Mental Kombat: Rip Torn and Norman Mailer Battle to the Death (For Real) in MAIDSTONE


Decades before his off-screen run-ins with the law began to eclipse any recent performances he had given, Rip Torn was one of the most intense and mesmerizing actors in American cinema – the Michael Shannon of his era. He was fired from the role Jack Nicholson would later assume to great acclaim in Easy Rider; according to director-star Dennis Hopper on The Tonight Show with Jay Fuckface in 1999, Torn pulled a knife on him one day during pre-production, but Torn later sued him for defamation and Hopper was forced to pay out nearly a million dollars in damages.

Iconoclastic writer Norman Mailer made several avant-garde independent films throughout the 1960’s, culminating in the single most audacious film of his directing career: 1970’s improvisational drama Maidstone. He cast himself in the lead role of film director Norman Kingsley, a presidential candidate, and Torn as his dangerous leech of a brother Raoul Rey O’Houlihan. Maidstone is a pretty unexceptional film for the most part, but it has earned a reputation among devotees of psychotronic cinema for one particular scene. In short, it’s the scene where Torn goes after Mailer and tries to kill him with a hammer. It’s a scene that was apparently not in the script but Mailer decided that it was just too insane not to include in the final cut. That was a smart move on his part because it turned out to be the only part of Maidstone that anyone remembers once the movie ends.

The incident began when Torn grabbed a hammer and struck Mailer in his scalp, convinced that he needed to kill his director’s character for real. Soon the two of them were on ground locked in a terrifying clench with Torn trying to assure Mailer of his good intentions in soft, trusting tones. It’s like watching home movies of a family reunion where some guy found out his younger brother was screwing his wife and she was pregnant with the brother’s lovechild. In other words, much more entertaining than any reality show.

Now we know why Torn is no longer legally allowed without 250 feet of every hardware store on the planet and any directors who work with must do so wearing full body armor and equipped with nightsticks. Pepper spray doesn’t work on Rip Torn; he puts that stuff on his Cobb salad.

Here is that infamous scene from Maidstone, uncut and impossible not to watch.

Maidstone is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection as part of a box set of films directed by Norman Mailer that also includes his earlier features Wild 90 and Beyond the Law. You can order it HERE.

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