The Big Brass Ring (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I can't really recommend it because of the talky, actionless pacing, but I really liked this film about a presidential aspirant who is an intelligent and honorable man with a dark secret. Very dark. Career destroying. The secret is a mystery, and there are some good twists and turns getting there, and after you know what the secret is, the new mystery is whether it will get revealed or not. 

But the mystery is not why I really liked the movie. I guess it was primarily because it was so damned literate. How many movies are made today where the lead characters quote Twain and Proust and Abe Lincoln, not in prepared speeches, but in pillow talk!

If you are a fan of action movies this movie isn't really for you. You may also want to skip it if you insist on gritty, realistic dialogue.

It's basically a turn-of-the-previous-century symbolist work updated to the year 2000. Nobody really talks like the characters in this movie, just as nobody talks like the characters in Hamlet or Murder in the Cathedral. Normal people don't have secrets this dark and convoluted. In addition, the story is filled with visual symbolism, some of it not so subtle. There is a carousel with an actual brass ring.  There is a guy with a monkey on his back who actually has a monkey on his back. (A little heavy-handed, that one). And there are people with secrets who are wearing masks. 


Irene Jacob appeared naked while lying on a bed. Her breasts and buns are seen clearly.  She looks great!

Sara Melson is seen naked in the deleted scenes

Two strippers are seen nearly naked.

Orson Welles wrote the first draft of this screenplay, intending to star his buddy Lawrence Harvey, but they both passed away before anything came of it. When the script was finally greenlighted, the Welles script was updated a bit. For example, things that would have destroyed a political aspirant in 1974 (a mistress) were no longer career-destroying in 1999, so they had deepen and darken the secret.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.77:1. Quite dark, sound not good.

  • Full-length commentary by the director and the screenwriter

  • six deleted scenes

One of the reviewers linked below said it wasn't really in the style of Welles, but I disagree, at least partially. It isn't a pure Welles movie, but it has many Wellesian elements. The filming of one of Hurt's speeches, in front of his own poster, was practically lifted from Citizen Kane. The carousel music was right out of "Touch of Evil", and the use of the St Louis arch in one scene reminded me so much of the camera set-ups used by Welles in the final scene of Touch of Evil (in the oil field), with the arch substituting for the derricks. 

It was probably wise of the director to minimize the Wellesian influence. I have to admit that the homages to Welles' style seem gothic and dated in today's context.

Oh, yeah, and I've decided that Irene Jacob is going to be my next wife. Boy, does she look good naked. Unfortunately, because of the poor audio on this DVD and Jacob's accent, there were times when I had no idea what she was saying, but I just didn't care. She is essentially playing Christianne Amanpour, except with a different name and no grasp of the English language.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

The screenplay was an adaptation of an Orson Welles script. It was moved from Africa and the distant past to a Missouri governor's race at the turn of the century. Two independent candidates are battling it out. One of them has a secret that could cost him the election, and it looks like it will become public when the man who raised him surfaces from obscurity, since the guardian also participated in the event that must remain secret.

The candidate is played by William Hurt. Irčne Jacob plays a reporter trying to make a name for herself at her station, and to whom the old man leaks the secret.  Many Welles scholars complained that it was not very Wellesian, but in fact, the story was very Welles-like. George Hickenlooper (director/co-writer) and Oja Kodar (co-writer) obviously stuffed every nook and cranny of this film with symbolism, literary devices, verbatim elements from the Welles script, and many homages to Welles.In the commentary, they belabor the point that they were paying homage to Welles the writer, not Welles the director, but they also used some Wellesian camera angles.

Scoopy wrote that it was talky and had no pace, but that he liked it because it was so literate. For me, they created a would-be masterpiece that is a long, boring watch. I don't necessarily need pace in a story, but, absent pace, I need to be able to relate strongly to one of the characters, and found nobody in the film to supply that need.

The Critics Vote

  • Apollo 48/100

  • As is normal with this kind of talky and baroque fare, reviewers were sharply divided on its merits. Here is an outstanding review of the movie and the background of the original Welles script, from a reviewer who really liked it. And here is an equally intelligent review from a guy who just detested it.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.3. Apollo users 63/100 
  • With their dollars ... the budget for this film was reported to be $7 million dollars, but there was no commercial theatrical release
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this film is a C. It was interesting to me, but is intended to be a serious political film with a southern Gothic overlay, and simply will not please if you do not enjoy this type of fare." Tuna says, "  This is a C. If you like slow paced, talky literate films, you might enjoy this one. Otherwise, back off."

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