After Hours

USA 1985, 97 mins
Director: Martin Scorsese

It’s hard to believe now, but Martin Scorsese was once on the outs in Hollywood. Today, his passion projects command blockbuster budgets; 40 years ago, however, The King of Comedy (1982) had just been declared ‘Flop of the Year’, the plug had been suddenly pulled on a planned 1983 production of The Last Temptation of Christ, and studios had turned wary of working with a director known for making expensive pictures with limited appeal. In Scorsese’s own words: ‘I had nothing lined up next. And I knew I was going to have to start all over.’

Griffin Dunne would produce and star in the film that Scorsese rebounded with. Best known at the time for playing the undead Jack in An American Werewolf in London (1981), it was Dunne, along with his producing partner Amy Robinson, who discovered and brought to Scorsese the script for After Hours. Written by first-time screenwriter Joseph Minion, the story was not a typical one for Scorsese: a surrealist black comedy following a sexually frustrated office drone named Paul Hackett as he struggles to get home to New York’s Upper East Side after a disastrous late-night date in SoHo.

Speaking to the BFI, Dunne says Scorsese decided he was going to direct the Kafkaesque odyssey on his way home from the aborted pre-production of the cancelled 1983 Last Temptation: ‘Flying back from Casablanca, he had a stack of scripts next to him on his seat, and After Hours was the first one he read.’

Setting to work with a new crew on a tight budget, Scorsese would be re-energised, drawing from disparate stylistic influences including The Third Man (1949), Cat People director Jacques Tourneur, and Michael Powell (who had recently married Scorsese’s editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and who contributed ideas that shaped the final film). After Hours had a mixed reception on release – Dunne recalls being labelled ‘a second-rate Dudley Moore’ by Pauline Kael – but its critical reputation has only grown in the decades since. Perhaps most importantly, the film also helped one of American cinema’s greatest directors rediscover his zest for filmmaking.

As After Hours is re-released in cinemas in a new 4K restoration, Dunne talked about the film’s 30-day nocturnal shoot, the gonzo ending it almost had, and the young filmmaker who was originally attached to direct before Scorsese came aboard.

You first had Tim Burton attached to direct After Hours . Was there a sense of what his version of the film was going to be?

Griffin Dunne: It would have had a darker visual look. Everything would have been different. God knows what I would have been wearing, or the other people. I think we would have looked like we were already dead and that After Hours was taking place somewhere in the underworld. In an alternate universe, I would have loved to have seen that movie.

What about Martin Scorsese’s previous films suggested to you that he should direct your comedy script? The King of Comedy is acclaimed now, but it didn’t have a lot of fans at the time.

King of Comedy had a slow boil of appreciation, but not from me and Amy – we just loved that movie, we thought it was hilarious. So there was never any doubt that [Scorsese] had a sense of humour.

He just laughed every time he talked about [After Hours]… When we were shooting, we’d have to mix out his trying to contain laughter off-camera; in the corner of my eyes, I’d see his shoulders jerking up and down – which was a great thing for an actor to see. He understood the horror and the humour and the ludicrousness of Paul’s circumstance.

One thing I noticed watching the film again was how many of the characters are frustrated artists or creatives working on the fringes. You’ve spoken before about how you became a producer partly because acting roles were hard to come by in this period, and Scorsese was in director jail at the time. I was wondering if the film’s general feeling of frustration, of things not going to plan, was something that you both responded to?

Absolutely. As an actor, I was pretty much in freefall. Even having starred in American Werewolf in London – another film that’s only gained in appreciation, [but] was totally misunderstood and criticised at the time for daring to have humour and horror in the same frame; it did not lead to great parts with great directors. That was a period where Porky’s (1981) was the big box office winner, and everything I was offered was puerile teen comedies, and that didn’t strike me as funny. So I really didn’t work that much; I put my energies into producing.

Was there ever any discussion about who would play the Paul Hackett role, or was that always earmarked for yourself?

I was kind of holding my breath for those first two meetings with Marty, for the, ‘You know, Bob [De Niro] is going to be great in this role!’ Never happened – he always saw me in the role. He just assumed I was in it, and I was just being a neurotic actor about it. From what little he knew of me, from Werewolf and seeing whatever he saw in me, he really couldn’t imagine anyone else in the part.

How did Scorsese adapt to being back on an indie film set?

He’s even said that this film really was important, and a real turning point for him, because it brought him back to the urgency and passion he had when he made Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976).

After Hours was a fraction of what King of Comedy was, in terms of the budget. This was a pretty contained crew, of really talented young people, who loved movies as much as [Scorsese] did. And he was incredibly prepared, in a way that this young crew had never seen a director be. The storyboard would be on the call sheet, including what the shots would be, how many shots would be there, how many lights, how many tracks. Everyone knew once one scene was over to roll right into the next, and if it was in the other room they were pre-lit and set and ready to go.

You shot the film almost entirely at night. What effect did that have on everyone?

It changes your body chemistry. It’s always nice to have a drink at the end of the day when you’re shooting, and to crack open a beer at 6:30 in the morning is sacrilegious, but that’s just how the clock worked. It was dinner for breakfast… everything was ass-backwards. It took a while to get my body back to non-vampiric living.

Brogan Morris,, 20 March 2024

Director: Martin Scorsese
©: The Geffen Company, Double Play Productions
Producers: Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne, Robert F. Colesberry
Associate Producer: Deborah Schindler
Production Executive: Nellie Nugiel
Production Manager: Michael Nozik
Production Co-ordinator: Denise Pinckley
Location Manager: Gary Weiner
Production Assistants: Bomani Yusuf Ali, Adam Cohen, Jem Cohen, Jonathan De Camp, Bettiann Fishman, Richard Kurtz, John O’Toole, John Pirozzi, Angela Salgado, David Sardi, Catherine Scorsese, Amy Wells
Research Assistants: Lisa Hsia, Elizabeth Benjamin
Assistant Directors: Stephen Lim, Christopher Griffin, Sarah M. Brim
Screenplay: Joseph Minion
Director of Photography: Michael Ballhaus
Steadicam Operator: Larry McConkey
Assistant Photographers: David M. Dunlap, Sebastian Ballhaus, Susan Starr, Florian Ballhaus
Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker
Production Designer: Jeffrey Townsend
Art Director: Stephen Lineweaver
Set Decorator: Leslie Pope
Set Dressers: David Allen, Joel Aaron Blumenau
Sculptures: Nora Chavooshian
Costume Designer: Rita Ryack
Wardrobe Supervisor: Deirdre Williams
Make-up Artist: Valli
Title Design: Dan Perri
Opticals: Computer Opticals
Music: Howard Shore
Music Editor: Thomas Drescher
Sound Recording: Chat Gunter
Sound Re-recording: Dick J. Vorisek, Tom Fleischman
Supervising Sound Editor: Skip Lievsay
Sound Editors: Neil L. Kaufman, Michael Jacobi, Magdaline Volaitis
Stunt Co-ordinator: Harry Madsen
Stunts: Shawn O’Neil, Jordan H. Fischer

Griffin Dunne (Paul Hackett)
Rosanna Arquette (Marcy Franklin)
Verna Bloom (June)
Tommy Chong (Pepe)
Cheech Marin (Neil)
Linda Fiorentino (Kiki Bridges)
Teri Garr (Julie)
John Heard (Tom the bartender)
Catherine O’Hara (Gail)
Dick Miller (Peter, waiter in all-night diner)
Will Patton (Horst)
Robert Plunket (Mark)
Bronson Pinchot (Lloyd)
Rocco Sisto (coffee shop cashier)
Larry Block (taxi driver)
Victor Argo (diner cashier)
Murray Mosten (subway attendant)
John P. Codiglia (transit cop)
Clarke Evans, Victor Bumbalo, Bill Elverman (neighbours)
Joel Jason, Rand Carr (bikers)
Clarence Felder (bouncer, Club Berlin)
Henry Baker (Jett)
Margo Winkler (woman with gun)
Victor Magnotta (dead man)
Robin Johnson (punk girl)
Stephen Lim (bartender, Club Berlin)
Frank Aquilino, Maree Catalano, Paula Raflo, Rockets Redglare (angry mob members)
Martin Scorsese (man with spotlight) *

USA 1985©
97 mins
Digital 4K


Presented by Park Circus

Approved by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, this new digital master from The Criterion Collection was created from the 35mm original camera negative, which was scanned in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner.

Director Martin Scorsese’s personal 35mm print was used for colour reference. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the magnetic track.

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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