Vintage Cable Box: “The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956”

“Sorry we were gone so long, but we had to pick up Hank!”

The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1956 (James Stewart), Paramount Pictures

In what may have been (for the time) the boldest examination of American exceptionalism and “xenophobia” (though I hate to bandy that term in the wake of overuse), The Man Who Knew Too Much provides thrills and agonizing suspense. Indiana tourists in Marrakesh witness the murder of an new acquaintance. Before the man expires, he imparts information about a planned assassination of a statesman in London to wide-eyed patriarch James Stewart. In order to keep this revelation a secret, double agents disguised as a British husband and wife abduct Stewart’s (and wife Doris Day’s) young son, Hank.

Fearing reprisal, Jimmy and Doris take it upon themselves to rescue their son without the aid of local authorities. They keep mum on the assassination plot, travel to London (where former singer Day is given a hero’s welcome), and follow up on clues given to Stewart by the dead man. In an amusing twist, Ambrose Chapel is revealed not to be a person, but a place. Stewart causes havoc on the namesake taxidermist, and it takes a while before he can clear up that misunderstanding. Notice how briskly this plot unfolds? We’re in Marrakesh for a little while, and then we’re in England. Stewart and Day next meet up at the chapel where Hank is being held.

The assassination will occur at the clash of symbols during the allegro agitato’s climax of Arthur Benjamin’s Storm Clouds Cantata at the Royal Albert Hall during a performance for the visiting Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is to be the target. Doris Day lets out a blood-curdling scream that distracts the would-be killer and alerts the audience to the situation. Later, she uses her showcase song, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” (introduced in this movie), to let Hank know she and his father are nearby. Jimmy and Doris find themselves to be reluctant heroes in a story of political intrigue, and that’s what makes The Man Who Knew Too Much an incredibly fun movie to watch.

What is most intriguing about The Man Who Knew Too Much are the unusual character motivations at play. Even before the thrills begin, Doris Day’s character is revealed to be paranoid (she’s always commenting on curious onlookers) and somewhat insecure in her decision to marry a doctor, though she does want to have another baby. Jimmy Stewart’s character seems to have little patience or respect for cultures and practices outside of his perceived friendly and familiar American traditions (his adventure in a Marrakesh restaurant is particular cringe-worthy). British and Moroccan law enforcement is portrayed as downright lackadaisical, inefficient, and incompetent.

Between the years 1954 and 1956, Alfred Hitchcock made two movies per year; an incredible body of work from Dial M for Murder to The Wrong Man. After this highly energetic, creative period, he would begin to slow, averaging one movie every year until 1960’s Psycho (his most commercially-successful film) and the resulting cloud of notoriety that would dog his steps until his death in 1980. Because of Psycho, Hitchcock’s name would become synonymous with psychological horror and shock. He attempted to revise his legacy with an old-fashioned monster movie in The Birds (1963), and another case study of neurosis with Marnie (1964) before returning to political intrigue and espionage with Torn Curtain and Topaz, but none of these films would equal the financial and critical success of Psycho. In a way, he was consumed by his own success.

That about does it for Alfred Hitchcock month. The five “missing Hitchcocks” were re-released to theaters starting in October of 1983. The next year, the movies made their premieres on cable television as part of a Hitchcock retrospective on The Movie Channel. This was my Hitchcock education for a time until home media increased his popularity even more. For more fun stuff about Hitchcock, check out the “Missing Hitchcocks” episode of my podcast, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar, as well as David & David and Gene & Roger: A Siskel & Ebert Podcast.

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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Extreme Cinema! “Lazarus Has Risen”

Oh my goodness! What are we doing here? Fifteen episodes in, and we’re at a season finale that brings us to William Friedkin. As brilliant a filmmaker he could be, he chose to spend an enormous amount of money (for the time) with Sorceror. Ambitious, beautifully shot, and nearly unmarketable, Sorceror would’ve ruined big budget cinema had it not been for the little engine that could called Star Wars (made for half of Sorceror’s budget, and for which Friedkin would blame Sorceror’s failure). Rampage, made in 1987, suffered from the failure of Dino De Laurentiis and DEG. To Live and Die in LA, while not an enormous hit, proved inspirational and influential in the late ’80’s and early ’90s glut of crime/drama action thrillers. Jade? Well. Jade’s another story. We’ll see you in November!

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:39:56

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 music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Extreme Cinema! “Is It Safe?”

Would ya do me a kindness? Don’t slam the fuckin’ door!

So, we usually talk about movie directors on the fringe with their respective peers. The first episode we recorded was about the deceased David A. Prior, low-to-no budget filmmaker, Deadly Prey and The Deadliest Prey. Fred Olen Ray, Mark Goldblatt, Rowdy Herrington. Tonight, we’re talking about an Academy-fuck-Award winner, John Schlesinger. Midnight Cowboy. Billy Liar. Far from the Madding Crowd. Sunday Bloody Sunday, and the four movies we’ll talk about tonight. I think we both agreed on Schlesinger because you put forth Eye for an Eye as a prime example of exploitation film-making. Upon further analysis, we saw a very eclectic, unusual, iconoclastic film-making career. Mr. Schlesinger passed away July, 2003, but his work remains for us to dissect. He truly was a maverick film director, along the lines of a Sam Peckinpah or a Bernard Rose.

We were messaging the other day and you wrote something interesting: “Schlesinger reminds me of another director we’ve always kind of made fun of…a guy with very few (if any) common threads among a varied body of work, with some ‘classics’ under his belt and a bunch of mediocre warmed over, but technically competent other stuff.

Let’s get to know the man, and we’ll start with Marathon Man from 1976.

“Why don’t you just try acting?”

Marathon Man is famous in acting circles for an often quoted and misquoted exchange between Hoffman and Olivier concerning a perceived difference in their approaches to acting. Hoffman later set the record straight in a retrospective interview, explaining:

“When we got back to Los Angeles [Olivier] said, ‘How did your week go, dear boy?’ And I told him we did this scene where the character I was playing was supposed to be up for three days. He says, ‘So what did you do?’ I say, ‘Well I stayed up for three days and three nights.’ And [Olivier’s] famous line was, ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’ … It became kind of legend. It’s been quoted so many times, at least in the acting circles. And the truth is I was the first one to quote that line … They leave out the reality and just put in what feels more provocative or a better story. And what accompanied him saying ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’ … He laughed, because he said, you know, “I’m one to talk.” And then he was actually the first one that told me about risking his life every night jumping whatever it was twenty feet in the last act of Hamlet. And the truth of it is I didn’t just stay up three days and three nights for the scene; it was a good excuse, because these were the days of wine and roses in Studio 54″.
— Hoffman, Dustin (Actor). Marathon Man (DVD).

Moving on to 1996’s Eye for an Eye starring Sally Field, Ed Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland.  Ed Harris and Sally Field were both in Places in the Heart. Nice to see Beverly D’Angelo, who was also in Pacific Heights, directed by Schlesinger. So far, scenes of a bucolic life with twinkly music. I get the feeling this is going to be bad.  This is a bit much. Sally’s daughter is being attacked while on the phone with her mother. We can’t get a good look at the attacker. We have a big panic situation, much like Marathon Man. This is effective but weird. Here we have an ice sculpture killing a woman instead of a coffee machine. They should really outlaw these things!

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:36:46

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 music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

 

Extreme Cinema! “Don’t Use the Same Gun Twice”

Alternate Title: “McNaughton by Nature”

Here we are again, nauseating you with another episode of Extreme Cinema – Action and Exploitation movies with Andrew La Ganke and David Lawler. Tonight, my stars, but we have two movies directed by John McNaughton, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael and How to Make an American Quilt … just joking, folks, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Borrower.

Did you know that this movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, still plays in theaters?  A quick check on the Googles reveals the Landmark Sunshine Cinema shows the movie; it’s essentially a midnight movie these days, but it still plays in theaters.  The only other film out there that continues to generate this much of an insane midnight movie cult following is, of course, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – just kidding.  A few episodes of Extreme Cinema back, I mentioned how this is a movie I could never recommend to anybody for fear of getting funny looks from people for the rest of my life; it’s right up there with The Devil’s Rejects, both of these movies, for me, are insanely well-made but they’re extremely hard to get through (for different reasons).  Movies can be excellent, yet almost unwatchable.  

The Borrower is a bizarre movie. I remember first seeing it, chopped to hell and back on the Sci-Fi channel a while back. I think I even saw it before I saw Henry. My mother actually says to me, “Davey, I saw this movie, it was absolutely disgusting, but it was great! You would love it. It’s called The Borrower.” This was back when she liked horror and science fiction. Along with cable tv, and Danny Peary, and Roger Ebert, and my Aunt Marlene, she got me into movies in a big way. We did Jack Sholder last time, and you described The Hidden as being one of the better Terminator rip-offs. I suppose The Borrower fits into that sub-genre, right? The first thing we see is an alien criminal, who is told by a hilarious-looking creature with a voice modulator that he is being sent to Earth as punishment for his crimes, instead of summary execution (which we’re led to believe is somehow more merciful). We see Tom Towles again, this time as another white trash drifter. Is that a potato gun he’s holding? The alien criminal appears, punches Tom (sends him some 20 feet), and then the alien’s head explodes, which is completely normal. The headless alien removes (or “borrows”, as the case may be) Tom’s head and puts it on his shoulders.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:36:46

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 music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. W do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Extreme Cinema! “Fu-Man Chews”

Robert Englund makes a cameo as the bus driver in the dream sequence that begins the movie. Christopher Young, an enormously talented film composer, does the score. He did a great score for The Fly II and the Hellraiser movies. I know this because I have several of his scores on tape and compact disc. Mark Patton is the unpopular kid in the schoolbus. Turns out Freddy’s driving. There’s some great visuals here, lots of fun.

So Mark Patton’s having bad dreams. Nice cutaway to the slicing of a tomato, and then a horrible scream that the parents (Hope Lange and Clu Galager, who seem too old to be his parents) ignore. If my daughter screamed like that, me and my wife and every cop in Queens would be in her room in two minutes. Notice the cereal? Fu Man Chews! So Mark’s got a not-girlfriend, Lisa, kinda cute, redhead – reminds me a little of Annette O’ Toole. There’s like 15 different activities going on in the high school sports field. Archery, volleyball, soccer, baseball.

His friend, Robert Rusler, was in Weird Science as Robert Downey Jr.’s friend, the two geeks who torment Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith. He’s a jock-type, probably popular, but he befriends Mark Patton, who seems uneasy in his skin as he dream nightly about the spectre of Fred Kruger.

Three of the four movies we talk about tonight were released (or distributed) by New Line Cinema; A Nightmare on Elm Street 2; Freddy’s Revenge, 12:01. and The Hidden – released in 1987, produced by Bob Shaye, who ran New Line, also produced the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. We have a bank robbery, a high-speed chase – I believe that’s Chris Mulkey as the bank robber – he was also in Jack’s Back as one of the detectives. He’s featured prominently in Jack’s Back, but he only has two words of dialogue, which was weird. Michael Nouri is a cop investigating Mulkey. His partner is the great character actor, Ed O’ Ross. They set up a road-block, with shotguns and everything. The beginning of this movie reminds me of Dead Heat. They riddle Mulkey’s car with bullets. He gets out of the car, battle-scarred, the car explodes.

Next, he’s in the hospital in critical condition. Ed O’ Ross, pissed off as usual tells a doctor Mulkey wreaked all kinds of carnage in two weeks. Clu Galager plays the pissed-off police chief (“cash and dash fuckers!”). Introducing Kyle Machlachlan as an FBI spook, assigned to this case. I’ll wager he’s there to piss off the cops, lots of pissed-off people in the movie. These cops are overworked. This part is a bit of a primer for Kyle, who would go on to play another weird FBI guy in Twin Peaks.
Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs

Running Time: 1:34:35

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 music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Vintage Cable Box: Of Unknown Origin, 1983

ofunknownclam

“Watch and weep, you furry fucker.”

Of Unknown Origin, 1983 (Peter Weller), Warner Bros.

1983 was the year of the yuppie. The unusual, one-line Google search engine description defines “yuppie” as a well-paid young middle-class professional who works in a city job and has a luxurious lifestyle. The term, being coined in 1982 by Joseph Epstein, points to the rise of baby-boomers finding employment (usually along executive, financial, and administrative lines) in the big cities; many of them living there, but others succumbing to the phenomena of white flight, the grand mass-exodus of white people to the suburbs when inner-city crime and racial tension was at an all time high. Peter Weller’s Bart Hughes is the test-case of encroaching yuppiedom in New York City (although expertly shot in Montreal).

Living with his wife, Meg (Playmate Shannon Tweed, in her first film), and their son, Peter, in a renovated brownstone, his apartment is astonishingly beautiful, tastefully decorated, with lots of space.  Bart has his sights set on a raise and promotion which will enable him to buy the apartment, and from the beginning of the film, he is depicted as straightlaced, clean-shaven, rocking suits and ties, and glad-handing everybody he comes across (but also, strangely, obsessive-compulsive as my wife observed).  His wife and child take off for a vacation and leave Daddy in the big city to make the money.  This movie is a kind-of Seven Year Itch but with a pesky rodent subbing for Marilyn Monroe.

It only takes a couple of days for Weller to lose the fragile grip he thought he possessed with regard to his controlled world.  It turns out he has a rodent problem.  Contacting exterminators proves futile, as the city is overrun.  With the help of his Super, he starts doing his own research, and in a very interesting scene (a dinner party with guests chewing on Cornish hen), he disgusts attendees with admittedly interesting factoids about rats, about the diseases they spread, about the food they consume.  The scene is revealing to me because the director, George P. Cosmatos, and screenwriter Brian Taggert, are obviously citing parallels between rats and yuppies.

Earlier this month, I chose to watch and review another horror movie about rats called Deadly Eyes.  Compared to Deadly Eyes, Of Unknown Origin is a virtual masterpiece of form.  Deadly Eyes is absolutely dreadful and silly, mainly because the visual representation of the monster in question looks so damned silly.  Little dogs, covered with “rat-like” fur but wiggling and moving like dogs.  As if the obsessive Weller at the end of his rope isn’t enough, we have more parallels; as in when he pounds on his ceiling with a thick copy of Melville’s Moby Dick.

The very beautiful Ms. Shannon Tweed.

By the final third of the film, Weller has completely lost it.  His work is suffering.  He earns the sympathy of his secretary, the ire of his rivals, and the befuddlement of his boss.  He constructs a torture and killing device out of a baseball bat, and he becomes completely obsessed with the idea of destroying the rat, even at the cost of his apartment and sanity.  He learns the logic of his enemy, and he revises his attack, eventually emerging victorious.  The movie reminds me of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) wherein our protagonist must dispense with his own logic in order to survive his ordeal.  This is such a fun popcorn movie, and Weller (as my wife noted, a child of James Woods and Jeff Goldblum in his unique mannerisms) is immensely entertaining to watch.

Sourced from the original 1984 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release (Canadian release – the paper is flimsy and oil-stained, I’ve noted this on the Canadian videos).  Also released on Beta, this movie did not have a release on Laserdisc, but it was produced for DVD.  As of this writing, the movie has not yet been released on Blu Ray,  The accompanying essay claims, “If it can’t scare them to death, it will find another way!”  The essay calls the movie, “… provocative and shocking suspense …”  Next time, we wrap up Vintage Cable Box’s Halloween 2016 Horror Movie Coverage with Drew Barrymore in Mark Lester’s Firestarter from 1984.

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.

A Year of Vintage Cable Box!

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“Our technology forces us to live mythically”

Marshall McLuhan

alyssa-milano
Alyssa! My first crush.

Cable television is a beautiful woman (or man, I suppose) who gets into your brain and relaxes you.  She wants you to sit back and unwind.  Just imagine slender fingers rubbing and squeezing against your tense shoulders, then forming a fist to dig into the middle of your spine, and then you hear a satisfying crack and the ease of your joints.  I love her.  She is, as Homer Simpson would say, my “secret lover.”  This is me as an 11-year-old, unlocking the treasure trove, finding the honey pot, and witnessing boobies and enthusiasm, and strong language; the use of the “f” word.  I remember gasping when I first heard it.  I didn’t gasp anymore after I saw Scarface for the first time.  Cable television is different these days; the Pandora’s Box – she offers too much and gives nothing in return.  I looked at my guide the other day – a little over eleven hundred channels, crystal-clear HD, on-demand – anything I want, I can have.  In 1984, we had thirty channels, and if there was something I wanted that wasn’t on cable, I went to the video store.  Bear with me.  I’m not going to start up a diatribe about how things were better when I was a young’in.

Vintage Cable Box is something I always wanted to do.  I wanted to go back to that time when I was a young man, with burgeoning puberty pounding down the door, and Alyssa Milano’s gorgeous face, and Jacqueline Bisset’s tanned body and wet t-shirt, beckoning me.  I tune into Porky’s and come to the realization that there is a whole other world out there: the world of the coaxial cable and the heavy metal box on top of my 25″ Magnavox color console.  From there, innocence becomes a degree of intelligence (not much, but I was eleven, mind you) where cable television becomes my peculiar form of film school.  I can’t tell you how much I learned about movies, about making movies, about filmmakers, watching cable television at this time.  This is my life.  My life is movies.  I eat them up like popcorn.  The Man with Two Brains was the first; turning it on just as the cable guy was leaving the premises – it was exotic.  On the screen, a buxom blonde with a ridiculous accent flashes her bare breasts at Steve Martin.  The cable guy acted like it was no big deal, but we never had cable.  We seriously didn’t.  No cable television in Philadelphia.  My mother had a great job opportunity in Lebanon, Tennessee.  She had family down there, so we moved.  It was a higher quality of life (in theory, but not really).

the-deep

As the old saying goes, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing.” We got the premium (or deluxe) package. HBO and Cinemax (which would alternate premiere movies; sometimes HBO would get it first, sometimes Cinemax would get it first. Either way, and in lieu of a videocassette recorder, movies were repeatedly shown. Sometimes they would even be broadcast simultaneously, perhaps a couple of seconds out of sync, and with slightly different color gradients and schemes – HBO always seemed a tad bit brighter than Cinemax. We had The Movie Channel for a time as well, until my mother started assessing the bill. The Movie Channel was interesting. You would find unusual, even obscure films often programmed as retrospectives, and this is how I learned about filmmakers. You would see a handful of Brian De Palma films like Home Movies, Dressed to Kill, Carrie, and Get to Know Your Rabbit programmed alongside Scarface to coincide with that film’s premiere. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope, and The Trouble with Harry were programmed to coincide with the 1984 re-release of those movies. This is why I can never get behind arguments (usually from older people) that TV rots your brain. I don’t know what they’re talking about. Film, in and of itself, is an education, and television was the vehicle (or the medium – per McLuhan) for this delivery system. Me not dumb! Good, write, good!

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I had always wanted share my specific views and history of cable television in the early 1980s.  For a more in-depth analysis into the history of Pay TV and cable television, I suggest Ben Minotte’s fabulous Oddity Archive.  I had the opportunity to interview (with Mark Jeacoma) Mr. Minotte for the VHS Rewind podcast.  He’s an exceptional (and curious) fellow.  The other channels I remember from those times were CNN, Nickelodeon (and Nick at Nite), MTV, TNN (aka The Nashville Network), and WTBS (not just TBS – it was considered a “superstation”, like Chicago’s WGN), the local affiliates, and a couple of bizarre public access stations.  I remember flipping to one of those stations and seeing our landlord at the time, an old Baptist pulpit-punding minister, broadcasting his own show!  He seemed like a nice man, but he wouldn’t allow us to keep any pets.  Nick at Nite was an astonishing find.  I discovered The Bob Cummings Show, Bachelor Father, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.  What I remember, in the days before cable television, the UHF stations in Philadelphia: channels 17, 29, and 48.  Channel 17 WPHL would run Star Trek and The Outer Limits.  Channel 29 (WTAF, later to become a FOX affiliate with terrible reception) would run Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.  Channel 48 WKBS (which went out of business in 1983) would show Creature Double Feature on Saturday mornings and afternoons.  Sometimes, if your antenna was in a good position, you could get the Vineland, New Jersey UHF channel.

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When I launched Vintage Cable Box on August 31 last year, I fully expected to begin the odyssey with Porky’s, but Wes Craven’s passing away over that weekend prompted me to change up my schedule, so I put out three reviews: Swamp Thing, Porky’s, and Rodney Dangerfield’s Easy Money. Looking at the reviews now, they seem more like perfunctory write-ups, descriptions of plots more than any true evaluation. I don’t think I really kicked it into gear until The Osterman Weekend (September 23, 2016). My Big Chill review the following week I rate as one of my best. National Lampoon’s Class Reunion was a sobering reminder that many of the movies I enjoyed as an eleven-year-old I could not stomach today. Some (very few) of these movies are absolutely horrible to watch. Class Reunion kicked off my first Halloween retrospective. I reviewed horror movies for the entire month and got my first big hit with my review of Amityville II: The Possession. Horror movies get great numbers for me. What really sells today is nostalgia, and you could even look back on a failed movie, a terrible movie, and express some level of nostalgia or affection for it, but if you can’t drum up that enthusiasm in yourself, it’s not going to work for your readers or your listening audience.  I know I have this problem on occasion.

Which brings me to those reviews I might have phoned in, because I couldn’t get into it while loving it as a child, and then considering it some form of exquisite torture in my later years.  November brought me The Rosebud Beach Hotel and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.  December’s Christmas cheer brought me The Man Who Wasn’t There, but it also brought me my biggest hit, A Christmas Story (to be rivaled only by Midnight Madness).  I think the elements of popularity and nostalgia (not to mention affection) combine to bring about a newfound interest; it’s not necessarily about how well you think you write.  If you are writing about something a reader has in the back of his or her head, that they remember, that they adore, you’ll get a lot of readers.  Get Crazy, a movie that barely had a release yet exploded on cable television, made me think about some hidden gems; the over-budgeted movies that scam-artist financers would sell to investors from which they would pocket the difference and laugh all the way to the bank.  It’s sort of like the plot to Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  Other examples include Somebody Killed Her Husband and (perhaps) The House of God.

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It’s amazing to me how some movies hold up, while others are terribly dated and get worse with age.  I remember adoring Breathless, They Call Me Bruce?, and Jekyll and Hyde – Together Again.  Now I hate them.  I can’t stand them.  In December, I launched a bit of a mini-series in that in appeared to me that several movies were being made at the time with writers as their central characters:  Deathtrap, Author! Author!, Romancing the Stone, Best Friends, and Romantic Comedy.  Nobody would ever dare make a movie about a writer these days.  Romantic Comedy would find it’s way into my series about Dudley Moore.  Moore was all over cable television at that time.  Dudley Moore’s particular skills revolved around his man-child characters, always unsatisfied, depressed, and yearning (or lusting) after women while negotiating his advanced years.  Sometimes, he would take a dramatic detour (Six Weeks), but those digressions were infrequent.  Mel Brooks’ 90th birthday was coming up, and I remembered seeing several of his movies (in another wonderful Movie Channel retrospective tied to the premiere of his To Be or Not to Be remake) so I put together the four that received endless play.

Stacey Nelkin in Get Crazy

There are also the unexpected deaths that changed my schedule (as with my very first review).  I mentioned in my (very quickly cobbled together) review of The Woman in Red that Gene Wilder’s passing forced me to rush that write-up.  I had originally planned to continue my articles up to the point we got the HBO satellite service in Philadelphia, and The Woman in Red would be featured.  The same situation forced me to publish a review for Garry Marshall’s Young Doctors in Love.  After the death of David Bowie, I wrote up the review for The Hunger.  I have a schedule in place, and I tend to write reviews well in advance of publication for this very reason.  So what are we up to?  At last count, 74 reviews have been published.  I had initially expected to put out an article once a week.  I figure I have about another year’s worth of material.  We’ll see what happens, but this has been a wonderful trip back to my past, and I hope you (the readers) will continue this journey with me.

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.