“How does it happen that people I love keep telling me to go away?”
Six Weeks, 1982 (Dudley Moore), PolyGram Pictures
This is a very charming movie. Perhaps too charming for it’s own good, given the emotionally-devastating source material. Dudley Moore is a politician looking to run for high office. Late to his own fundraiser, he meets a young lady named Nicole (Katherine Healy), who gives him directions. In return, he invites her to the fundraiser. She drags her wealthy, reclusive mother, Charlotte, played by Mary Tyler Moore (no relation), who immediately sizes up Moore’s Patrick Dalton as a typical huckster dispensing empty promises. Even though Charlotte’s distaste for politicians is not concealed, her daughter is instantly smitten with him.
Dalton has a strained relationship with his wife (Shannon Wilcox) and his skateboarding son, even though he attempts to liven up their lives with his jocularity. This is an unusual role for Dudley Moore, in which he has to tread dramatic waters while still retaining his batty sense of humor. Charlotte is nonetheless intrigued by Dalton, mainly because she’s being pushed into fostering relationships by her meddling daughter, who starts campaigning for him.
Charlotte wants Dalton to spend time with her daughter, in exchange for campaign finances. At first, Dalton is incredulous because he can’t understand why this is so important to Charlotte. She lays it on the line: Nicole has leukemia, and she will die in roughly six weeks. This is sort-of like The Toy, but instead of the kid being an unlikable, incorrigible brat, he’s got cancer and he has a generally sweet disposition. The scenes between Healy and Moore are the best thing about the movie. As Dalton’s marriage and family life falls apart (in a very weak subplot), he becomes closer to Nicole’s mother, but their chemistry is not nearly as strong as with Nicole.
Ordinarily, a movie like this would have me running for the exit. It’s a straight-up personal drama with tinges of Moore-esque humor. When I initially saw the movie (for a while, a Cinemax “exclusive”), I enjoyed it for Dudley and little else. I found the girl and Mary Tyler Moore somewhat annoying and/or grating. Dudley is his usual charming, self-deprecating persona, like a sober Arthur. Looking at the movie now, more themes resonate with me; along the lines of alienation, lost youth, the identification and yearning of a young girl now that I have a daughter of my own, but also finding little bits of happiness, little bits of joy that make every breath of a child worthwhile.
The specter of Nicole’s death hangs heavy over the movie, as we watch a montage of sweetness and fun activities with an accompanying piano-driven score (composed by Dudley Moore). This is all emotionally manipulative stuff. I suspect the director, Tony Bill and writer David Seltzer (working from a book by Fred Mustard Stewart), were hoping the audience would forget about the deadly prognosis and enjoy all the beautiful New York City locales, and all the fun, and all the joy, and all the wishes Nicole manifests, and then finally pull the rug out from under us when she drops dead in a graffiti-covered New York subway train (that was her last wish). The manipulation works. My heart exploded at the end of the movie. I was like Burgess Meredith at the end of the Twilight Zone episode, “Time Enough At Last”, where he whimpers, “that’s not fair, that’s not fair”. It was much more devastating than, say, the end of Terms Of Endearment. For me, at least.
Six Weeks is an extremely difficult to movie to find. Initially given a pan & scan VHS and Laserdisc release, it received most of it’s play on cable television. I make it a point to look at these movies again in preparing my reviews and I almost gave up on this one before my buddy Andrew La Ganke tracked down a VHS copy of the movie for me to screen. It’s better than nothing, but this movie should get some kind of a proprietary HD release.
Special thanks to Andrew La Ganke.
Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.