Walter Hill has directed as well as written, cowritten or rewritten some of my favorite films ("Hard Times," "The Long Riders," "Southern Comfort" and "Wild Bill"). He also coproduced "Alien" and cowrote the shooting script.

In an interview for "Live", pegged to the Gunky's Basement screening of "Alien" (at the Charles, next Thursday, 9 p.m.), Hill told me that a big reason for the film's popular success was the decision that he and his writing-producing partner, David Giler, made to turn the lead character into a woman.

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"This kind of story works better with a female lead," said Hill. "Audiences will impute a kind of vulnerability to her that they wouldn't to a traditional male lead."

As proof, he cited Michael Mann's adaptation of Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon," "Manhunter," and Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Harris' "The Silence of the Lambs."

"These movies are remarkably similar -- obviously, they're from the same source writer. They're both about a serial killer getting so inside the head of a detective that he can interfere with the detective's normal life and aspirations. They are both terrifically well-executed motion pictures, but there is one critical difference. Michael's movie has a male detective, and Demme's movie has a female one. And, I would submit, that is the reason 'Manhunter' didn't do as well as it should have and 'Silence of the Lambs' was a gigantic world-wide commercial success."

"Manhunter" has gained in reputation over the years. Do you agree that it would have done better in its first release if Mann had given his hero a sex change? (I'll be posting more on Hill and "Alien" next week.)

Photo of Anthony Hopkins in "The Silence of the Lambs" by Ken Regan

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