Robert Towne on a good run

April 24, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Robert Towne, generally regarded as one of the best screenwriters working today, is bringing his film biography of runner Steve Prefontaine, "Without Limits," to the Maryland Film Festival this evening.

Towne's latest project is "Mission: Impossible II," for which he wrote the script (it's currently being filmed in Australia, under the direction of John Woo).

As Towne prepares to discuss the film with Sun movie critic Ann Hornaday at the screening, we asked him to comment on some of his films.

"The Godfather" (1972), writer (uncredited), a film about the Mafia and family loyalty: "At a critical juncture, there was never a scene written between father and son [Vito and Michael Corleone], in the novel or the screenplay, at the point at which the changing of the guard is happening. It was my job to create that scene. [The scene] was intense, I will say that. [Marlon Brando] didn't change a single word, except he actually did a wonderful thing. He said, `Would you mind if I repeat the line, "He reads the funnies?" ' It's just wonderful."

"Chinatown" (1974), writer, betrayal and incest in 1930s L.A.: "By the time I got to actually committing it to paper, and through the battering process of rewriting and everything else, and then looking at the dailies and everything, I thought the movie was a mess. Until the last minute, I just thought, `I hope we can get away with it.' "

"Personal Best" (1982), writer-director, a love affair between two female runners: "It was in many ways one of the best-reviewed films I have ever been associated with, and on a not altogether insubstantial level, one of the most excoriated films. It's a film I love."

"Tequila Sunrise" (1988), writer-director, Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell vie for the affections of Michelle Pfeiffer: "It's got so much good stuff in it, it's a shame the whole isn't quite what the parts are. There were reasons for that, an ending that had to be changed before it could be shot, which never should have been changed. It was written for [the Gibson character] to be killed, and [the studio] was not going to let that happen." "Without Limits" will be shown at 7 tonight at the Charles Theatre.

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