In 1993, Indecent Proposal was met with indifference from film critics, but went on to gross $267 million at the box office thanks to its killer cast of Robert Redford, Demi More and Woody Harrelson and intriguingly steamy plot.
What would a married couple do if a billionaire offered a million dollars to sleep with the wife?
However, if author Jack Engelhard’s initial casting thoughts had happened in real life, then Dustin Hoffman would have starred in Indecent Proposal instead of Woody Harrelson, Omar Sharif would have played the Robert Redford role and Demi Moore...?
“Well, in the novel, it's a blonde,” he tells Yahoo UK 30 years after the film was first released.
“It's a Main Line American blonde. Demi Moore fit the bill quite well, though she wasn't a blonde, but she was okay.” In his novel, he describes the character as Grace Kelly meets Marilyn Monroe meets Lauren Bacall.
Indecent Proposal was high-concept and that’s why Hollywood wanted it so much. Still, reading the original book on which Adrian Lyne’s movie is based, it’s remarkably different.
As the Hoffman casting might suggest, the story’s protagonist is called Joshua Kane, who escaped Hitler on foot to France, before fighting against Arabs as a member of the Israeli Defence Force and moving to America where he becomes a poor writer.
Worse for him than being a poor Jewish journalist is he has a posh wife Joan, a gorgeous country club type who loves her husband deeply but whom he thinks will only be satisfied if he has tons of money. That’s when Ibrahim Hassan comes along – a Middle-Eastern high-roller they meet at the blackjack tables where Josh is trying to hit the jackpot who propositions Joan and provides the catalyst for the story.
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Although Paramount had come in to buy Engelhard’s book early on after it was published, it looked quite quickly like it might drift into development hell.
“The people who ran Paramount at that time, one day it turned out that they were unseated and new top people were going to take over which they did and we were informed very little [about] it,” says Engelhard.
“But it appeared the sale of the book to Paramount was dead. Generally they ditch all the previous [projects] in the works, so it didn't look very hopeful.”
The writer read in the paper that the new bosses were combing through the movies they’d bought and were only going to keep a small handful on the docket.
“We were among the lucky five,” he laughs.
Still, he realised pretty quickly they weren’t going to stick too closely to his original narrative, which is, as he himself says, is about Christianity, about Judaism.
“It is very much a pro-Israel book,” says Engelhard. “The hero of it is Jewish. He is a Holocaust survivor. He served in the IDF and he has visions of going back to Israel to dig for the city of David.”
Nevertheless, whilst the antagonist on paper is Ibrahim, he’s quick to point out that it’s not anti-Arab.
“It is not anti-Palestinian. It is not anti-Arab,” he explains. “The Arab is presented not stereotypically and the antagonists are pretty much on even terms. There is no hostility in the book, except the natural sequence of what's going on historically.”
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In fact, he expected the screenwriter (Amy Holden Jones, who penned Mystic Pizza and created hospital drama The Resident) to change the story quite comprehensively.
“I did not think that it was going to [hue] too closely to the novel,” he admits. “I knew — and pretty much what happened was — they were going to take the plot and the inner workings of the novel they were not going to use, because for general consumption it has to be simpler.”
For his part, he doesn’t consider the novel political, but rather cultural. And it’s not entirely surprising that some of the book’s subplots, like the fact Ibrahim makes a sex tape of the encounter and he and Josh engage in hand-to-hand combat, didn’t make it into Lyne’s adaptation.
“Sex is nothing, temptation is everything,” Engelhard says of what the story is really about.
“A big element of the book for me is what I call middle-aged malaise, middle-aged poverty. There's people who are stuck with a nine-to-five job and they see no way out of it ever. And along comes someone who can offer you an event that's going to totally change your life. Now what are you going to do about that?
"You put that million dollars in front of people who are struggling and you'd be surprised at the answers you get.”
But despite the differences between the two products – on the page, the marriage starts to break down and Joan tries to kill herself while Joshua ends up moving to Israel and joining the Navy – Engelhard has fond memories of the experience.
“We were [on-set], my wife and the kids,” he remembers. “I made sure I was going to make this an experience for the family. We talked to Robert Redford a little bit. Bruce Willis was then married to Demi Moore and at one of the events we were all talking and Demi Moore didn’t even know who I was nor my wife and believe it or not, Bruce Willis shook our hand and said, ‘By the way, honey, this is the author.’ It was very kind of him to do that.”
Yet with Lyne’s other blockbuster Fatal Attraction getting the prestige TV treatment and Indecent Proposal also being turned into a musical (seriously), does the author hope someone might come along and just do the book?
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“Would I like it done the way it's written?” he says. “My answer is yes.”
Nevertheless, he continues, “What fascinates me as the author is the different ways people read the novel and take different things out of it.
"So even though the novel goes back to that time you could still bring it up to today and everybody has a different take on it.”
Indecent Proposal is available to buy or rent on VOD.