SLOW BURN. 1986. Made for Cable TV (Showtime). Eric Roberts, Beverly D’Angelo, Raymond J. Berry, Emily Longstreth, Johnny Depp, Henry Gibson. Based on the novel Castles Burning, by Arthur Lyons. Screenwriter/director: Matthew Chapman.


   If it hadn’t been for Arthur Lyons’ recent passing, reported here a few weeks ago, I might have never heard of this movie. It’s based on the fifth of eleven private eye novels that Lyon wrote, all of them cases for Jacob Asch, a former reporter who went to jail rather than reveal his sources.

   Asch is portrayed by Eric Roberts in this movie. He was 30 at the time, and in the movie he looks younger, a lot younger, or maybe he only acts that way. Of course it may simply be a matter of perspective. In 1986 I was a lot younger, too, but that was then, and this is now.

   Nonetheless, I still think of Jacob Asch as being a much older fellow.

   A brief explanation is inserted here. This post originally included photo images of both Eric Roberts and Beverly D’Angelo, but unfortunately neither of them came from the movie itself, and I’ve deleted them. At first I thought they were close, but the more I thought about it, the less close and less appropriate they became. I had found a small photo of Johnny Depp that was taken from the film, as was one of Emily Longstreth, both seen below.

   But neither of these two are the lead players, so I kept hunting. What I found is even better: a online video of the trailer for the film. Click here. You may have to sit through a short commercial first, but I think it’ll be worth the wait.


   The appearance of Johnny Depp in this film came before he was known for much of anything. He was 23 at the time and playing a high school student of perhaps 18, perhaps he was guilty of pushing it a little the other way. His girl friend, Pam Draper, played by Emily Longstreth, I do not have a year of birth for, but she acts a lot older (and sexier) than a teen-aged girl is supposed to be — she is dating an older man, for example, and later on, she dares Asch to take advantage of her. Wisely, he refuses.

   In part that may be because he has already become infatuated with Laine Fleischer (Beverly D’Angelo), the mother of the boy he was hired to locate. Perhaps now is a good time for me to back up. A famous artist named McMurtry (Raymond J. Berry) has asked Asch to find his son, regretting now having abandoned both the boy and his mother (Laine) some 10 years earlier. Laine has now remarried, and as Asch discovers, her son has been killed in an auto accident. Donnie (played by Johnny Depp) is her stepson.


   Laine is a slim seductive blue-eyed blonde with many secrets, and it is fascination at first sight, or at least it is in one direction, from Asch’s point of view. But the story really begins when McMurtry learns that his son is dead. He goes crazy, and before the night is over, Donnie has been kidnapped. The play of events that caused these seems obvious to everyone, but obvious never is the case in cases like this.

   The movie is has its flaws — it sometimes moves too slowly, and the voice-over narration at times could at best be called trite — but the Palm Springs background and the way the rich people live there, in contrast to the local cops and the local kids, not all of whom have rich parents and some of whom do not have parents who love them enough, provide a setting and theme that thoroughly caught my attention, at least.

   There is a scene at the end which is pure noir, and once you’ve seen it, you realize that even though the movie was filmed in color, it had been a noir all the way through. There are other scenes which are even finer. Even though this is only a slightly above average movie (my opinion), some of these scenes I’ll remember for quite a while. (Only one, maybe two at the most are in the trailer.)

   And do you know what? The longer I sit here at the computer keyboard, the better I remember liking this movie. A lot.