I wrote the post as a reaction to a post on the author’s blog, which in turn was in response to some fan-boy questions that a close friend and I had previously posed to him.
Amongst those questions were a few related to the, sadly unplanned, conversions of more of Harry Harrison’s work to film. I would both love and hate to see The Stainless Steel Rat as a film; Love because I think they are some of the greatest stories of all time and hate because I have seen some of the travesties that have been borne of Hollywood.
Over the years we’ve considered a variety of different cast members and even made compilation tapes of soundtrack suggestions. Obviously a lot of our casting suggestions may seem dated now and Harry himself agrees that the ageing of past favourites makes it near impossible to select a known actor or actress for a role…
… of course it’s still fun to postulate, so here are a few ideas.
Obviously the lead, Slippery Jim himself, is the most contentious decision. James Bolivar DiGriz is often described as the James Bond of the space-ways; an analogy I am never 100% comfortable with. To me, he’s more like a member of the Impossible Mission team that doesn’t kill; the Stainless Steel Rat is a master of disguise and this must be one of the overriding factors to account for when casting him. Not everybody can pull off a good disguise.
Slippery Jim is also a charmer; whilst witty repartee is the domain of the author, it takes a certain kind of actor to emulate charm. In the books the charm comes from our own imaginative interpretation of the story but on the silver screen it is all about delivery.
Finally, Jim is relatively fit, albeit a borderline alcoholic. This all depends on the time-line within the series but by and large, regardless of age, Jim is fit. Granted he fluctuates between supreme fitness and mild slobbishness throughout but he’s no couch potato.
In my youth I used to picture Jim as being portrayed by the likes of Bruce Willis or later by Bruce Campbell, whose work as the Daring Dragoon in Jack of All Trades is in no small way akin to Slippery Jim.
The problem now, is that everybody who I can think of is too old to play the Rat through every story.
Harry himself postulates this:
Very early on we were trying to get Steve McQueen, who would have made a very, very good Rat. But he snuffed it… Chances are we’d be better with a new, good actor. The older good actors are now on crutches! It would be like John Wayne with his pot belly running, you know!
I think Harry is right, it worked for Harry Potter. The, largely unknown, leading cast aged through the story as the films were being produced.
My friend has put forward contemporary suggestions of his own (Jeffrey Donovan from Burn Notice and Matthew Bomer from White Collar) but admits they are based in part on their having played similar roles for television.
The Stainless Steel Rat’s wife, Angelina DiGriz, is equally difficult to pick. Angelina starts life as a woman turned psychopath by her hideous ugliness; an ugliness that she quickly remedies with the kind of cosmetic surgery that is only available in works of Science Fiction.
The actress playing Angelina must be a natural beauty and seductress; she should also be capable of playing a cold hearted killer. I could never settle on an adequate Angelina in my youth and today I’d have to agree with Harry when he says:
The actress who was in The Producers and Kill Bill 1 and 2, Uma Thurman, was very good. She was very feminine – especially in The Producers where she gets her clothes off – there was a lot of girl there!
Harold Peters Inskipp, the “big man” that drafts Jim into Special Corp. Some may not see Inskipp as a particularly key role in the stories but to me he is integral. On introduction, Inskipp is described as a big man. I include him here because I think Laurence Fishburne would play him wonderfully.
As fun as it is to come up with ideas as to who should play who, I used to also anguish over the soundtrack to the film. This is entirely different to the music I would listen to whilst reading the books, although some of the tracks we put onto compilation tapes may have been played whilst reading.
If I were to recreate a soundtrack now, it would be entirely different and many of the original tracks are lost to the dark recesses of poor memory. There are far more tracks available to me now than in my youth, so I’ll concentrate on a few of the tracks that I remember.
Billy don’t like it living here in this town
He says “Traps have been sprung long before he was born
He says “Hope bites the dust behind all the closed doors
And pus and grime ooze from its scab-crusted sores
There’s screaming and crying in the high-rise blocks”
It’s a rat trap, Billy, but you’re already caught
The lyrics may be a little grim and graphic but then so was the world that the Stainless Steel Rat operated in. It may have been built up of steel and ferro-concrete but at its underbelly there was still destitution and desperation.
I always hear the song’s ending lyrics as:
IT’S A RAT TRAP JIMMY – AND WE’VE BEEN CAUGHT!
Even though it should be Judy instead of Jimmy.
She’s a Killer Queen
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind
Angel Eyes – Wet Wet Wet : I wasn’t a big fan of the Wets in my youth but this song was in the charts at the time. The lyrics were quickly changed to “You know that Angelina, woa wo ho she sets you on fy-er, yo Jim, Whooomph” often with a mental image of Angelina igniting some petrol doused victim whilst Jim looks on in horror.
The saddest thing I’ve ever seen on my tv screen
Was a dying man who died for his dream
Toughest thing I’ve ever heard
Was that new-born scream in this naked world
People say I’m so automatic
People say I’m not so systematic
When I’m down I’m in manual, lord
And time on time again I walk on by
With the look of love
And with those angel eyes, woh woh
You set me on fire baby
And with those angel eyes, woh woh
C’mon now baby
Last year I had the pleasure of seeing the Wet’s lead singer, Marti Pellow, star in the musical Witches of Eastwick. Marti took the role of Daryl van Horne and was truly awesome. Maybe he would be a good Stainless Steel Rat…
I am sure that these discussions will carry on until such a time as the film and television industry wakes up and smells the money that could be made from the Stainless Steel Rat franchise.