“Rollover, 1981”

“You’re gonna need a partner.”

Rollover, 1981 (Jane Fonda), Orion

With 1981’s Rollover, I gather I’m watching a movie about people who are obsessed with money. It’s never been my bag, but I’m willing to go along for the ride. Clean-shaven Kris Kristofferson (fresh from shooting the Harvard prologue in Heaven’s Gate) is a banking bag-man, meaning he is retained by banking institutions to solve their problems. I always though he looked evil without the beard. With the value of the dollar plummeting, Hume Cronyn orchestrates buy-outs, and some pointed comments are made about the distribution of wealth. Jane Fonda’s husband is killed, and she becomes the de-facto head of his conglomerate, a “petrochemical” concern.

This is a classic Alan Pakula formula involving people in expensive suits with looks of concern on their faces. Kristofferson is a work-horse. He pours over the books of a large New York bank sniffing out anomalies. He could’ve been a detective. He discovers Fonda’s company is in enormous debt, but rather than allow herself to be bought out, she wants to invest. This role is no stretch for Ms. Fonda, reunited with her Klute director, Pakula. Here, she plays a former actress married into finance; something she would actually do in a few short years. Kristofferson gives her tips on how to solidify her status as CEO. They play a crazy game of flirtation.

Fonda is surrounded by corporate sharks looking to rip her company to pieces. Kristofferson has a special interest in her for obvious reasons (Jane’s a dish in this movie), but their mutual chemistry seems to be based in a lust for transactions. Of course this wouldn’t be a Pakula film without a decent helping of paranoia. All of the principal parties are being watched. Then the movie haphazardly thrusts us into a romance that removes us from the main story. Jane needs a half a million dollars, so Kristofferson arranges meetings with rich Arabs to get financing. It turns out, everybody’s in hock to the Arabs. The Arabs (wisely, in my opinion) make her put up her own stock as collateral. If her company fails, she loses everything. Fonda doesn’t like being dependent on other people’s money (you go, girl!) to keep her interests afloat.

We get back to the love story, and the relationship thrives as a partnership with benefits, until Jane begins to suspect Kristofferson is playing both sides. The only problem (for me) is that all this banking talk is very dry, and we find we need the love story to grease the story. It seems some interested third parties are screwing with her deal, and these parties might’ve been involved in her husband’s murder. The Arab money is not coming through, and the bank brokering the deal is in danger of defaulting, as are all banks in this movie. While emptying out her husband’s cigar box, she finds a micro-cassette which implicates her husband in a scheme to bail out the banks with money from overseas. This is a real Scooby Doo mystery!

A whole bunch of money is going into one specific account. Fonda has a “deep throat” encounter with a paranoid gentleman in a parking lot (another Pakula device, and not as sexy as it sounds). This source also tells her to follow the money, as in All the President’s Men. Apparently, Fonda’s husband was aware of low-interest “loans” designed to keep the banks solvent, not unlike the recent real estate crisis. The rich exist to keep themselves rich, but frankly, we didn’t need the movie to tell us that. Rollover is a big, boring letdown considering all of the talented people involved.

Sourced from the original 1982 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. The box sports a distinctive white plastic clamshell-design case, different from the standard black. The front cover design is a promotional photograph of Kristofferson and Fonda.  There is a tiny “behind the scenes” picture on the back of the box with Pakula directing Fonda and Kristofferson.  At the end of the tape, there are brief video trailers for Sharky’s Machine, Personal Best, and Body Heat. Rollover was released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. “A doomsday thriller of high-finance intrigue.” “Rollover is a realistic, provocative drama of the ultimate financial catastrophe – and the elite group of men and women whose wealth and influence control the economic empire that controls our destiny.” The aforementioned “catastrophe” occurs in the final moments of the movie, and the audience is not given sufficient warning, at least not enough for us to care.

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.

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The Wolves of 1981

Frequent Wire: Two Davids Walk Into A Bar 122: The Wolves of 1981

Happy Halloween from Frequent Wire! Bronwyn Knox joins us for a roundtable discussion of the key horror films of 1981; all of them about werewolves or wolf-like creatures. This episode is loaded with great clips and teaser trailers.

The Howling is a 1981 American horror film directed by Joe Dante, and starring Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, and Robert Picardo.

Wolfen is a 1981 American crime horror film directed by Michael Wadleigh and starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos. It is an adaptation of Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel The Wolfen.

An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 horror comedy film written and directed by John Landis and starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne.

Hosted by David B. Anderson, David Lawler, and Bronwyn Knox.
Produced by David B. Anderson and David Lawler.
Written by David B. Anderson, David Lawler, and Bronwyn Knox.
Edited by David Lawler.
Special Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.

© Frequent Wire, David Lawler copyright 2017 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Anderson, David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All television, film, and music clips appear under Fair Use as well.

Vintage Cable Box: The Cannonball Run, 1981

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“Officer, I sincerely hope you’re not a Catholic.”

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The Cannonball Run, 1981 (Burt Reynolds), 20th Century Fox

Early ’80s cable television was a dumping ground of racing movies; most of them starring Burt Reynolds and directed by the legendary stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham. You had your Hooper, your Stroker Ace, your Six Pack, your Smokey cycle, and you had The Cannonball Run (which spawned two sequels), which plays more as an excuse to hang out with your friends and make a fun movie than an effort to produce a serious racing movie. We’re not even fifteen minutes in and Burt (with buddy Dom De Luise) are working on hot cars, flying single-engine planes, and riding speed-boats as they try to figure out what vehicle to race in the famous “Cannonball Trophy Dash” from Connecticut to California. Burt gets the idea to use an ambulance after sustaining injuries in the resulting speed-boat crash, but first they need a patient and a real doctor, so they abduct (what?) Farrah Fawcett and a junkie doctor (hilarious Jack “I just gave her a little prick” Elam), so they can drive at high speeds.

The film is a veritable Who’s Who of late 70s/early 80s celebrities, both minor (Terry Bradshaw, Rick Aviles, Jamie Farr) and major (Dean “Father Putz” Martin, Sammy “The Chocolate Monk” Davis Jr., Roger “The Fly Who Bugged Me” Moore), as well as a few up-and-coming stars (Adrienne Barbeau, Jackie Chan).  Farr, as an Arabian Sheik, drives a Silver Shadow Rolls.  Chan drives a state-of-the-art Subaru GL with all kinds of gadgetry.  Roger Moore spoofs his “James Bond” persona as Seymour Goldfarb, a nice Jewish boy who thinks he’s Roger Moore, and drives a gorgeous Aston Martin.  Dean and Sammy are dressed as priests, driving a red Ferrari.  Buxom Barbeau and Tara Buckman drive a Lamborghini (the ultimate winners, but it doesn’t matter) and get out of speeding tickets by showing off their cleavage, until they come upon a similarly stacked State Trooper (Valerie Perrine).

We, of course, have a bad guy, but he’s not really a bad guy.  George Furth (a dependable character actor mainly known for ’70s television) is Arthur J. Foyt (a clever play on racer A.J. Foyt), a crusader (or what you’d call social justice warrior), looking to shut down this silly “Cannonball” competition.  The whole idea seems insanely dangerous, but the lure is a big money cash prize, so who can blame some of your more reckless racing enthusiasts for giving it a shot.  The only real problem in the narrative is that the movie takes too long to get going.  It’s like one of those old Plymouths you had to warm up in the garage for twenty minutes, except in this case it’s more like 35 minutes before we start up the engines.  This is understandable given the many characters and their vignettes, and that the screenplay (screenplay?) plays as a series of episodes rather than a cohesive narrative, but that’s okay.  This is such a fun movie – and never boring – that I don’t care.  It’s obvious everybody’s having a great time.  Burt Reynolds barely represses the urge to laugh in every scene with Dom De Luise.  Dean Martin is obviously drunk throughout the movie, and Sammy’s not that far behind.

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I’m not a fan of NASCAR, or any kind of professional racing (though I have good friends who are).  I don’t get it the same way I don’t get hockey.  I’m a baseball guy.  I tend to agree with David Cronenberg in that the ultimate “man-machine interface” is the man or woman who gets into his or her car in the morning and drives to work without thinking about it.  Plus, these competitions seem to be a serious waste of gasoline (also I suspect a good portion of the audience is there to see horrific crashes), but that’s none of my business.  I do, however, enjoy this movie quite a bit, mainly because it doesn’t take itself seriously.  There’s a brief shot I always remember when I think about The Cannonball Run.  Dean and Sammy pull over the ambulance to let the air out of the tires under the guise of offering a “blessing”.  They slide the door open and see a drugged Farrah smiling back at them.  She was truly beautiful.  Critics, at the time, steeped in Scorsese and Coppola-isms, were not appreciative.  A film snob myself, I don’t necessarily believe all movies should be serious masterpieces of style and form.  In fact, I think we should have an even (and wide) distribution of movies that stimulate our minds, and movies that go for the big belly-laugh.  Nothing wrong with that.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: “History Of The World Part One, 1981”

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“But we Romans are rich. We’ve got a lot of gods. We’ve got a god for everything. The only thing we don’t have a god for is premature ejaculation… but I hear that’s coming quickly.”

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History Of The World Part One, 1981 (Mel Brooks), 20th Century Fox

The first impression you get when you’re looking at the opening titles of History Of The World Part One with the voice of Orson Welles narrating, and “Also Spoke Zarathustra” playing on the soundtrack is that Mel Brooks has made a serious art film.  It is art, but it’s most definitely not serious.  We start with “The Stone Age”; ape-like creatures rising into frame at magic hour, and then they start dancing around like idiots, under which a caption reads, “Our Forefathers”.  It’s silly, but it does account for some of our more bizarre behaviors through millennia.  Brooks plays with a  lot of cheap gags during this segment.  The first artist.  The first critic.  The first spear.  The first funeral.

From there, we jump into a quick bit with “The Old Testament” and Mel Brooks plays Moses, who comes down from the mountain with three tablets, fifteen commandments, but he drops one of the tablets. We move into our first set-piece: “The Roman Empire”. Comicus, a stand-up philosopher, waits in line at the Unemployment Office. Secretary Bea Arthur wisely sums him up as a “bullshit artist”. His agent, Swiftus (Ron Carey), arrives with good news of a job at Caesar’s Palace (“The main room!”). Comicus defends vestal virgin, Miriam (cute Mary-Margaret Humes), against a cruel chariot master who is beating former champion horse, Miracle. They hook up with Josephus (Gregory Hines), an Ethiopian runaway slave with an uncircumcised penis and a talent for soft-shoe. They’re all about to be executed when Miriam appeals to Empress Nympho (Madeline Khan) to spare their lives.

Josephus is given a job as wine-bearer.  Comicus performs his stand-up act (“The Christians are so poor, they can only afford one god!”), which indirectly insults the hedonistic, disgusting Emperor Nero (Dom De Luise).  He orders Comicus to fight to the death with Josephus – a brother can’t ever get a  break!  They fight their way out, flee the palace and get jobs in Judea.  Comicus works as a waiter at the Last Supper of Jesus Christ (John Hurt) and seems to have provided some inspiration for Da Vinci.  It makes you wonder about all the low-level jobs in history.  Why are we always reading about kings and senators, emperors and knaves?  I’d love to read about a plumber or a book-keeper from those times, Life Of Brian-style.

We move on to another quick bit about “The Spanish Inquisition” as interpreted with a Busby Berkeley-styled musical dance number, complete with tortured Jews and swimming nuns.  I remember my 5th Grade teacher, Mrs. Catherman, would sing this song all day long in school.  Next up, “The French Revolution” with Brooks casting himself as King Louis (“It’s good to be the king.”) and his double, Jacques, the lowly piss-boy (a job description that doesn’t require clarification).  Mademoiselle Rimbaud (sexy Pamela Stephenson) appeals to the king to release her lunatic father.  The king agrees, but only if the Mademoiselle were to visit him in his chambers.

Harvey Korman is the evil Count de Monet who convinces the vacuous king to flee because of the impending siege, and to pass off the piss-boy as King Louis.  For his first act, the piss-boy arranges to have the old man released from prison.  Meanwhile, Madame DeFarge (Cloris Leachman) leads the revolt of the poor against the rich, and the fake king is captured and sentenced to death by guillotine.  Jacques and Mademoiselle Rimbaud are rescued by Josephus and Miracle from the previous episode.  When Brooks asks Hines how he got here, he gives him the one of the best lines ever: “Movies is magic!”

Priceless

Proceeding, as Brooks did with Blazing Saddles, from the assumption that film is artifice, History Of The World Part One makes no argument claiming any of this is real, but there are elements of historical truth to this enterprise.  The idea of the two set-pieces (“The Roman Empire”, “The French Revolution”) is that those few in power are idiots, and the rest of us do the work to keep this crumbling earth turning, but with invention and resources, we might just cause a little anarchy.  Just a little healthy anarchy.  The winners in history are still in power, but Brooks reminds us that all power is temporary, and he throws in a catchy song to fill up the running time.  Filmed in beautiful widescreen and utilizing an oddly quaint Technicolor process, it’s astonishing to consider the majority of background imagery was accomplished with beautiful Albert Whitlock matte paintings.  This is true artistry.

Unfortunately, History Of The World Part One doesn’t work as well as Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein, perhaps because Brooks doesn’t have the guiding influence of the collaborators he worked with on those films, but it still is a damn funny movie on it’s own terms.  I was thinking of all the pain that went into these jokes.  Not the pain of writing the jokes, but the history of pain detailed in these narratives.  That would be a great “alterna-title” for the movie.  Mel Brooks presents History Of Pain (Part One), but seriously …  Where, in Blazing Saddles, Brooks (and his writers, among them Richard Pryor and Andrew Bergman) pokes fun at racism with a sharp stick, here he uses kid-gloves to take shots at antisemitism, concepts of absolute power, and the fervor of religious fanaticism.

Wait!  Where are you going?  Coming Soon!  History Of The World Part Two!  Mel Brooks turns 90 next week, so starting today and extending through to next Wednesday, I will be reviewing some key Mel Brooks movies that played on cable television during this time.  I hope you enjoy it!  There’s a little gag here I had never noticed watching the movie many, many times in the past.  King Louis is playing a game of human chess.  He proclaims his “King’s Privilege” and has all of his pieces jump the opponent’s queen, after which he declares a “gang bang”.  His staff is made up mostly of midgets; (or the more politically correct designation: little people, which sounds worse) because of his short stature, he wants to be tallest in the group.  King Louis jumps into the fray shouting, “Whip out those little dicks!”  I wonder if this movie could be made today.

“I was sittin’ flickin’ chickens
And I’m looking through the pickins’
When suddenly these goys break down my walls
I didn’t even know them
And they grab me by the scrotum
And they started playing ping-pong with my balls
Oy the agony … Oh the shame
To make your privates public for a game!”

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.

Vintage Cable Box: “The House Of God, 1984”

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“You can’t learn medicine without killing a few patients.”

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Sorry. No movie posters were made for this movie.

The House Of God, 1984 (Tim Matheson), United Artists

Ten minutes past the hour mark of this movie, a once-idealistic doctor named Wayne Potts (Michael Sacks) looks out an enormous balcony at a never-ending cityscape. He sees ambulances and police cars tearing down dark, oppressive streets. He wonders if anything of what he does matters. All he ever wanted to do was be a small-town doctor; dispense medicine and heal the sick. He jumps.

The House of God is the greatest teaching hospital in the world. Interns who’ve studied at BMS (“Best Medical School”) are assigned to do rounds, plug holes, and practice what is now referred to as “diagnostic medicine”. Tim Matheson’s fiery, young Roy Basch negotiates half-constructed corridors on his way to orientation. In one of his first film roles, Joe Piscopo conducts the orientation. Charles Haid is “The Fatman”. He’s the guy that gets things done. He supervises the rounds of a group of newly acquired interns.

A G.O.M.E.R. (short for Get Out Of My Emergency Room – patients who take up residence in the emergency room and serve as nothing more than impediments to others in need of more attention) named Ida has the unerring ability to “go to ground”, so Fatman puts a football helmet on her head, so that she doesn’t crack open her skull. Tim’s first patient is an old woman whom he assumes has died. The Fatman sets him straight – “Gomers don’t die.” The Interns bond. I think The Fatman’s purpose is to remind these young Interns on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis that what they do matters, and that they should take care of themselves before worrying about others.

I’m reminded of my review for WarGames, in which I discuss the concept of futility, and how computers will never understand it.  They just keep going, regardless of failure, intuition, hope, or chaos.  The body is supposed to give up.  The body is supposed to die, but the machines keep it going, and there is the insidious undercurrent of a medical bureaucracy designed to continue collecting money from all the bodies it keeps alive, whether they want to give up or not.  The doctors who promote this system are known as “slurpers”; essentially the vampires of medical science.

The House Of God plays as a series of episodes in which these young doctors cope with the G.O.M.E.R.s, blanket administer Valium to all patients, scare patients out of their beds with threats of lumbar punctures, and suffer trials of depression and neuroses.  While The Fatman inspires the ire of the conservative medical establishment with his unorthodox practices, he is obviously respected, but because he does not approve of these new-fangled diagnostic procedures, he will never be promoted to Chief Resident.

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Originally shot in 1981, the film was denied a theatrical release.  I’ve heard of a number of theories as to why the movie was never released.  1. Producers claimed it was unwatchable (which it most definitely is not).  2. Harvard Medical threatened to sue (I don’t know about that one – it’s just a movie).  3. The medical community was appalled at the book on which the film was based by Samuel Shem, M.D. (why bother even shooting the movie amid such controversy?).  4.  United Artists (the parent releasing company) was too broke to release the movie (the likeliest theory).  I don’t know which, or any, of these theories is correct.  If any of the first three theories were correct, how could the movie be released to cable (eventually in 1984)?  “The House Of God” was never given a VHS, Beta, or Laserdisc release, which is puzzling.

The movie’s cast is extraordinary.  Haid is a joy to watch as “The Fatman”.  His character very much reminds me of Hugh Laurie’s Gregory House.  Tim Matheson proves he can flourish in a largely dramatic role.  Bess Armstrong, Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld), Amazing Colossal Podcast’s Gilbert Gottfried, James Cromwell, Howard Rollins, and Ossie Davis round out the cast.  The House Of God would go on to influence St. Elsewhere (which took it’s title from a line of dialogue in the book and the movie), Scrubs, Gray’s Anatomy, and House M.D.

Starting next week, we celebrate Mel Brooks (who turns 90 on June 28th) with two weeks of Vintage Cable Comedy Classics!

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. 

 

Vintage Cable Box: “Arthur, 1981”

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“Perhaps you’d like me to come in there and wash your dick for you.  You little shit.”

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Arthur, 1981 (Dudley Moore), Orion Pictures

The familiar strains of Christopher Cross mingle with the drunken cackle of Dudley Moore’s incorrigible Arthur Bach, straddling the backseat of a vintage Rolls; a drink in his hand and a top hat on his head. He scours New York City looking for hookers, or ladies he affectionately dubs, “strangers who will love him.” He picks up Annie DeSalvo and explains that he’s basically a wealthy layabout. I feel badly for his put-upon chauffeur. Figuring Moore’s actual age into the production, and comparing him to his character, this would put Arthur at roughly 45 years of age. All of his equally wealthy associates admonish him to “grow up”.

In the expository conversation between Moore and DeSalvo that follows, Arthur reveals that he is, for lack of a better word, betrothed to a woman he can’t stand named Susan (Jill Eickenberry). This is a very interesting scene – by itself, as DeSalvo tells him of the various unfortunate circumstances that led her to become a prostitute. I’m of a mind that whole movie could’ve been just these two characters gabbing drunkenly in a fine restaurant. Of course, if we left the movie at that, we’d never know the pleasure of meeting Hobson, Arthur’s sarcastic butler (played to acidic perfection by Sir John Gielgud).

Arthur’s parents inform him that he will be financially cut off if he does not marry Susan (as close to an “arranged” marriage between the wealthy as I can recall) so Arthur acquiesces. While shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, he spies Liza Minnelli’s character, Linda, a sassy little con-artist, stealing a tie. He vouches for her when she is busted by the security guard. He is immediately infatuated with her. Infatuation seems to be a common theme in Dudley Moore’s movies (notably in 10 and 1983’s Lovesick), perhaps because the characters he plays tend to be middle-aged men forever clinging to their waning youth. He is elfin with an impish gleam in his eye, and always with a mischievous smile; the prototypical man-child that gets so much play in comedies these days.

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When he is sober, his pressures and the encroachment of adult responsibility make him miserable. The drinking is a cover for his insecurities, and with Minnelli being the first “real woman” he encounters in his life, he worries after his surrogate father, Gielgud. Gielgud seems to be only person in Arthur’s world who genuinely loves him and wants to see him happy. Arthur is forced to end his relationship with Minnelli. When Hobson becomes ill, it destroys Arthur. He buys Hobson toys, serves him gourmet suppers in his hospital bed, and loses sleep caring for him.

I think the reason Arthur works better than it should is because of the casting of Dudley Moore. Even at his most mercenary or opportunistic, you simply can’t hate the guy. Where Minnelli’s character tends to grate (though nowhere near as annoying as a Streisand or a Midler), Moore balances their fledgling, improbable romance with remarkable chemistry creating a mutual attraction between him and his leading ladies and love interests.

Arthur was remade in 2011 with Russell Brand assuming the title role. Jennifer Garner plays Susan Johnson, and Greta Gerwig plays the Lisa Minnelli analog. The remake is filled with financial intrigue, glazes over the titular character’s alcoholism, and, oddly, lacks the romance of the original film, as well as the chemistry between Moore and Minnelli. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood believes it lacks the creativity to make original films, and instead devotes considerable time to remaking and rebooting proven properties.

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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “All Night Long, 1981”

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“I’m not a fire you can put out!”

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All Night Long, 1981 (Gene Hackman), Universal Pictures

Burned-out corporate bulldog Gene Hackman has a nervous breakdown and throws a chair out of his office window. Rather than being fired on-the-spot (like most people), he is demoted to a night manager’s position at his company’s all night drug store chain. He lives in a Stepford-like suburban bedroom community. At a funeral, he meets Barbra Streisand’s Cheryl, telegraphed as a bit of a free-spirit that people find odd. In my case, I would find her annoying and keep my distance, but I’m not in this movie. Hackman is intrigued. He discovers his idiot son (Dennis Quaid) is screwing Cheryl on the side. He takes exception at this and tells his son to stay away from her. Quaid is supposed to be 18, but he looks a lot older.

At his new job, Hackman comes across all manner of eccentric character – people who do their shopping in the middle of the night, strange men who shop-lift pantyhose, conspiracy nuts, and incompetent rent-a-cops. I’ve worked night shifts all my life. I’m kind of a night person. In fact, as I write up this review, it is three in the morning. Cheryl pops in, tells Hackman Quaid is upset at his being “grounded” from sex. He is immediately taken with her. She is a bit of a tease. They start spending time together, because her firefrighter husband spends most of his nights on duty. This sets up an interesting conflict between Hackman and Quaid. Hackman moves out of his house, and his wife is contemplating divorce.

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Hackman nails the mid-life crisis neuroses, but Streisand’s flighty extrovert with aspirations of being a country/western singer, can grate. What is essentially a romantic comedy for insomniacs with interesting fleshed-out characters is overshadowed by the presence of Barbra Streisand. The film was originally cast with actress Lisa Eichhorn as Cheryl. The film was directed by Jean-Claude Tramont, the husband of Streisand’s agent at the time, Sue Mengers. A few weeks into filming, Eichhorn was fired and replaced with Streisand. I can only speculate Tramont wanted a bigger budget and Mengers convinced Streisand to take the role. Eichhorn complained about her dismissal and the producers invented a story about her having no chemistry with Hackman, which killed her film career.

All Night Long plays like a mid-sixties sex comedy. Streisand’s character reminds me of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch and she is always the focus of every scene she is in, even granted this is a movie about Gene Hackman and his character’s woes. The script has many amusing moments and good performances, but lacks the single-character focus you would expect from a small domestic comedy like this. Despite my complaints, I really did enjoy this movie the many times it played on cable television, mainly for Gene Hackman, one of our great treasures in cinema. Even with all the behind-the-scenes intrigue, he’s having so much fun in this movie.

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.