Vintage Cable Box: Kiss Me Goodbye, 1982

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“In a healthy marriage, fear should be equal.”

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Kiss Me Goodbye, 1982 (Sally Field), 20th Century Fox

I’ve developed a theory that movies (of all kinds) made at a certain time were just plain better than anything being made today. My advanced years create a cloud of media-oriented snobbery; so much that even something as light-hearted and innocent as 1982’s Kiss Me Goodbye plays so much fresher and spirited than romantic comedy fare being produced these days. Even Dusty Springfield’s corny theme song evokes a pleasant mood in me. Sally Field and Jeff Bridges are reunited (from Bob Rafelson’s brilliant 1976 Stay Hungry) as a soon-to-be-married couple returning to the house Sally shared with her deceased dancing-star husband, Jolly (an atypically vibrant James Caan) to start a new life. It isn’t long before Sally starts to remember the adventure of being married to such a ridiculously talented man she still obviously loves.

Jeff Bridges’ Rupert is a stuck-up yuppie type (a “nerd” as her mother and Jolly describe him) who pushes Sally’s Kay to get on with her life. If only she could. She sees Jolly everywhere she goes. The house she claims Jolly didn’t much care for is imbued with his presence and his personality, and soon enough Jolly appears to her in the form of a ghost. Is this simply a charming romantic comedy of errors in which a woman has to negotiate the spirit of her dead husband, or is it a deep-seated cry for psychological help? I know, I know! We’re not supposed to ask questions like that. Kay appeals to Rupert to move into the house. He seems more interested in selling it. This is a gorgeous New York City townhouse, and probably worth a ton, but it has sentimental value for Kay.

Rupert is obviously telegraphed to be the heavy, though we can’t blame him his jealousy. He has his own life he wants to share with Kay, and is bored with stories of the famous (and much loved) Jolly. As with most (if not all) of her movies, I find myself falling in love with Sally Field. She’s an extraordinary actress who can give us a character completely with a single expression on her face. Would she have a career starting out today? Most actresses working today that would play a similar role to this are too devastatingly gorgeous to be taken seriously, but here we believe her innocence, her vulnerability, and her intelligence. Bridges proves (as he did with 1978’s Somebody Killed Her Husband) that he can handle comedy with cynical aplomb. James Caan, in later interviews and citing friction with director Robert Mulligan, would claim making this film was one of the more miserable experiences of his life and he stopped acting for five years.

Even in fantasy, there can be logical pitfalls, but we have to get back to the psychological question:  Is Kay out of her mind?  Is this is a Jungian riddle?  I have to wonder if Kay doesn’t want to let this part of her life be erased, and she suffers from identity crisis personified by the ghost of her dead husband.  I know there are people in my life who seemed to have disappeared, who won’t come back no matter how much I wish it, and then I begin to understand that those people (in a rare bit of constructive solipsism) were what represented me in a certain time and place.  I can tell you about my best friends from thirty years ago by telling you about what kind of a person I was at that time.  They disappear like the last page of a chapter you were reading in a book, and then you turn the page and begin a new chapter in your life.  Wow.  This review of Kiss Me Goodbye suddenly got deep, didn’t it?

While Jolly appears to goad Kay into telling him she still loves him (which seems foolish – why would a g-g-ghost care?) as well as interrupting intimate moments between the lovers, Rupert with Kay’s loved ones begin to suspect she is losing her mind, so Rupert plans a half-assed exorcism.  The movie goes off the rails for a time before we come to the conclusion this was actually a very sad love story.  Once Jolly gets it into his non-corporeal head Kay will be happy, he moves on to the next life to take up residence with Patrick Swayze, Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin, Casper, and any other number of friendly ghosts.  Kiss Me Goodbye is a dumb, romantically spiritual comedy, but it is great fun with loads of charm to spare that makes me realize how much I hate to say goodbye.

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: “Author! Author!, 1982”

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“Don’t you ever, ever, ever tell me I look good for my age again!”

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Author! Author!, 1982 (Al Pacino), 20th Century Fox

Johnny Mandel’s appropriately cheesy music informs us we are about to spend an hour and forty minutes with a sensitive, high-strung, and passionate man. Ivan Travalian is your typical, over-educated New York lunatic, who also happens to be a marginally successful playwright with a Brady Bunch-sized family of children from a previous marriage to estranged wife Tuesday Weld. Lucky for him, he likes his wayward adopted family, and they love him. Depressed and anxious though he is, he tries to do what’s best for the extended family, struggling to get his play produced (to his specifications) while courting his leading lady Alice (Dyan Cannon).

A few days ago, I put up my review for Deathtrap, another movie about a playwright, also made in 1982, and also starring Cannon. Several movies were made about writers in this time period. Perhaps their work was more intriguing in the early eighties than it is now. This may be the last time we are witness to an Al Pacino who had not yet become the gregarious, overpowering, over-the-top actor most audiences are familiar with today. He would follow up Author! Author! with Scarface the following year.

The script is an uncomfortable balance of humor and drama, because of Ivan’s tense, charged relationship with his wife. Pacino’s reptilian eyes never seem to blink, and when they do, you miss it. He stares everybody down, and he is truly frightening when he is angry. His life falls apart when he suspects his wife of cheating on him. The performances in the movie, though eccentric and varied in intensity, never feel less than geniune. Watching it, you feel you know these people. Pacino has incredible chemistry with the young actors who make up his “family”. Ivan has unusually frank discussions with the kids about his life, his paranoia, his assorted neuroses, and his depression.

Ivan and his agent (played by a burly, bearded Alan King) convince Alice to take a part in his play. In the midst of rehearsals for his new play, English With Tears, Ivan’s family suffers upheavals. There was never a more beloved stepfather, as all the children don’t want to be broken up and dispersed to other, newer families. They would rather stay together, and it is touching to see one of Ivan’s stepdaughters add up the number of fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers she has because of her mother’s romances. He hooks up with Dyan Cannon at the insistence of his son, who encourages him to find happiness. Soon, she moves into his already-cramped townhouse. Tuesday comes home and flips when she discovers the new living arrangement, even though she’s there to tell him she’s moved on with her life, despite his plea for her to return.

With Author! Author!, we have rich, complex characters that lead unusual inner lives. Pacino repeatedly forgets (or refuses to remember) other people’s names. His children know way too much about his sexual life. Tuesday Weld’s character is a mass of emotional contradictions. Dyan Cannon appears to be the most stable character of them all, despite her emotional unavailability. Ivan is a fascinating person, owning up to his responsibilities as a provider for his family, but also exhibiting arrested behavior; he is not the weary man-child audiences have been subjected to for the last 10 years in cinema.

This is a much better film than the critics of the time would have you believe. Evidently confused as to the characters and their manic moods and motivations, Roger Ebert, in his review, writes that it isn’t necessary for Pacino’s character to be a playwright, but I think he misses the point. Author! Author! is old-fashioned melodrama and theatricality; even extending to a scene where Pacino absconds with his kids and hides his two runaway stepdaughters on the roof of his house. Above all the histrionics, the tirades, and the bittersweet machinations of the script, we never forget that this is a story about a typical, over-educated New York lunatic who loves his children.

Special thanks to my beautiful, brilliant wife for suggesting this title to 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.