Vintage Cable Box: Little Darlings, 1980

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“Do you realize that I am almost the only virgin in camp? Every girl knows this secret life except me. Look at it this way. It’d be a learning experience.”

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Little Darlings, 1980 (Kristy McNichol), Paramount Pictures

On a strange hot summer night, I pop in the old Paramount tape of Little Darlings. I remember the juxtaposition of Kristy McNichol kicking a guy right in the nuts before hopping into a convertible on her way to the summer camp bus, and Tatum O’ Neal going to the same bus in a Rolls Royce. Angel is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s a jean-jacket-wearing little hottie with a chip on her shoulder. Ferris (Ferris?) is a spoiled little rich girl predisposed to shit-eating grins and compulsive lying, but more on that later.

The two girls hate each other, so you know they’re going to wind up best friends by the end of the movie. They even fight on the bus ride. It’s unusual watching girls display this kind of behavior. They push each other, they mix it up, compare the size of their burgeoning boobies, and talk openly about sex and birth control. Both girls find themselves harrassed (for different reasons) at the camp. Ferris and Angel are very quickly revealed (in ways I can’t quite explain) to be virgins, and one particular brat offers up $100 to the first girl who can lose her virginity before camp ends.

The girls engage in the usual summer camp antics; softball, boating (with dreamy counselor/stud Armand Assante – I keep using that word a lot lately), and hiking. Tatum hits it off with Assante (who seems to be flirting with her) as they discuss France and astrological signs. It’s times like this that I wonder if I have what it takes to be a counselor at an all-girls camp. Yes! Yes, I do! The girls choose their intended targets. Tatum, of course, chooses dreamy Armand, and Kristy has her eyes on young Matt Dillon. Dillon is very much her speed and the kind of guy she would date anyway. While he seems tough with street-born good looks, he is revealed to be sensitive and vulnerable, and the way she sizes him up is fantastic.

This is an unusual film for 1980, coming out (pun!) at the peak of summer camp movies; at least comedies that didn’t involve super-human killers who wear hockey masks.  It’s an interesting reversal of gender motivations, where we have the girls acting as predators in the tribal ritual of lust, and the men are depicted as the prey; essentially clueless as to the intentions of Angel and Ferris.  The filmmakers are careful to not exploit the girls, and the clever scripting (by Kimi Peck and Dalene Young) plays to the strengths of McNichol and O’ Neal (I can understand why girls flocked to this movie when it was released), both utterly adorable in this film.  A very young Cynthia Nixon is hilarious as some kind of a crazy hippie flower girl.  McNichol, in particular, is a brilliant actress.

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“Can two teenage girls go to summer camp together without driving each other crazy?”

In an interesting twist, Tatum, her face glowing, lies that she had sex with Assante (who politely brushes her off in a sweet scene), and Kristy lies that she did not have sex with Dillon.  In reality, Kristy understands all of the consequences of a sexual relationship, while Tatum romanticizes it to the point of losing all touch with her specific actuality.  I think what I learned from the movie is not that girls are objects to be lusted after (they most definitely are, in my view), but that girls are capable of the same kind of behaviors we normally attribute to the male of the species.  The men in this movie are photographed as objects of beauty and game to be conquered, and I find that to be refreshing.

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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Vintage Cable Box: “Unfaithfully Yours, 1984”

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“My name is Claude Eastman. As you probably guessed, I’m a symphony conductor. You may have heard of me. I didn’t always possess this uniform. For twenty-odd years, I ate, drank, and dreamt music. I became a – oh what the hell, I’ll say it – great conductor and simultaneously, a lonely man. I wanted more … love, probably. Be careful what you wish, you just might get it. I met her on tour in Venice. She was acting in a film and we fell in love and married almost immediately. She made me young. She gave me life and it was great while it lasted, but tonight it will all cease to exist for me, because tonight … I’m going to … kill her.”

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Unfaithfully Yours, 1984 (Dudley Moore), 20th Century Fox

There’s a George Carlin joke (George Carlin: Again!, 1978) wherein he describes the “perfect murder”. “You pick one guy up by the ankles, and then you beat another person to death with him. That way, they’re both dead, and there’s no murder weapon!!!” A little more than halfway through Unfaithfully Yours, Dudley Moore believes he has concocted the perfect murder, and the whole thing plays out in his head as he maniacally conducts Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto”. This is the main take-away from Howard Zieff’s 1984 remake of Preston Sturges’ 1948 original.

It’s beautiful. He will establish an alibi by wearing a Halloween mask. He will use two micro-cassette tape machines to record and mix conversations that suggest his lead violinist (hunky Armand Assante) is murdering his cheating wife (gorgeous Nastassja Kinski) when in reality, the violinist will be up-ended by a combination of sedatives and champagne. He will wear the violinist’s mask and play back his wife’s screams while stabbing her to death as security cameras record the whole thing. With his wife dead, and his violinist sentenced to death by hanging, famed conductor Claude Eastman (Dudley Moore) can go about his life unfettered by the infidelity of others. Of course, it doesn’t turn out quite so perfect.

Right after the opening credits, Dudley tells us he’s going to kill his wife, and the bulk of the film is told in flashback. Claude’s suspicions are built completely around a gold jack o’ lantern pendant he purchases (at agent/friend Albert Brooks’ suggestion) for his very young wife. Brooks had purchased the same pendant for his own wife (The Osterman Weekend’s Cassie Yates). Brooks seems to only exist in the narrative to wind up and aggravate Moore with thoughts of infidelity, because he reasons Kinski is too young and beautiful to want to be married to an aging elf like Claude. Brooks hires a private detective who produces a security video-tape of someone entering and exiting Claude’s apartment in the middle of the night, but the person’s face is obscured, and the only thing we see are a pair of very nice argyle socks. Claude spends a great deal of time lifting the cuffs of people’s trousers to see what kind of socks they wear. He begins to suspect Assante.

As it happens, Assante is having an affair, but not with Kinski. He is using Claude’s apartment to meet with Cassie Yates. Dudley, however, is convinced of his own wife’s adultery because of the gold jack o’ lantern pendant he finds on the floor leading to his bedroom. Assante thinks Dudley is calling him out on his affair with Yates and asks him to keep it on the down-low, which further enrages Dudley. After a conversation with his fiery, vengeful Italian butler (Richard Libertini) in which he demonstrates what he would do to his wife if she cheated on him – involving the destruction of an effigy-eggplant, he resigns himself to murder. Interestingly, the script was written by Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson (the real-life couple who wrote Best Friends for Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn) and Robert Klane (who would go on to make the Weekend At Bernie’s movies).

As I said, it doesn’t go down quite the way Claude planned it. For one, he can’t find any micro-cassette recorders. He doesn’t have any masks. He accidentally drugs himself, intending to drug Assante. He can’t get to his wife in time to kill her, so he rewrites his scheme on the spot, trying to make it look like Assante is killing him instead, all of this while Moore is tipsy with sedatives. I think the whole point of this movie is to get Dudley Moore positively silly on sedatives while orchestrating an elaborate plan to murder his wife. This is Dudley’s wheel-house! The movie ends with a completely inebriated, apologetic Moore being carried home over Kinski’s shoulder. I suppose the movie’s ultimate moral is that we’re all powerless in the arms of love, or something to that effect. If I were Kinski, I’d be a little more than pissed at Dudley, but … that’s amore!

This is my final installment of Dudley Moore Month here at Vintage Cable Box, and I want to say I really enjoyed watching his movies and writing about them. I never realized how many Dudley Moore movies I’ve seen, and as a result of his exposure via cable television in those years, I saw the ill-fated Best Defense that year. I was under the impression he would be sharing the screen with Eddie Murphy, but I was disappointed (at the time) to find that it was kind-of a time travel story, a time-jumping narrative wherein Dudley played a tank designer. His latest creation is piloted by Murphy two years into the future.

He made Micki and Maude with Blake Edwards. This was a favorite of mine, but it didn’t premiere on cable television for a couple of years. He appeared in Santa Claus: The Movie perfectly cast as an elf, and later Like Father, Like Son with teen heart-throb (and now loopy born-again Christian) Kirk Cameron as his son (in a body-swapping comedy – a popular sub-genre in comedy at the time). After an inferior sequel to Arthur, he would be reunited with his Six Weeks director Tony Bill for Crazy People in 1990 and appear in a pair of unsuccessful television sitcoms. Health problems forced his retreat from the spotlight, and Dudley died March 27th in the year 2002 of complications from pneumonia as a result of a brain disorder known as progressive supranuclear palsy.

Let’s forget about that for a moment and remember, just remember that laugh, that Dudley Moore cackle. Remember that top hat and the Rolls Royce, and performing the magic trick with the tablecloth. Remember the screaming, hysterical tirades, and the wild hair, and the sarcasm. Remember his fantasy of Bo Derek running on the beach toward his waiting arms. Remember him holding a dying girl on a New York City subway train. Remember him being carried away like a petulant child by Nastassja Kinki. Remember the great Dudley Moore.

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.