Vintage Cable Box: “Young Doctors In Love, 1982”

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“A romance at this point would be ludicrous and counterproductive to our studies.”

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Young Doctors In Love, 1982 (Dabney Coleman), ABC Motion Pictures

Young Doctor Simon August (Michael McKean), defeated and sullen, shuffles down an alleyway hanging his head in shame because he can’t operate on the woman he loves (the result of a childhood birthday party at which he failed to successfully open a piñata). At this moment, the end credits start to roll. He admonishes whomever is running the credits to stop. The movie’s not finished yet, you see. We still have to get to the final act!

Young Doctors In Love was Garry Marshall’s first feature film as director.  The remarkable cast is a hodge-podge of reliable talents like Dabney Coleman (hilarious as the aggravated Chief Resident Dr. Prang) and Patrick Macnee surrounded by a host of up-and-coming actors (most of whom were on Marshall’s television payroll at the time).  Coleman is supervising 20 new interns, among them Sean Young, Rick Overton, Ted McGinley (the famous series-killer) and Taylor Negron.  Each of the characters have their own subplot, so the movie plays like a soap opera, or a spoof of such.

Young is suffering from an unusual debilitating illness that has her passing out every few minutes.  McKean suffers from childhood phobias.  Negron works several jobs at once to pay for his education, and has to resort to selling drugs to keep financially afloat.  Coleman, in the midst of a vicious divorce, loses all his money and his stocks while floating the idea of murdering his accountant.  In the middle of all of this, a mob boss suffers what appears to be a stroke, and his son, played by the incredible Hector Elizondo, must dress as a woman to visit him in the hospital, while a hit-man (Michael Richards) tries to kill him, and another young doctor falls in love with him.

McKean and Young make for an attractive couple, even when their story is so deliberately rigged to telegraph all the tragedy associated with hospital-oriented soap operas of the time.  If anything, Marshall and his writers (Michael Elias and Rich Eustis) are calling attention to the narrative pitfalls of daily television production, a format with which Marshall is most vociferously acquainted.

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Assembled cast and Garry (wearing a Phillies jacket!).

Early comparisons to Airplane! when the movie was released, are inaccurate.  This is not a literal and visual parody of soap operas, but more an intellectualized conceit of the writing conventions of that sub-genre.  While Marshall retains the goofiness of his situation comedy splendor (as evidenced by much of the cast), he recognizes the failings of the American soap opera.  In one particularly telling scene, Pamela Reed, lets her hair down and puts makeup on her face so that she resembles the nurses from General Hospital, and suddenly she has the attention of Taylor Negron.

After years of watching Laverne & Shirley, I was surprised to see Michael McKean without the Leonard Kosnowski demeanor.  I never realized he was a serious actor and comedian (whom would later appear in, and co-write This Is Spinal Tap for Rob Reiner).  I took him for granted as Lenny.  There are so many unusual cameo appearances in the movie (like Spinal Tap), as if Marshall grabbed every day-player and under-five he could find in Los Angeles, at the time.  Among the cameos, we have Hamilton Camp, George Furth, Ed Begley Jr., and Demi Moore (a dark-haired beauty McKean confuses with Young late in the movie) in addition to appearances by established soap opera stars of the time.

Garry directs!

Garry Marshall passed away last night at the age of 81.  He has a brief cameo at the beginning of this movie.  There is a collection of marijuana plants with a sign posted, reading: “For glaucoma patients only.”  Garry looks at the weed, clips some for himself, and walks away, no harm and no foul.  In addition to writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show and developing The Odd Couple for television, Marshall created Happy Days and Mork & Mindy.  He was, perhaps, the most influential figure in contemporary television comedy, and he will be missed.

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: “WarGames, 1983”

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“Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, Sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.”

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WarGames, 1983 (Matthew Broderick), MGM/UA

The entirety of John Badham’s thriller, WarGames is encapsulated in the personal anguish of John Wood’s programming genius Stephen Falken, who had tried (and failed) to make his computers understand the concept of futility (citing an analogy to the game Tic-Tac-Toe); that eventually we give up, and thus would never knowingly annihilate each other. When underachiever and computer savant David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) accidentally breaks into a supercomputer known as W.O.P.R. in order to play what he thinks are video games that turn out to be real nuclear war simulators, he launches our military’s path to World War 3.

After David is arrested by Government authorities who have tracked his computer activities in Seattle (not coincidentally, an early nerve center for computer programming), he meets Falken’s colleague, John McKittrick (played by reliable eighties prick Dabney Coleman). David “Macgyvers” his way out of custody, hooks up with his girlfriend, Jennifer (amiable Ally Sheedy), and sets out to track down Falken to get his help shutting down a program which is on a countdown to global thermonuclear war.

WarGames was made in 1983, at the height of U.S. and Soviet paranoia. I remembered hearing all sorts of terrifying news reports about the nuclear arms build-up, stockpiling weapons of mass annihilation and people like Reagan and Brezhnev playing “chicken” with warheads. These were real fears. It was the end of the Cold War and ultimately the Soviet Union would relent, but if you think about it, there still are hundreds, nay thousands, of missiles still out there, just waiting to be detonated.

Check out my Imsai
“Check out my Imsai!”

Granted, an extremely frightening scenario, WarGames is incredible fun. It is clever; using philosophical arguments (arguments that could never be made by real computers) to communicate the need for wisdom in the higher ranks of command where our defenses and nuclear capabilities are concerned. It is a sobering idea to consider that we exist at the whim of a perpetual military arrogance: that the better bomb brings swifter peace. That sense of ludicrous tragedy exists in Falken’s character.

John Badham, as a Hollywood outsider, had an eclectic career of iconoclasm. A couple of months before WarGames premiered on HBO and Cinemax, his Blue Thunder (also made in 1983) debuted. Another fun movie about technology run amok, but it is technology at the hands of amoral military operatives. Later, he would direct Short Circuit (also with Ally Sheedy) about a cute robot that goes nuts (figuratively), Stakeout, and the under-appreciated Nick of Time with Johnny Depp.

WarGames was an “unofficial” brat-pack movie for it’s inclusion of Broderick and Sheedy in the cast, but this was before The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. WarGames is a Dr. Strangelove analog for Generation X, notably contributing to my generation’s despondency and apathy when it came to all matters apocalyptic or nihilistic, and where our parents’ generation relied on love, faith, and hope to solve all of these incendiary problems, we turned our backs and used indifference and sarcasm to keep us sane and make us realize that Tic-Tac-Toe would eventually save our lives.

Be sure to check out Mark and Christopher’s discussion at VHS Rewind!

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.