film debut as a Greek slave in "The Silver Chalice" so disappointed him that he asked out of the contract and returned to the New York stage in "The Desperate Hours."

Over the past decade, Newman has become a respected auto racer, prompting veteran driver Sam Posey to make the following remark: "(He) is one of the finest endurance racers in the world today. He has a born talent for getting the most out of a car without hurting it."

The statement could stand for the life-stance of a man whose decency was long-ago taken for granted, and whose "born talent" has zig-zagged through more than forty memorable screen roles, particularly triumphing in two of the most popular movies of all time, "The Sting" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The center of a long career is acting in solid movies for directors as diverse as Hitchcock and Kazan, Ritt and Altman. A key to the actor's longevity may lie in his uncanny ability to fulfill the requirements of traditional masculinity ("Hud"), to mock it ("Slap Shot"), to illuminate its ravages ("Sweet Birdof Youth") or to idealize it ("The Towering Inferno")

He is equally effective in all genres and in comedy or drama. As a citizen, Newman has been continuously active in liberal politics since the 1960's and is a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations on disarmament.

Her present role as an ambitious reporter whose stories inadvertently create calamity for others is a dramatic departure for SALLY FIELD. Up until now, the actress has played characters who were lovable ("Back Roads," "Smokey and the Bandit") or admirable ("Sybil") or both - as in "Norma Rae," for which she won an Academy Award in 1980.

"I'm a funny mixture of Cinderella and Scarlett O'Hara," she says. "While I like being an innocent waiting for Prince Charming, I also identify with the woman who stood on top of a hill, shaking her fist and saying, 'I swear to God, I'll never be hungry again." It is the spirit of Scarlett's oath which energized the actress to make a radical change in the direction of her career some half-dozen years ago. "Gidget," "The Flying Nun" and "The Girl With Something Extra" had made her a television star, but they had also professionally imprisoned her. She became type cast as an apple-faced stereotype.

But it is not for nothing that Field has so successfully played women of courage and tenacity. She simply stopped working and waited for the right vehicle to come along.

It did. The 1976 film, "Stay Hungry," in which she starred opposite Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger, brought her out of a saccharine shadow. A short time later, she starred in "Sybil," a 4-hour teledrama opposite Joanne Woodward. Her portrayal of a mentally disturbed woman with multiple personalities was a major turning point in her career. She won an Emmy for her work in it. Over the next few years, she made a series of films with Burt Reynolds in which her comedic talents shone: "Smokey and the Bandit, I & II," "Hooper" and "The End." In between were "Heroes," costarring Henry Winkler, and "Norma Rae."

A classic example of the perfect melding of story, director and star, "Norma Rae" was the surprise hit of 1979. Field's portrait of a factory worker's struggle to unionize a textile mill won for her every major "Best Actress" citation in the country, as I well as the same accolade from the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.

A scant year later, Field was back with her "Norma Rae" director, Martin Ritt, filming "Back Roads," opposite Totmny Lee Jones, and a few months later began "Absence of Malice."

Field was born in Pasadena, California in 1946. Her father was a pharmaceutical manufacturer but her mother was under contract to Paramount. She was thus reared in a show business atmosphere and remembers being carried to Charles Laughton's acting classes by her mother. She began working while in her teens and is a member of the Actors Studio.

Alternating between the stage and films and, increasingly, acting and directing, has kept BOB BALABAN working at capacity for the past several years. Three films released in 1981 commanded his presence "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" and "Prince of the City" in addition to "Malice" - and he made a short film, "SPFX 1140," after having apprenticed himself to Sidney Lumet on "Death Trap." He also appeared in Michael Bennett's "Gallery."

A native of Chicago, Balaban began working with the famed Second City troupe while still in high school. He attended Colgate and New York Universities, the latter in order to facilitate appearing in Mike Nicholas' "Plaza Suite." He created the role of Linus in "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" off-Broadway and then essayed a 95-year-old man in "The Inspector General," for which he received a Tony nomination.

Balaban's other stage credits include "Who Wants To Be the Lone Ranger," at the Mark Taper Forum, "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel" and "The Children" at the New York Shakespeare Festival, and "The White House Murder Case," off-Broadway. In terms of film, he appeared in such quintessential 1960's movies as "Catch 22" and "Midnight Cowboy" and, during the 1970's, in two films which reflect that decade's antipodes, "Girlfriends" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Other films include "Altered States" and "Report to the Commissioner."

Training at the Goodman Theatre School in Chicago, MELINDA DILLON began working with the Second City troupe, first as an understudy and shortly as a full-fledged member. Later, she spent nine months at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. appearing in "Uncle Vanya" and "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," among other classics, going from there to New York where she created the role of Honey in the original Broadway production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Her performance won a Tony nomination. Dillon's subsequent work, be it for film, television or the stage, has reflected those early polarities of comedy and drama. She has recently appeared in two critically-acclaimed television dramas, "Fallen Angel," as the mother of an abducted child, and "The Shadow Box," as the companion of a terminally-ill woman.

She was in "F.I.S.T." and received an Oscar nomination for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." In "Slapshot" she was a comedienne and in "Bound For Glory" she played two roles, the poverty-stricken wife of David Carradine's Woodie Guthrie and a country singer.

Among Dillon's other theatrical vehicles have been Broadway and television appearances with the Paul Sills Story Theatre, and starring roles in "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running," "A Way of Live".

After making his Broadway debut at age 21, in "The Nervous Set," BARRY PRIMUS appeared in the Jerome Robbins directed version of "Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, etc." One of the original members of the Lincoln Center Repertory Company, he appeared there in four plays, "Incident at Vichy," "Marco Millions," "After the Fall" and "The Chang1ing."

The actor continued his association with Robbins as a member of the director/choreographer's American Laboratory Theatre as both actor and assistant. He has worked at a number of regional theatres; off-Broadway in the Public Thea┬Ětre production of "Ruui Huui; "and returned to Broadway in 1974 in Arthur Miller's "Creation of the World & Other Business" and again during the 1979 season in "Tieble and Her Demon."

Currently, Primus may be seen in "Heartlands" and in the reissue of "New York, New York." He is well remembered for his starring role in the 1960's cult film, "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me," and other films include "The Rose," "Brotherhood," "Puzzle of a Downfall Child."

Primus teaches at the Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles, and is integrating writing and directing more centrally into his career.

A graduate of Carnegie Tech, JOE SOMMER worked for more than a decade in such regional theatres as the Long Wharf, Seattle Repertory, A.C.T. and Stratford before moving to Manhattan to facethe Great White Way. He spent a season at Lincoln Center, appearing in "Enemies" and "Merchant of Venice," among others, and has since appeared in "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" with Mary Tyler Moore, "The Shadow Box," "The 1940's Radio Hour," "Spokesong" and others.

For television, he appeared in some of the most distinguished PBS series, including "The Adams Chronicles," "Beacon Hill," "Mourning Becomes Electra" and "The Scarlet Letter."

Film work is relatively new to Sommer. He made his debut in "'birty Harry" and may currently be seen in both "Reds" and "Rollover." He also appeared in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Hide in Plain Sight," "The Stepford Wives" and "The Front."

Although JOHN HARKINS has a rich theatrical background, and has made innumerable television appearances, he is a relative newcomer to the film medium. Prior to playing the financial editor of the Post in "Being There," he appeared in "A Face in the Crowd", "Popi" and "The Tiger Makes Out."

After two decades on the New York stage, with regional theatres and every important Shakespearean company in the country, including Stratford and Joe Papp's Shakespeare in the Park, Harkins moved to Los Angeles. He appeared regularly on TV's "Doc," "Phyllis," and "All in the Family." He was also seen in "Fear on Trial," ."Phoenix and Griffin," and "The Sam Sheperd Murder Case" and others.

Admitted to the Actors Studio as its youngest member during its apogee of prestige, Harkins has appeared on Broadway in "The Homecoming," "Inadmissible Evidence" - as a replacement for Nicol Williamson - "The Three Sisters" and "We Bombed in New Haven." Off-Broadway has seen him at the Public Theatre, Lincoln Center, Circle in the Square, LaMama and many others.

A resident of New Orleans, DON HOOD has accumulated a substantial list of television and film credits without undergoing the Hollywood crucible. Included in the former category are "A Woman Called Moses," "Murder at the Mardi Gras," "King" and "TheSavage Bees." His.features include "Return of the Cat People," "Pretty Baby," "Obsession," "Mandingo" and "The Baltimore Bullet." Hood won the plum supporting role of Quinn after a rigorous, afternoon-long tryout in Miami. He had traveled there to meet the director, hoping for a much smaller role.

Serendipity has often guided the actor around blind curves. Born in the Delta cotton country of Mississippi, he alternated between being a teacher and a student for nearly a decade before concluding that he should look for another profession. He holds a Ph.D. in theatre arts from Florida State University. In between acting assignments, he is the technical director and set designer for Le Petit Theatre de Vieux Carre, the oldest continuously operating theatre in the country.

After one appearance as a child actor, LUTHER ADLER made his official stage debut at the Provincetown Theatre in New York in 1921 and has worked continuously in film, television or theatre since that time. He is seventy-eight years old.

A founding member of the legendary Group Theatre, Adler appeared in numerous plays from the 1920's through the 1950's, including "Awake and Sing" (1935), "Paradise Lost" (1936), "Golden Boy" (1938), "A Flag Is Born" (1946), "Tovarich" (1952), "A View From the Bridge" (1957). He continued even into the 60's, appearing in "Waltz of the Toreadors" and in the touring company of "Fiddler on the Roof," among others.

The stage always took precedence over motion pictures for Adler although he appeared in numerous movies, including two highly- I regarded film noir dramas, "D.O.A." (1949) and "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" (1950). Other f.ilms include "Cornered" (1945), "The Miami Story" (1954), "Cast a Giant Shadow" (1966) and "The Brotherhood"(1968).

Adler is the son of Jacob Adler, noted star of the Yiddish Theatre, and brother to the noted actress and acting coach, Stella Adler. He presently lives in Pennsylvania.

Born in Utah and reared in Nevada, WILFORD BRIMLEY, now lives back in his home state where he runs a horse-shoeing business. It was only three years ago that he decided to try the acting profession as a change of pace. He had occasionally worked as an extra some years earlier, while living in California, and he knew he had a knack for accents.

Brimley has now appeared in seven films: "The Electric Horseman," "Brubaker," "The China Syndrome," "Borderline," "Death Valley" and the unreleased "Tough Dreams." He has left a strong imprint on each of them; he has an agent and other offers. The change of pace has been successful.

Cast and Crew


  • Paul Newman
  • Sally Field
  • Melinda Dillon
  • Wilford Brimley


  • Casting DirectorLynn Stalmaster
  • CinematographerOwen Roizman
  • ComposerDave Grusin
  • Costume DesignerBernie Pollack
  • DirectorSydney Pollack
  • EditorSheldon Kahn
  • ProducerSydney Pollack
  • Production DesignerTerence Marsh
  • ScreenplayKurt Luedtke
  • Set DecoratorJohn Franco Jr.



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