“Absolutely the worst movie I have ever seen.”
“Not worth the $3.”
Those were some of the comments moviegoers offered after watching “Illegally Yours,” a multi-million-dollar film shot mostly in St. Augustine in 1987.
And with that kind of word of mouth, it’s no wonder it flopped at the box office.
While it wasn’t a success, the movie’s production brought excitement, rumors about actors and lasting memories to residents of the city of St. Augustine, a town that was a bit smaller back then and which accommodated the production for several months.
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the filming, a team led by the St. Augustine Historical Society is showing the film for free at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
“Four months were spent filming ‘Illegally Yours,’ the story of Richard Dice, a guy down on his luck who ends up doing jury duty during the murder trial of his childhood crush, played by movie veteran Colleen Camp,” according to the event page. “Richard, as the storyline goes, will be inspired to prove his love innocent, and being a Peter Bogdanovich film, it will be a madcap experience that finds the cast members running all over scenic downtown St. Augustine in search of incriminating evidence and solid alibis.”
Downtown St. Augustine sites are shown in the film, like Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum, the Old Jail and the former St. Johns County courthouse — now the Casa Monica hotel. Copies of The St. Augustine Record are also delivered in a courthouse scene. As part of the storyline, the Castillo de San Marcos has been purchased and turned into a wealthy man’s mansion.
Many people gathered in town to watch the filming, catch a glimpse of Rob Lowe or participate in the production.
Harold George, extensions services manager for the St. Johns County public library, got swept up in the film by accident.
George went to watch filming at the St. Johns County courthouse, and he happened to be wearing basically the same outfit as Lowe, he said. That caught the attention of a casting agent, an encounter that eventually got him onto the film as a photo double for Lowe — a job that involved being in a variety of shots and that made George, then a college student, about $30 for a 12-hour day.
He appeared in shots in the movie from a distance as Dice, he said, including the one where Dice returns to his mother’s home with one shoe.
He said he waved to Lowe in the mornings when he arrived at work, and being Lowe’s photo double became sort of a claim to fame in his life, and sometimes a joke.
“I plan on opening my comments [at Wednesday’s event] with, ‘Thirty years and many more pounds ago’ because I don’t think I look much like Rob Lowe these days,” George said.
Being a stand-in also brought about a humbling experience.
“I remember standing on the corner of King and St. George Street one day with my friends, and this large car — like the size of a Cadillac or something you know from the ’70s — goes by and screeches on its brakes,” George said. “It’s full of teenage girls and they all scream. They’re like, ‘Rob Lowe! Rob Lowe!’ And then all of the sudden they realize, of course, that it’s not him, and they all simultaneously let out an, ‘Aww,’ like a sigh of disappointment. … So it always reminded me not to get too big for my britches.”
George had friends who worked on the film, including Joann Speranza, who was a prop person and also carried chairs around for the director and Lowe.
She also helped prepare the mud, a beauty remedy in the film that Dice’s mother cooks up in her kitchen.
“The mud was a big thing. It was the St. Augustine mud … I had to fill hundreds of jars with goop,” Speranza said.
The work was long, hard, sometimes out cold, and not glamorous, she said. She made about $325 a week.
After the film was released, St. Augustine residents got a chance to see themselves and the local sites on the big screen.
George remembered watching the film at the Ponce Mall off U.S. 1 — he recalled people pointing themselves out in the movie and yelling at the screen.
“And having a lot of laughs because the city is, of course, not arranged very much like the movie depicts it,” George said.
Some courthouse scenes are actually at St. Augustine City Hall. The room where Dice arrives for jury selection is the City Commission meeting room.
As part of the Castillo’s transformation into a mansion, “Foreign elements in the form of plastic pelicans and ducks, gaudy palm trees and Greek statues” were placed all around the fort, according to a January 1987 caption in The St. Augustine Record.
In one scene, Dice sneaks into the mansion and ends up escaping from the fort by dropping into the moat. The room he escapes from is actually part of the Villa Zorayda museum on King Street.
“That’s kind of a Hollywood thing, I guess,” said James Byles, co-owner of the museum.
And critics hated the movie.
“‘Illegally Yours’ may already be headed to the heap where films that don’t make it meet their destiny,” a May 1988 St. Augustine Record article said. “Apparently it bombed in its limited opening in various parts of the nation, turning out to be a ‘turkey’ in the lingo of movie reviewers.”
Despite not being a success, it left memories and some relics around town for a time.
Props were sold to the public, including a bust of Kenneth Marsh, who plays Hal B. Keeler, that George got — it was made out of Styrofoam but had been painted to look like gold, George said.
“It’s a shame the movie’s not better, but the town had a good time,” George said.