• Barry Levinson was forty years old when he made his debut film. He had some juice coming off of cowriting the screenplay for 1979’s And Justice for All.
  • Levinson talks about the old adage “write about what you know”- and he does that here with this film about young men in their early twenties growing up in Baltimore. This is the first of Levinson’s Baltimore trilogy (Tin Men in 1987 and Avalon in 1990).
  • Apparently, many of the details and vignettes are taking directly from Levison’s life. The football quiz that Guttenberg’s character gives his fiancée is something Levinson’s cousin actually did.
  • Diner opens on Christmas night 1959 with “Shout” from The Isley Brothers as the audio. Paul Reiser’s character is walking into a dance while Levinson’s camera tracks along with him for two minutes. The song crescendos (this is the perfect song for this as it says “a little bit louder now”) and the camera eventually rises above the dance floor in that same, superb, opening shot. This is some cinematic bravado to open your career as a director.
  • The dialogue is fire as the young actors all equip themselves so well. For a decade or more after Diner, this felt like American Graffiti (both films also rooted in Fellini’s I Vitelloni) in that this film help launch the careers of so many young unknown gifted actors from Kevin Bacon to Mickey Rourke to Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern and Steve Guttenberg.
  • The Fells Point Diner is a brilliant location setpiece (some lovely establishing shot exteriors as well – another comparison with American Graffiti). “We always got the diner.” (wondering aloud if this influenced “Seinfeld”). Diner features genius small talk dialogue about the Baltimore Colts, Mathis vs. Sinatra, “she’s death” and a character named Methan that speaks only in lines from 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success. There is no action for much of the film- just the lost late hours in the night, small talk about girls, music, down time when they just sit. Levinson filmed these scenes at the diner last so the young group of actors would have a rapport and natural camaraderie. There is quite a bit of improvisation.

The Fells Point Diner is a brilliant location setpiece (some lovely establishing shot exteriors as well – another comparison with American Graffiti).

  • Rourke is the oldest in the crew but that is not why he stands out with his soft voice, masculine physique and charisma (yes, the Brando comparisons)- it is his talent.

At the 48-minute mark the six guys are filing out of the diner at dawn with the water in the background as they all pile into their large 1950s cars. This is a longer take where Levinson’s camera rotates to show off downtown Baltimore.

  • They watch Sandra Dee’s A Summer Place (1959) in the movie.
  • Diner is not all small talk, jokes and vignettes. Throughout the film there is the pending marriage of Guttenberg’s character, the strand of story focusing on Rourke’s character’s debt, Kevin Bacon’s character’s drinking and Stern’s character’s marital strife. Stern has a great scene talking about his record collection organized alphabetically, by year and by genre—“this is important to me!”.
  • In one hilarious vignette, the Guttenberg character (a proud philistine) is simply baffled by Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal– “what am I watching? The movie just started and I have no idea what’s going on.”

At the 100-minute mark at the Little Tavern Shops- “Famous for Coffee and Hamburgers”. Levinson holds the take- another inspired choice. This is his Edward Hopper “Nighthawks” oil canvas painting. At the 102-minute mark Levinson cuts back to the same shot at dawn to smartly mark the passage of time as the wee small hours have slipped away again.

  • Highly Recommend / Must-See border