Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #760
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: March 13, 1987
Sub-Genre: Coming-of-age Drama
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $52,287,414
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: Rob Reiner
Producers: Bruce A. Evans, Raynold Gideon, Andrew Scheinman
Screenplay: Raynold Gideon, Bruce A. Evans
Based on The Body by Stephen King
Cinematography: Thomas Del Ruth
Score: Jack Nitzsche
Editing: Robert Leighton
Studios: Columbia Pictures Corporation, Act III, Act III Communications, The Body
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss, Kiefer Sutherland, Casey Siemaszko, Gary Riley, Bradley Gregg, Jason Oliver, Marshall Bell, Frances Lee McCain, Bruce Kirby, William Bronder, Scott Beach, John Cusack, Andy Lindberg
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 The Four Lads “Moments To Remember”
 Shirley & Lee “Let The Good Times Roll”
 Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire”
 The Coasters “Yakety Yak”
 The Dell Vikings “Come And Go With Me”
 The Silhouettes “Get A Job”
 Ben E. King “Stand By Me”
As sure as eggs are eggs, boys will be boys. Whereas little girls are made of sugar, spice and all things terribly nice; little boys comprise slugs, snails and puppy dog tails so it can’t come as a great surprise when they get up to no good. Misbehavior just comes naturally to them and, generally speaking, said impish behavior multiplies tenfold when in the presence of like-minded mischief-makers with a similar amount of time on their hands and household chores to completely ignore. It’s just the nature of the beast I’m afraid but it’s not like they set out to cause a ruckus; trouble just has a canny knack of tracking them down. What makes me such an authority on the business of these little monkeys you ask? Well that’s simple – I used to be one myself and, in many ways, still am.
I can still remember clear as day, the time when myself and a pair of fellow hell raisers took it upon ourselves to construct our very own secret camp in an old rundown local liquor store that had been unoccupied for a number of months. Excitedly, I scurried off home and pilfered my mother’s cooking matches, returned to the barracks, and lit an old Roman candle to make the place feel more like home. Alas, I always was a bit of a clusterfuck, and within about thirty seconds of igniting the flame, the entire building was ablaze and it was time to make our swift exit, never to speak of our involuntary arson again. I made two mistakes that day, outside of the obvious. Firstly, I foolishly believed that pouring vintage booze on an open flame would help to put it out and it did nothing of the sort. Secondly, I failed to adequately savor the moment as, years on, it’s little more than a light-hearted anecdote.
As for my accomplices, well I haven’t seen either of them for well over thirty years now. It’s funny how you believe friendships will last forever and that’s seldom the way it pans out. Back then, I would have waded through a swamp populated by blood-sucking leeches not to let the side down. Now, I highly doubt I’d recognize either of them if we passed in the street. Sometimes I wonder whether they glance back with such rose-tinted recollection or have blanked the whole sordid mess from their memory banks. Our paths may not cross again in my lifetime, but the most important thing is that they did. And back then it truly meant something.
Meet Gordie Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio – four 12 year-old buddies from Castlerock, Oregon who take friendship very seriously indeed. The year is 1959, the average cost of a gallon of gas is 25 cents, Dwight D. Eisenhower is president of the United States, and in just a few short months time, William Wyler’s epic Ben-Hur will be making a tidy mint at the box-office. Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern are doing what any other 12-year-old boys would in the height of summer when left to their own devices – searching for excitement, adventure and perhaps just a dash of mild peril to spice things up.
Gordie is the studious one, Chris the streetwise one, Teddy the eccentric one, and Vern the chubby little timid one who jumps at his own shadow. All four come from vastly differing backgrounds but, while under the roof of their treehouse HQ, they’re truly a band of brothers. It just so happens that, while eavesdropping on his older brother, Vern overhears something about a local boy named Ray Brower, who has been missing for some time and is now presumed dead. After a quick democratic vote, the quartet decide that a pilgrimage is in order, to track Ray’s body down and become local heroes in the process. As lead alpha, Chris even manages to pilfer his father’s M1911 pistol, just in the unlikely case of things turning ugly.
Conversation certainly isn’t in short supply, whether attempting to solve the mystery of the ages as to Goofy’s gender, calling each other faggots like it’s a term of endearment, and generally bonding the only way 12-year-old boys know how. The mood is light, spirits are high, and if you asked any of them what the life was, then they’d reply in a four-tongued fusion, “this is”. Naturally, poor Vern is expected to soak up the majority of the insults on account of his plumpness, as filters have no place within such a confederation of trust.
However, that’s not to say there aren’t the odd hair-raising moment to get the blood pumping and the words “Chopper! Sic’ em, boy!” accompany one such seat-of-the-pants exercise. At this point, it swiftly becomes each man to himself, but only until the initial threat has passed. Once they’ve escaped without their testicles sic’d and slid a hand down their briefs to check everything is where it should be, it’s back to good-old camaraderie once more. Speaking of which, can anyone else hear distant whistling sound?
Of course, it’s not all fun, games and near-death experiences (emphasis on the latter), as there are also quiet moments of reflection that allow each to share their deepest concerns and darkest secrets. Gordie’s older brother Denny recently died while on tour of duty and his parents have been neglecting him ever since, almost like they blame him. Chris too has been forced to grow up faster than he’d hoped, courtesy of his abusive alcoholic father. Teddy can go one better as his pops has been placed in a mental institution, but not before introducing Teddy’s ear to a hot stove. And Vern has to deal with constant name calling on account of his tubbiness and the fact he is easily suckered. They may be only 12-years-old, but the weight of the world is already upon their shoulders. In these quieter moments, four pairs of shoulders are better than one.
When the mood gets too somber, Gordie is only too happy to weigh in with an unlikely story, told like only Gordie can tell ’em. As a matter of fact, his latest tall tale involves a grossly overweight kid called Davie Hogan who is perhaps better known under his deeply unflattering nickname, Lard-Ass. Like Vern, Lard-Ass is constantly ribbed for his portly build, so much so, that he concocts a devilish plan to gain revenge on all those who mock him. This will entail taking part in a local blueberry pie eating contest but not before guzzling down one full bottle of castor oil and a raw egg beforehand to accelerate the barfing process.
Just as planned, Lard-Ass totally dominates the event, and just as the crowd are chanting his name, as a term of endearment for once, he barfs projectile style, setting off the barf chain reaction to end all barf chain reactions. Granted, Davie Hogan will still need to flannel wash between his ass crack twice as regularly as his tormentors, but right now he’s the only one laughing and that suits him just fine. The moral of Gordie’s tale isn’t the most important thing here; it’s the fact that they shared it together. Who knows whether they’ll still be close years down the line, as right now, there’s not a damn thing on Earth that could come between them.
I’m not altogether sure who it was that suggested that short-cut but whoever it is sucks their mother’s balls. I’d imagine it’s the same faggot who suggested stripping down to their underpants to cross the quagmire and, while they made it across to the other side just about in one piece, they appear to have inherited some tag-alongs. Little boys may well be made of slugs, snails and puppy dog tails; but nobody mentioned blood-sucking leeches. Jesus H. bald-headed Christ! That was a close shave. It’s a good job they didn’t slip off those undies. Speaking of which, is it just me or does the waist-elastic around Gordie’s unmentionables appear a tad baggy? Almost large enough for a blood-sucking leech to slither into. And are my eyes deceiving or does he look a touch peaky to you? Quick Chris, give him a quick punch in the balls just to shake him from his stupor.
Let’s never talk of it again. Pinky swear? Pinky swear. Anyways, there are far more pressing concerns right now, such as finding that body and becoming local heroes. That’s what this has all been about right? Then how comes it feels almost like an afterthought? Well at least it did until the realization just dawned on all four of the boys in unison. The time seems right to set all else aside and focus on the job at hand. Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern may still have a lot to learn about death but they know to respect it. That in itself shows maturity beyond their years; which is more than be said for certain older kids.
Step up local firestarter “Ace” Merrill and his three favorite sheep, Billy Tessio, Charlie Hogan, and Chris’ older brother “Eyeball” Chambers. While their goal is the same as our local heroes in training, theirs hasn’t so much been a voyage of discovery as a voyage of smashing pillar boxes with a baseball bat and playing chicken in Ace’s 1949 Ford Custom Convertible Coupé. If these assholes have any say in it, they’ll be the ones heralded as local heroes, even though all four of them will likely be incarcerated or dead by twenty. Guys, you’ve come too far to turn back now. If it all gets heated Chris, tell Ace to go fuck his mother some more and, if that doesn’t work, there’s always the pistol.
One thing – I’m not altogether confidant about Gordie’s aim, seeing as he’s still replenishing the two pints of blood he surrendered through his nutsack. Actually on second thoughts, Teddy with a loaded pistol is like a villain with a big shiny red button 🔴, and Vern, well his fingers are too chubby to squeeze the trigger I reckon. Okay Gordie, do like Lard-Ass did in your delightful story. Make us all proud boy… and possibly dead.
Watching Rob Reiner’s 1986 coming-of-age drama, Stand By Me, for the very first time (preferably during our more tender years) is a rite of passage in itself. Stephen King’s words haven’t always been translated correctly to the screen; but The King of Horror considers Reiner’s adaptation of his 1982 novella, The Body, to be the first successful translation to film of any of his works and it doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to suss out why. For 89 minutes watching this as children, we feel like someone else in the world gets us. For 89 minutes watching this as adults, we feel like kids again. Recaptured youth has always held a great allure to King and Reiner channels his every sentiment through 89 minutes of film quite beautifully.
The performances all turned out to be star makers. Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell – all four graduated overnight onto the modern cinema wall of fame, not to mention Kiefer Sutherland in a swagger-filled turn no less notable. I’m not certain I can recollect another film that takes such a clear Polaroid of a place and time in my life than Stand By Me and reckon I shall set it down gently right there. As for our dear friends and brothers in arms – Gordie Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio – I still wonder now what became of them you know. I guess it happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant. Do you know what though? I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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