Gangster Movies: (ca. 1990) It’s Prohibition era 1930s as Mob wars tear apart the city of crime boss Leo and his lieutenant Tom Regan. Tom is upset when Leo declines underling Johnny Caspar’s request to kill the crooked Bernie. Despite Tom’s objections, Leo thinks he made the right decision because Bernie is Verna’s brother and Verna is Leo’s girl. Unfortunately, Caspar seems to be growing in power and just when Leo needs Tom’s help most Tom admits he’s been fooling around with Verna. Tom is thrown out of Leo’s mob and with nothing else to do he decides to join Caspar. But Tom is also talking to Bernie and Verna, and Caspar’s ruthless henchman Eddie Dane starts to get suspicious. His suspicions rise when Tom is ordered to kill Bernie himself, but no one knows whether or not Tom carried out the order. Leaving Caspar searching for his desired power, Dane searching for answers, Verna searching for her brother and Tom searching for his own heart… if he has one anymore.
“I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about, hell Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word ethics.” So Jon Polito, as crime-boss Johnny “Caspar” describes to his overlord, Leo, played by Albert Finney. He seeks permission to kill a double-crossing underling (played by John Turturro) in the opening lines of Miller’s Crossing.
Writers Joel Coen and Ethan Coen suffered writer’s block while writing Miller’s Crossing (1990). They took a three week break and wrote Barton Fink (1991) a film about a writer with writer’s block. The name of Tom Regan’s residence is “The Barton Arms”.
The character of Leo was written for Trey Wilson, who played Nathan Arizona, Sr, in the Coens’ previous film, Raising Arizona (1987). Wilson died shortly before production began, so Albert Finney took over the role.
When Tom confronts Verna in the women’s washroom, Albert Finney is in the background dressed in drag as the matron (wearing a black dress).
John Turturro based his performance on the film’s cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld.
The Miller of the title comes from the Coen Brothers’ frequent film editor, Michael R. Miller.
When Tom pays a visit to Drop Johnson, a boxing poster is visible to the right of the front doorway with the name “Lars Thorwald” printed very clearly on it. Lars Thorwald is the name of Raymond Burr’s character in Rear Window (1954)
When Tom visits Clarence Johnson, he searches for his flat number on the mail boxes. The last one of these belongs to Louis Medrano. Louis Medrano worked in the art department on the movie.
The character Eddie Dane was originally written for Peter Stormare and was to be named The Swede. Stormare had to decline as he was appearing as Hamlet in the Broadway production. The part was then re-written and re-cast, and became The Dane.
Cameo: [Frances McDormand] the mayor’s secretary
Cameo: [Sam Raimi] Gunman with two pistols during the Sons of Erin Club gunfight.
Based on the works of Dashiell Hammett, specifically “The Glass Key” and “Red Harvest” – the latter of which was previously adapted as Yojimbo (1961) and Per un pugno di dollari (1964).
Cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld told the Coen brothers that the forest scenes should be shot during overcast days only. The brothers did not want to delay the filming based on the weather, but as luck would have it, on all but one of the scheduled days, it was overcast anyway. Sonnenfeld further muted the colors by using Fuji film instead of Kodak for the forest scenes. In one scene, when the Dane, Tom, Frankie and Tic-Tac are in the woods at Miller’s Crossing, some sunlight can be seen faintly and out of focus in the background.
Body count: 14
Cameo: [Albert Finney] In the ladies restroom scene, when Tom enters, Albert Finney can be seen as a (rather big) maid dressed in black and white on Tom’s left side.
In one of the newspapers an article reads ‘Seven Dead in Hotel Fire.’ This is a reference to Barton Fink, the Coens’ next film.
The line “Jesus, Tom” is said 7 times: 3 times by Leo, and once each by Frankie, Mink, Chief O’Doole and Mayor Levander.
The fight poster in Drop Johnson’s apartment (mentioned above) has as the under card a fight featuring “Bunky Knudsen.” Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen was the President of Ford Motor Company in 1969, and before that a top executive at General Motors.
‘Yegg’ is a US slang term, with three main meanings – safe-cracker, itinerant burglar, or thug. The last is the most likely meaning used in the context of this film.
Reagan toasts Volstead, outside the Casper’s premises during the police raid. Andrew Volstead served as the sponsor and facilitator of the National Prohibition Act in the US Congress. It supported the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, effectively establishing Prohibition.
‘Twist’ is a slang term for a girl or woman, often used derogatorily.
Bernie is referred to as a Schmatte. ‘Schmatte’ is a Yiddish word for an old rag and was also used colloquially as a label for things of poor quality or anything worthless. Casper’s use is derogatory, labeling Bernie as worthless both as a man and as a Jew.