The Osterman Weekend is a 1983 thriller and suspense film based on the novel by Robert Ludlum and directed by Sam Peckinpah. The film stars Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Burt Lancaster, Dennis Hopper, Meg Foster and Craig T. Nelson. It was Peckinpah's final film before his death in 1984. 103 minutes, rated R.
John Tanner (Hauer) is a controversial television journalist who is highly critical of the way that he perceives the U.S. government abuses its power. Fassett reveals that Tanner’s closest friends are Omega agents, and wants to recruit Tanner into his scheme to coerce the Soviet spies into defecting. For proof he offers videotaped evidence of Tanner’s friends discussing financial matters with a Russian man, who Fassett identifies as KGB. Tanner met his friends years ago in college, and they have all gone on to successful careers. Bernard Osterman (Nelson) is a television producer; Richard Tremayne (Hopper) is a plastic surgeon, and is married to Virginia (Shaver). Joseph Cardone (Sarandon) is a stock trader and is married to Betty (Yates). In a few days the friends will gather together at Tanner’s residence for an annual weekend get-together, affectionately referred to by the friends as “Osterman weekends.” Fassett and Danforth manage to convince a highly skeptical Tanner to allow them to install video and surveillance equipment into the journalist’s home over the weekend to observe the goings-on. Tanner agrees, but only on the condition that Danforth appear as a guest on his show. The CIA director says yes.
Tanner has a very troubled marriage with his wife Ali (Foster), which is not helped when Tanner asks her to avoid the upcoming Osterman weekend and to take their son. Tanner does not want to involve them in the events, but cannot tell her why he wants her to go. While driving to the airport their truck is ambushed and Ali and their child kidnapped. Tanner gives chase, and his family is rescued when Fassett arrives by helicopter and guns down the assailant. Everyone then goes back to the Tanner residence to await the guests the next day.
The CIA has steadily been working on driving Tanner’s friends into a state of paranoia, so when they arrive there is a great deal of hesitancy in the way they interact with each other. Tensions flare up and on the second night Fassett broadcasts a closed-circuit program with the legend “Omega.” Having reached the breaking point, Ali and Virginia end up in a brief scuffle and everyone goes to their rooms. John’s son discovers the decapitated head of the family dog in the refrigerator, but this turns out to be a fake head. John has had enough and orders everyone out of the house. He then goes into the forest to confront Fassett and tell him that he is tired of this game and to go ahead and arrest the suspects. Fassett begins acting very strangely and tells him that there is no need to worry. On a security camera installed in the forest they notice Osterman, who had been following Tanner. The journalist is shocked when Fassett gives an order to kill Osterman, but Bernard (a very skilled martial artist) kills an agent in hand-to-hand combat and then heads back to the house. Fassett tells Tanner to go back to the house and to be careful. When Tanner leaves, Fassett gives an order for him to be followed and terminated.
Meanwhile, Cardone and Tremayne have taken their wives and escaped in the Tanner family’s RV. Tanner confronts Osterman in his house and tries to attack him, but Osterman easily overpowers him and demands to know what is going on. Tanner tells him that he knows that Osterman and his friends are Soviet agents, which Bernie dismisses as being ridiculous. He states that they have been illegally stashing money away in Swiss bank accounts to avoid taxation; “It ain’t legal, but it sure as hell isn’t traitorous,” he tells John. Then Fassett appears on the television by closed circuit and reveals to John that Bernie is telling the truth; his friends are nothing more than tax evaders. Fassett kills the Tremaynes and Cardones by detonating an explosive device on the RV by remote control, then orders his men into the house to kill Bernie and John. What follows is an all-out assault on the home. Tanner’s wife and son had earlier escaped the house, and Ali uses her bow to take out some of the agents, but she and her son are taken hostage by Fassett. John and Bernie manage to kill all of Fassett’s men, though Bernie is wounded in the process. Fassett then tells John of his reason for his actions. Omega is nothing more than a ruse; Fassett has known all along that it was Danforth who authorized his wife’s murder, and he wants revenge. He tells John he will give his family back to him if he will expose Danforth on air.
John does this by pre-recording selected interview questions with Bernie. Since Danforth will not be interviewed in the studio, but rather by phone, Bernie is able to deceive the duplicitous spy master. Tanner introduces Fassett on the air, and Danforth explodes into a rage when he discovers he has been tricked. Fassett is able to tell the television audience of Danforth’s true nature. Right after this Tanner arrives at Fassett’s hideout (Tanner made his way back to Fassett after he had recorded his questions). The journalist demands to know where his family is. In a highly ambiguous moment, Fassett very slowly raises his gun, as if he does not truly want to kill Tanner. John has no choice but to shoot the agent first, then he discovers his wife and child (and even his dog), who have not been harmed.
As related in the documentary Alpha to Omega, producers Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer were celebrating the wrapping of a film when they ran into Larry Jones. Jones, also a producer, revealed that he owned the film rights to Robert Ludlum's 1972 novel The Osterman Weekend, but was giving up on turning it into a feature film since he had not been able to develop a satisfactory screenplay. Davis and Panzer immediately offered to purchase the rights, as they felt this could be the project that elevated them out of the B-movie features that they had been financing up to that point. Jones and a partner agreed, and Davis and Panzer began pre-production.
The first order of business was to adapt Ludlum's complex story, and for this they hired Ian Masters. Davis claims that Masters heavily followed conspiracy theories and closely paid attention to the CIA's activities throughout the world. After Masters developed the script's groundwork, Alan Sharp was hired to work on characters and dialogue.
With the screenplay completed they went looking for a director, and an offhand comment led them to Sam Peckinpah, the controversial and troubled man who had helmed The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971). Suffering from a damaged reputation due to alcohol and drug addictions noted most recently on the set of his 1978 film Convoy, Peckinpah had been given the opportunity to do second unit work on Don Siegel's Jinxed! in 1981. The competence and professionalism he displayed made it at least possible for him to be considered as director of The Osterman Weekend. Peckinpah's reputation was such that many studios did not want to work with him because of his antagonistic relationship with producers. Additionally, the director's health was in poor shape. Davis and Panzer were undaunted, as they felt that having Peckinpah's name attached to their film would lend it an air of respectability. Because of their director's damaged reputation, the producers were forced to seek financing from independent sources. According to the commentators on the film's special edition DVD, Peckinpah hated Ludlum's novel and he did not like the screenplay either. Peckinpah requested and was given permission to work on the script himself, but after submitting his first few pages the producers forbade him from any more rewrites. In Marshall Fine's book Bloody Sam, screenwriter Sharp said that he himself did not like the screenplay he had written, and that he found it incredulous that Davis and Panzer used his draft as the shooting script. Fine also wrote that Ludlum had stated to his friend Jason Robards that he would provide a free rewrite; if this is true the producers never accepted his offer. But in spite of his distate for the project, Peckinpah immediately accepted the job as he was desperate to re-establish himself within the film community.
Multiple actors in Hollywood auditioned for the film, intrigued by the chance of working with the legendary director. Many of those who signed on, including John Hurt, Burt Lancaster and Dennis Hopper, did so for less than their usual salaries for an opportunity to work with Peckinpah. Rutger Hauer, fresh from the success of Blade Runner, was chosen by the producers for the lead role. For the film's primary location, the Tanner household, the filmmakers chose Robert Taylor's former residence in the Mandeville Canyon section of Los Angeles, the "Robert Taylor Ranch."
Though Peckinpah managed to keep up with the 54-day shooting schedule and within a budget of just under $7 million, his relationship with the producers soon soured and became combative. On the other hand, the cast greatly respected him and stated that Peckinpah put everything he could into directing the picture in spite of his physical exhaustion and health problems. By the time shooting wrapped in January 1983, Peckinpah and the producers were hardly speaking. Peckinpah delivered the film on time and on budget, submitting his director's cut to the producers.
This version was screened once on May 25, 1983. Test audiences reacted unfavorably towards the film, and many walked out of the theater during the first few minutes. Peckinpah opened the film with a distorted image of Fassett and his wife making love, and the way he had edited the scene made it difficult for the audience to discern what was going on. Panzer and Davis were hoping that Peckinpah would go back and re-edit the film himself, as they did not desire to antagonize him any further, but the director refused to make changes. Peckinpah had also filmed several satirical scenes, subtly ridiculing the product. As a result, the producers felt they had no choice and effectively fired Peckinpah and re-edited the film themselves. The producers changed the opening sequence and also deleted other scenes they deemed unnecessary. History would repeat itself as Peckinpah proclaimed to the media that producers had once again sabotaged his film, a common complaint dating back to his films Major Dundee (1965) and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Anchor Bay has included the director's cut of the film on its DVD release, but it's sourced from the only known copy in existence, a low-quality, full-screen videotape.
The film was not a blockbuster, though it grossed $6 million domestically and did extremely well in Europe and on the new home-video market. Theatrical distribution was handled by 20th Century Fox, and Thorn EMI picked up video rights; a laserdisc edition was published by Image Entertainment. It is currently available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
FREE OUR NEW ACTION THRILLERS DVD COLLECTION; Starting next week with these edge-of-the-seat dramas from three masters of the genre. . .
Apr 08, 2007; DON'T miss next week's Mail on Sunday - inside you'll find the action-packed spy thriller DVD The Osterman Weekend, absolutely...
Free Dvd; Get This Dvd Free in the Mail on Sunday ... Then Every Day for Two Weeks, Another Action-Packed Movie
Apr 14, 2007; SAM PECKINPAH'S THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND INSIDE TOMORROW'S MAIL ON SUNDAY 14 action movies to collect INSIDE every copy of today's...