According to writer Kurt Luedtke in the DVD special feature The Story Behind Absence of Malice (2004), the film's story was inspired by the media law legal case of Times v Sullivan [i.e. The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)]. Luedtke summarized this case by saying that American libel laws, due to this case precedent, indicate that truth is not always necessary to journalism in situations involving public figures. As such, a newspaper can effectively make a bad mistake and hurt a public figure and the latter cannot always collect damages for it.
According to Frank DiGiaomo, Paul Newman stated that this picture was a "direct attack on the 'New York Post' because the publication had previously published a caption to a photo of Newman which he had clearly stated was inaccurate. A row arose and the 'New York Post' allegedly removed his name from appearing in the paper.
Paul Newman and director Sydney Pollack were both gourmet chefs and had a running culinary competition throughout filming with Sally Field as the judge. Though a good sport at first, Sally grew tired of eating gourmet night after night, and began begging off her judging duties in favor of hamburgers and omelettes at local diners.
One of the film's movie posters/press ads featured a long descriptive preamble that read: "Suppose you picked up this morning's newspaper and your life was a front page headline... And everything they said was accurate... But none of it was true. The D.A., Feds and the police set her up to write the story that explodes his world. Now he's going to write the book on getting even."
In the film, Davidek, the newspaper's lawyer character, portrayed by John Harkins, explains the relevance of the film's title. To paraphrase Davidek: In a matter of law, the truth of a story can be irrelevant. If there is no knowledge that a story is false, then the media are absent of malice. If the media have been reasonable and prudent in producing a story, then they are not negligent. As such, the media can say whatever they like about someone and the affected party is powerless to stop them. In conclusion, says Davidek, "Democracy is served."
At around the time the picture launched in theaters, lead actor Paul Newman said: "I would say that 90% of what people read about me in the newspapers is untrue. Ninety percent is garbage. [Reporters] are expected to come up with something sensational every night of the week to keep their readers' noses buried in the pages, and, well, you tell me. If nothing's happening, what do you do? Well, in their case, they make it up."
Star Paul Newman once said of this movie whilst publicizing The Verdict (1982): "I'd rather have the freedom to do the kind of pictures like The Verdict (1982) . . . I enjoyed kicking the beejeezus out of the press in Absence of Malice (1981)".
Publicity for this picture in press advertisements asked the philosophical question whether "In America can a man be guilty until proven innocent?"
Debut produced cinema movie screenplay of writer and former reporter Kurt Luedtke. Luedtke was formerly part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team who worked on a Detroit newspaper. Luedtke, a veteran newspaperman, based Michael Gallagher (played by Paul Newman), the protagonist of this film, on the real-life son of a reputed mobster in Detroit. The alleged gangster was tried and convicted of labor-related extortion. At his retrial, potential jurors were asked if they had seen this movie so as to determine if they would be prejudiced in their evaluation of the evidence. Ultimately, the man and his partner were both convicted and sent to jail.
Megan asks if the gay man who saved President Ford killed himself. As of the making of the film the answer was no. Oliver Sipple, the man in question, sued a number of media outlets for reporting his sexuality, calling it an invasion of privacy. His claims were dismissed by a California appeals court which ruled that he was a newsworthy figure and his sexuality was also newsworthy. Suffering from schizophrenia, Sipple became a chronic heavy drinker. He was found dead in his San Francisco apartment in February 1989. He had been dead for at least ten days before his body was discovered.
This picture has often been considered as being the thematic opposite or reverse of All the President's Men (1976). In their review, show-business trade paper 'Variety' stated that this movie was "the flipside of All the President's Men (1976)".
The name of Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman)'s antique boat was the "Rum Runner" from the Port of Miami, Florida. The vessel's name evokes the profession of the character's mobster father (i.e. bootlegging). A 46-foot classic cruiser built in 1941, the vessel's birth-name is actually "The Optimist," and it was certainly in that spirit that the director, crew and stars ventured out onto Biscayne Bay interruptedly, weather permitting, over a period of nearly three weeks. Biscayne Bay figures importantly in an early scene between Sally Field and Paul Newman who lunch together aboard his boat.
The 10th June 1989 edition of the USA's 'TV Guide' magazine reported that star 'Paul Newman', who liked to play practical jokes on movie sets, during principal photography, sneaked in two hundred live chickens into the office of the movie's production manager Ronald L. Schwary.
The film's "Absence of Malice" title is a legal term relating to defamation that means "without the intent or desire to cause pain or injury to another (without legal justification)".
The movie re-teamed actors Melinda Dillon, Josef Sommer, and Bob Balaban who had appeared in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1982 in the categories of Best Actor in a Leading Role for Paul Newman, Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Melinda Dillon, and Best Writing - Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Kurt Luedtke but the movie failed to win an Oscar in any of these categories.
Sydney Pollack replaced George Roy Hill as the picture's director with the latter leaving the film project. Hill had worked with the movie's star Paul Newman on The Sting (1973), Slap Shot (1977), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
Except for the film's culminating fifteen minute sequence, the picture was shot entirely in functioning restaurants and bars, banks and government buildings of Miami, Florida. Some were dressed for the occasion. A huge warehouse on Biscayne Bay convincingly became "Gallagher Imports" whilst in a like manner the back of the Flagship National Bank on Brickell Avenue became the front of the fictitious "Miami Standard" newspaper offices by virtue of some temporarily painted-on gothic lettering.
The film in 1982 won an Honourable Mention at the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival.
The lead male role of Michael Gallagher was originally conceived as an Italian man as per the initial intention of the filmmakers approaching star Al Pacino. The 11th March 1981 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' reported that originally the character had a father who was part of the Mafia. When 'Paul Newman' was cast, the ethnicity of the character had to be changed, with the character's name also changed, to the name of Michael Gallagher, and it was also decided to dispense with the character's mafia connection altogether.
The name of the newspaper in the film is the fictional paper 'The Miami Standard'. Its interiors were portrayed by the actual newspaper 'The Miami Herald'.
Sydney Pollack originally wanted Al Pacino to star as Michael Gallagher. Pacino was allegedly cast but then dropped out.
After preview screenings the ending was slightly altered so the relationship between the Michael Gallagher character played by Paul Newman and the Megan Carter character played by Sally Field was left open-ended and not close-ended. This is an old Hollywood movie chestnut where if love interests do not end up together, so as to have a happy ending, there needs to be a suggestion that the pair might see each other or get together romantically after the picture's end, and as such, the guy kinda gets the girl, or might get the girl, in the end. This was the clear intention of producer and director Sydney Pollack. This production scenario was reported in the 23rd November 1981 edition of 'New York' magazine. Moreover, the same ending suggestion happens at the end of Pollack's Tootsie (1982), where are Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman's characters have fallen out, they walk down the boulevard at film's end, with Hoffman putting his arm around Lange at the end of the closing shot.
The 20th August 1980 edition of show-business trade paper 'Daily Variety' reported that director Sydney Pollack approached Al Pacino and Diane Keaton to star in this movie as the male and female leads. The parts in the end were cast instead with Paul Newman and Sally Field.
This film's director Sydney Pollack was well known for making a number of pictures with actor Robert Redford. Paul Newman and Redford famously co-starred in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) but Absence of Malice (1981) was the only ever film that Newman and Pollack made together.
Offices of the real life 'Miami Herald' became those of the film's fictitious "Miami Standard." Part of the Knight-Ridder chain at the time of production, it shared production facilities with a Cox paper, the 'Miami News'. First begun in 1910, the 'Miami Herald' at the time had more than one million readers throughout Florida and in the major cities of the Caribbean, Central and South America. The film company's primary location was the main newsroom and attendant executive offices, utilized between midnight and dawn in order to minimize disturbance to the newspaper.
Screenwriter Kurt Luedtke based the movie on a true life case of a Washington Post correspondent who won a Pulitzer Prize for a fabricated story and later had to return the award.
Paul Tatara at the The Turner Classic Movies website states that there was "a press conference/luncheon featuring [Paul] Newman, [Sally] Field, [Sydney] Pollack, and others at New York City's Tavern on the Green restaurant. What started out as a glowing ember of discontent among reporters turned into a raging fire by the time Newman and Field were done answering questions. When a reporter from the sensationalist tabloid 'The New York Post' introduced herself to Field, the actress responded, 'Wouldn't you rather say you're from some place else?', despite the fact that the actress recently participated in a perfectly cordial interview with the paper. Then, when Newman was introduced to the Post's Diana Maychick, he bluntly snapped, 'I hate your paper'."
Director Sydney Pollack has often created challenging situations for complex characters while displaying a genuine sympathy for their frailties. Interested in polarities and extremes, Pollack's previous films prior to this movie pitted unique individuals against fate (Bobby Deerfield (1977) and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969)), against nature (Jeremiah Johnson (1972)), against someone else different but equal (The Electric Horseman (1979) and The Way We Were (1973)), and against institutions (Three Days of the Condor (1975)). Pollack said of this: "It's a way of arguing out whose side I'm on, which is, finally, the most interesting part of picture-making for me".
Reportedly, screenwriter Kurt Luedtke resigned from his post as Executive Editor at 'The Detroit Free Press' and moved to Los Angeles to write a screenplay about the newspaper industry, and the result was the script for this picture.
Director Sydney Pollack and screenwriter Kurt Luedtke shared the same agent and this allegedly was how Pollack became aware of the existence of Luedtke's screenplay for the movie.
The movie's screenplay was originally 250 pages long. Director Sydney Pollack had concerns about the length of the film's script. Pollack had faith in first time screenwriter Kurt Luedtke despite the excessive length. The 12 November 1981 edition of 'Marquee' magazine reported that Pollack thought that even though Luedtke was inexperienced in screenwriting, and lacked strong visual elements in the script for movie-making, Pollack felt Luedtke was still a talent writer, and that the concept for the picture was intriguing.
Reportedly, screenwriter Kurt Luedtke sold the film's screenplay for US $250,000 to the Orion Pictures studio. The movie deal included a back-end of another US $100,000 and a profit share of the gross box office after the picture had broken even. Orion Pictures is not credited for the movie as it was not the studio that ended up making the picture despite it being developed there for a time.
At one point in the film when, Sally Field and Paul Newman are having dinner, Field tells a story about her father laying down on the lawn waiting for her character to return from a date. This is in fact a true story from Ms. Field's autobiography. Her step father (Jock Mahoney) waited for to come home by laying on the lawn.
Second of three collaborations of actor Wilford Brimley and director Sydney Pollack. The films are The Firm (1993), Absence of Malice (1981), and The Electric Horseman (1979).
First of three cinema movie collaborations of director Sydney Pollack and screenwriter Kurt Luedtke. The films are [in order]: Absence of Malice (1981), Out of Africa (1985), and Random Hearts (1999). Both Luedtke and Pollack won Oscars in their respective fields for Out of Africa (1985) which won 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director (Pollack), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Luedtke).
The only ever cinema movie collaboration of actor Paul Newman and director Sydney Pollack.
At one point, Paul Newman's character, Michael, suggests Teresa (Melinda Dillon) spaghetti for a meal. One year after this movie was released, Newman launched "spaghetti sauce" under his "Newman's Own" food brand...
This major motion picture was filmed entirely on location in Miami during the winter of 1980-1981.
The Vizcaya Gardens provide a pastoral counterpoint to a pivotal scene between actresses Sally Field and Melinda Dillon. A Dade County museum at the time of shooting, the gardens have been part of an estate which belonged to the late industrialist James Deering. The mansion was completed in 1917 after two years of construction, but work on the ten acres of formal landscaping ceased upon America's entry into World War I and the gardens were not completed until 1922. Diego Suarez adapted the formal aspects of an Italian hill garden to Miami's subtropical climate.
The movie's Californian Charity Premiere was held on 17th November 1981 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, California with benefit proceeds going to aid the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.
One of two feature films where actress Melinda Dillon was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress (the other is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)). Both films were produced by Columbia Pictures.
Kurt Luedtke, the film's screenwriter, initially pitched the idea for the film to an agent at the Ziegler Diskant Agency, and then started working on the picture's development with director George Roy Hill, the latter of whom would later leave the picture.
At the end of the movie, as Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman) is about to sail away from Miami, Megan Carter (Sally Field) asks him where he's planning to go. He makes a comment that the whole country seems to be going south and west, so he thinks he'll go north and east. This is a somewhat sly reference to Paul Newman's next film, "The Verdict," in which he plays a Boston lawyer.
Paul Newman previously played a character named Michael in Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966).
The movie's Charity World Premiere was held on 15th November 1981 at the Eisenhower Theater of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the USA capital city of Washington, D.C with benefit proceeds going to aid the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The 19th November 1980 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' announced that 'Paul Newman' had been cast in the movie in the lead male role of Michael Gallagher after reports in September and October that year had stated that Al Pacino was still being considered for the lead part of Gallagher.
The 1st October 1980 edition of show-business trade paper 'Variety' reported that this film's screenwriter Kurt Luedtke was a reporter at 'The Miami Herald' newspaper during the years 1963 to 1965. The interiors of this newspaper's offices acted as interiors for the movie's fictitious newspaper 'The Miami Standard'.