5 Weird Crimes That Happened On Movie Productions
In the pantheon of American cinema, crime is a load-bearing column. Martin Scorcese has made an entire award-winning (he keeps the statues safely stored away in his eyebrows) career on it. Remove crime from movies, and there would be no Goodfellas, no Godfather, and most terrifying of all, no RoboCop.
However, much like a monkey with an assault rifle, crime is more entertaining in theory than when you're confronted with it in your day-to-day life. As the saying goes, "Comedy is watching somebody get air holed by a chimpanzee; tragedy is when you get air holed by a chimpanzee." Sometimes, movie productions have been struck by unfortunate cases of real-life crime, ranging in severity from what amounts to a dangerous prank to actual murders ...
Ocean's 12 - The Heisters Become The Heisted
The 2001 Ocean's Eleven remake starring George Clooney as Danny Ocean and Brad Pitt as Guy Who Loves Snacks was an unmitigated success at the box office, leading to a trilogy, and later, the confusingly titled spin-off Ocean's 8. Riding this high, a bold promotional stunt was cooked up during the promotion of Ocean's Twelve.
The plan? To embed a $300,000 diamond in the hood of a Formula 1 race car competing in the Monaco Grand Prix, a sentence that makes us painfully aware of our checking account's shortcomings. Now, this would seem inherently risky until you remember that diamonds are the hardest substance on earth and would probably be the most likely portion of the car to survive the crash. There's a reason they're called "the cockroach of gemstones," after all.
Despite diamonds' famous durability, insurance companies declined to insure the promotional car piercing. I assume this decision was made by them after deliberation made up of covering the phone mouthpiece and going, "No, right? No." Part of their reasoning may have been that diamonds are both extremely valuable and fit in most pockets, making them eminently stealable. At this point, we have a $300,000 diamond, being displayed in public, amongst massive crowds and spectacle, with no insurance. To which the guys who had just made two heist movies thought, "this seems fine." It would not be fine, which you may have figured out, because no one is paying me to write articles about how diamonds are right where they're supposed to be.
How did the car do? Well, the diamond-bearing vehicle crashed before finishing the first lap, which is not great, race-wise. I was going to make a joke about the team yelling, "OH NO! THE DIAMOND--I MEAN HUMAN LIFE OF THE DRIVER," but it turns out I don't need to because one of them straight up said that on the record. Said team spokesman Nav Sidhu, "At that point, I probably should've been worried about the car or the driver. But, I must admit, my immediate thought was for the diamond." Buddy, that's more of an "inside thought."
Now ideally, race (or at least this car's participation in it) completed, I'm sure they would have loved to immediately grab the diamond, wipe the driver's blood off of it, and immediately return it to whatever laser grid it usually resides in the center of. However, the race was still happening, and nobody was eager to play real-life Frogger on Ultra-Nightmare difficulty, so the diamond search had to wait until the race was over, two hours later. The only thing that could make this situation more heistable would be some sort of guard shift change occurring simultaneously. By the time they were able to survey the scene, the diamond was long-gone.
It's still unknown what happened to it, though there's a good possibility that somebody with front row seats got a sporting souvenir that makes that home-run ball your dad gave you look like a sack of wet dog shit.
Titanic - This Chowder Tastes Like PCP
Titanic, a movie about the death of some very unfortunate violin players, is an American classic, with the iconic Celine Dion joint "My Heart Will Go On" terrorizing karaoke bars to this very day. However, all of Celine's tiny Canadian fury pales compared to the terror unleashed on the day the entire crew accidentally did PCP.
The day was August 8, 1996. After a grueling morning, the cast and crew broke for lunch. The star of this particular craft service lunch was a hearty chowder, an almost annoyingly in-character foodstuff for the production about a sinking cruise-liner. Not only just a chowder but a chowder so delicious people were going back for seconds, according to a set painter. This chowder would soon sour, as it turned out perhaps the secret ingredient that gave it this irresistible umami was Phencyclidine, also known as PCP, also known as angel dust, also known as the star of toxicology reports on weird crimes the world over.
According to Bill Paxton, "Some people were laughing, some people were crying, some people were throwing up." So basically, prom. Between 60 to 80 people were brought to a local hospital, where they participated in unsanctioned hallway wheelchair races and a conga line. Really.
When the tainted chowder's test came back the next day, they found the source: it had been laced with PCP. The case was never solved, with both sides pointing fingers. The crew blamed a disgruntled chef, while the catering company suggesting the Titanic team "tried a party thing that got carried away." QUICK PARTY TIP: unless you are at the blood rave from Blade, PCP is probably not the vibe.
Another Time, Another Place - Connery Clobbers Mobster
Sean Connery is known for two things: his portrayal of James Bond, and his dismal performances on Celebrity Jeopardy, as recorded in the documentary series Saturday Night Live. But it turns out Connery himself is no pussovah, which is how he would pronounce "pushover." He proved this during the filming of Another Time, Another Place after he was seen Connoodling with co-star Lana Turner. Set romance is nothing unusual, but unfortunately, Lana Turner was dating a fellow by the name of Johnny Stompanato, a mobster. First, let's agree he should have been called "Johnny Stomps," and secondly, let's agree "Johnny Stomps" would be a great name for a mobster who loved Riverdancing.
Nomenclature aside, Johnny Stomps was a bit peeved at the whole "being cheated on" situation and showed up on set (in a different country, may I add) with a gun, which he stuck in Connery's face and demanded he stop his dalliance with his girlfriend.
Connery responded by swatting the gun out of his hand and leveling Johnny Stomps with a right hook. That'll teach you for getting cheated on! Stomps was then picked up for having an illegal firearm and shipped back to the U S of A.
The Ballad of Johnny Stomps takes an even darker turn when he was stabbed to death a few months later. It turned out to have been committed by Lana's daughter Cheryl Crane to protect her mother (turns out the mob guy might not be the knight in shining armor you'd think), but at first, the mob thought Connery himself might have performed the perforation, requiring him to lay as low as one of the most recognizable men in the world could.
Waitress - Writer/Director/Co-Star Adrienne Shelly's Murder
You can see why I eschewed the fun titling for this one. The murder of Adrienne Shelly, near the end of the production of her movie Waitress, was as unexpected as it was shocking. On November 1, 2006, Shelly was found hanged in the bathroom of her West Village apartment. Police initially ruled it a suicide, but at the vehement urging of her husband that she was happy in her personal life and wouldn't leave her children alone, further investigation was made. During which, a shoeprint was found in gypsum dust in the bathroom, confirming the presence of an unknown assailant. This was found to belong to 19-year old construction worker Diego Pillco. Pillco confessed to the crime, though his story changed as the case developed.
The story most consistent with the forensic evidence is the story he gave that he followed Shelly into her apartment with the intent to rob her. When she attempted to call the police, he attacked and subsequently strangled her, hanging her in the bathroom in an attempt to make the crime seem like a suicide.
Pillco is currently serving 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Shelly's life and work live on in memory, and her husband established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation to honor her, which exists today to provide scholarships and funding for women filmmakers. The Women Film Critics Circle also established an Adrienne Shelly Award for films that "most passionately oppose violence against women," and she's commemorated with the Adrienne Shelly Garden at Abingdon Square Park, across the street from the scene of the crime.
Not to mention the movie she had been making before her untimely death. Waitress screened at Sundance in 2007 and was released to critical acclaim, later being adapted into a hit Broadway musical.
Grizzly 2: Revenge - Poof Goes The Producer(s)
Earlier this year, B-movie horror flick Grizzly 2: Revenge was released. However, to find when work began on the movie, you'll have to flip quite a few pages back in your calendar. Also, you'll have to hope your calendar goes back to the early 1980s. The movie was filmed in the year 1983 but ran into a couple of significant hitches. The most devastating being the film's producer disappearing with all the money ... twice.
The second producer in question was Joseph Proctor. Now, if this had taken place in the time of Google, ubiquitous internet search engine and bane of con-men the world over, perhaps producer Suzanne Nagy would have been more hesitant to enter business with Proctor. Quick research might have shown Proctor's past adventures into finance were less than spotless. That includes writing a million dollars in bad checks for movies he was supposedly making with Jerry Lewis, and an attempt to defraud Michigan City, Indiana (nice naming job, fellas) based on some questionable technology that was supposed to turn garbage into oil.
Unsurprisingly, Proctor pulled out of the movie suddenly, with the movie's books less than balanced. If nothing else, you have to applaud his pure bullheadedness, which included writing Nagy a letter years later apologizing for his actions ... ending with a request to rejoin the production. The second time he'd tried to claim back the movie, he himself had defrauded. Nagy responded succinctly: "Pay me $10 million and you can take the film. Goodbye."
One can't blame her for her lack of patience, seeing as the mess with Joseph Proctor came after a negative experience with a previous producer. Namely, that he disappeared with a million dollars and still hasn't been seen to this day. While Proctor walked a more pedestrian path of silver-tongued flim-flams, Ed Montoro went for a more abrupt and infinitely more mysterious form of fleecing.
Ed Montoro was the founder of Film Ventures International, which produced independent films, including the first Grizzly, a surprise hit that actually set the record for box office performance for an independent film at the time. Unfortunately, the film business is not known for stability, longevity, or loyalty. The lack of the first two struck Film Ventures International over the years until Montoro stripped the third by simply vanishing with $1 million of the company's cash. The employees clocked out in the evening and returned in the morning to an all-hands with what I'd assume was suddenly a much more frugal spread. They were then informed that Ed Montoro's location was no longer company knowledge.
To this day, Ed Montoro has never been located, though the general assumption is he fled to Mexico. If you'd like to check out Grizzly 2: Revenge, you can find it now on streaming, starring a few actors who have only gone on to more successful and finished movies, like Laura Dern, Charlie Sheen, and ... hold on ... George Clooney? If Clooney's on another movie-set with a crime, I'm going out and buying red yarn and thumbtacks.
Top image: Paramount Pictures