My Best Friend’s Birthday (1988)

My Best Friend’s Birthday was co-written by Craig Hamann and Quentin Tarantino when the director was still working at Manhattan Beach’s Video Archives. With just $5,000 they spent four years making the film along with several of their video store and acting school friends, including Roger Avary.

The original cut was about 70 minutes long, but due to a film lab fire, only 36 minutes of this comedy still exist.

There’s at least one recognizable face here other than Tarantino, who plays Clarence Pool, one of the leads. It’s Allen Garfield, who plays an entertainment magnate. Garfield is a tragic story, as the actor suffered a stroke after being cast in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate. Polanski decided to use Garfield’s paralyzed face for his character rather than hide it or recast the role, but Garfield suffered a massive stroke in 2004. Since then, he’s been a resident in the long-term nursing care section of The Motion Picture Home.

How did Garfield even get involved in this? He was Tarantino’s acting coach at the time.

The plot concerns Clarence trying to give his friend Mickey (Hamann) a great birthday, but failing every step of the way. It all starts in a radio station, where there’s tons of Tarantino’s pop culture banter and an early version of the Pulp Fiction drug snorting tragedy. Since this is a comedy, it involves itching powder.

Roger Avery commented on the film by saying, “Had we ever finished the film it would have looked something like a sloppy version of She’s Gotta Have It; a miracle considering the budget. Contrary to legend, the rest of the film was not “lost in a lab fire.” It was simply never finished due to loss of steam.”

Rich Turner, who plays Oliver Brandon, was later cast in minor roles in Reservoir DogsPulp Fiction and as the American tourist in Avery’s Killing Zoe. Mickey’s ex-girlfriend is Linda Kaye, who would go on to do stunt work in films like Bad Dreams, Reservoir Dogs (she gets hit by the car) and Pulp Fiction, where she gets shot in the scene where Marcellus and Butch fight in the street.

Crystal Shaw Martell is in this as Misty. She’s also in the films Evil SpawnAmerican Drive-In, Sword of HeavenHard Rock Zombies and Hardbodies, as well as working as a production assistant on The Being.

Some of this movie became part of True Romance. While it’s not a great film per se, its a fascinating initial glimpse into what Tarantino would later make.

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