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Bill Murray’s Lost Movie—Finally Found!

January 7, 2015

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Can a movie be a classic if it’s never been released? That question was answered this week when Turner Classic Movies premiered (at 2 am on Sunday!) Nothing Lasts Forever—a film featuring Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd that was pulled by MGM before its planned opening in 1984, the same year the Saturday Night Live vets co-starred in Ghostbusters. Written and directed by SNL short-filmmaker Tom Schiller and produced by Lorne Michaels, the comedic fantasy has never been distributed on video and has only been seen at a few film-festival screenings over the last 30 years.

It’s not hard to see why Nothing Lasts Forever reportedly bombed in its one and only test screening with audiences in 1984. Hard to categorize, it’s simultaneously retro and futuristic, as an aspiring artist (Zach Galligan, who starred in Gremlins the same year) tries to make it in a gritty, black-and-white, Depression Era-esque New York City, only to discover it’s all an illusion perpetrated by a subterranean homeless community who run a bus line that shuttles the elderly to the moon on shopping trips.

Murray is well-cast as the bus’ not-as-friendly-as-he-seems steward, as is Aykroyd as Galligan’s boss on his night-shift job turning away subpar cars at the Holland Tunnel to prevent overcrowding in a Manhattan crippled by a transit strike. Other familiar faces include Imogene Coca (from SNL‘s skitcom progenitor Your Show of Shows) and Late Night with David Letterman‘s late, great Calvert DeForest, aka Larry “Bud” Melman, as bus passengers; stand-up pioneer Mort Sahl as Galligan’s psychiatrist uncle; Reservoir Dogs‘ Lawrence Tierney as a horse-and-buggy driver; and future Friends love interest Lauren Tom as the lunar dream girl whom Galligan moons over.

The movie is more funny-strange than funny ha-ha, although there are laughs to be had from gags like a German conceptual artist whose performance piece involves him counting to a million while walking on a treadmill and a self-mocking cameo by crooner Eddie Fisher as himself. While the visuals pay homage to vintage films like The Battleship Potemkin and A Trip to the Moon, the surreal deadpan tone feels up-to-date with contemporary comedies like Stranger Than Paradise, Repo Man and Buckaroo Banzai, which were all released in the same seminal cinematic year.

208cd83d-39e6-4e8a-923c-71c0776f4226Most of all, the movie feels of a piece with Schiller’s SNL shorts, most notably “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” in which John Belushi (who was cast in Nothing Lasts Forever but died weeks before its filming) literally dances on the graves of his fellow Not Ready for Primetime Players, and “Love is a Dream,” an Old Hollywood-style musical reverie that’s even more poignant now that stars Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks are both gone.

Like “Love is a Dream,” Nothing Lasts Forever is beautiful to look at and strangely moving. It may have taken three decades for the film to see the proverbial light of day, but its belated TCM premiere proves nothing—not even the shortsightedness of movie-studio execs—lasts forever.

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