HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
It was the early 90’s and Bruce Willis was watching his box office reign begin to wane.
A combo of high profile, back-to-back bombs were threatening his career. THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES was a critical and commercial flop. Notororiously chronicled in the scathing tell-all book The Devil’s Candy, it’s where by all accounts, the ego of Bruce Willis began rearing its noticeably balding head.
Then came HUDSON HAWK.
Less of a movie and more of a Hollywood cautionary tale warning studios from foolishly following the folly of a star’s “passion project.” As often than not with these self indulgent, cinematic love letter to themselves, Hudson Hawk was hardly a lovely experience for anyone involved who’s name wasn’t Bruce Willis. “A maniacal clown” is how co-writer Daniel Waters (Heathers) described the star’s onset behavior.
As Eddie “Hudson Hawk” Hawkins, Willis delivers a performance based entirely on a combination of calibrated smirks. You’ve heard of actors sleepwalking through a role? Bruce Willis is the first actor to smirkwalk through an entire picture. Willis goes so berserk with the smirk, if Hudson Hawk were a drinking game where a shot was downed every time Willis smirks, the players would all be dead within the first ten minutes from alcohol poisoning.
It had to be a blow to Bruce’s burgeoning ego when Hudson Hawk had its wings clipped opening weekend. The character’s trademark dippy hat would’ve been the perfect cinematic solution to cover Willis’s rapidly receding hairline. But with Hawk turning turkey at the box office, there would be no franchise.
With two strikes against him, Willis needed a hit if he wanted to avoid Hollywood’s unspoken “Three Strikes” law. When either a director or actor has three high profile box office bombs in a row, their career is sent to Movie Jail for a minimum ten years. Most never make it back. Just ask Billy Baldwin.
On paper, The Last Boy Scout looked to be a sure bet. After a bout with self doubt, screenwriter Shane Black – the man who scored a record payday with Lethal Weapon – was back in a big way. Tony Scott, attached as director, was hot off Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop 2. The behind-the-camera trifecta was complete when mega-producer Joel Silver joined the production, his fourth with Willis.
Naturally, the behind-the-scenes alpha male-fest made The Last Boy Scout nowhere near the cakewalk it should’ve been. But the real unspoken problem on the set was Bruce Willis. Or more specifically, his hair. Even more specifically, the lack of it. There was no denying Bruce Willis was going bald. With his follicles failing him, Willis was worrying his action days would be thinning along with his hair.
Luckily Tony Scott came up with a simple and visually creative solution that would give Willis’s fading mojo a much needed confidence boost. It’s a cinematic slight of hand that the audience didn’t even notice, but when it’s pointed out, you won’t look at The Last Boy Scout the same.
For the medium and close-ups of Willis, Scott gambled on the idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” He had his DP Ward Russell frame each shot so that the top of Willis’s head was cropped from the picture. The examples below have not been altered for the article and appear as they do in the movie.
Without the top of his noggin out of frame, audiences weren’t distracted by Bruce’s disappearing hairline getting in the way. Chances are you’ve never even noticed it. Until now. Rewatch the movie now and it’s unmistakeable.
Upon it’s December ’91 release, The Last Boy Scout became a moderate success. Not only did it rescue Bruce Willis’s box office mojo from the precipice, it won the battle of Bruce’s going baldness. But in the end, the war was lost with Willis surrendering to 12 Monkeys.