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. 

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Vintage Cable Box: “Romantic Comedy, 1983”

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“A few years ago, I owned a delicate china teapot.  One day, I dropped it and it split right down the middle.  Well, I glued it together, and it looked as if it had never been broken.  And several months later, for no apparent reason, it suddenly exploded into a thousand pieces.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that despite all appearances, it’s better to keep your teapot intact.”

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Romantic Comedy, 1983 (Dudley Moore), MGM/UA

Phoebe Craddock (Mary Steenburgen) excuses herself to use the restroom at a high-end restaurant packed with back-slappers during the premiere party of her first collaborative work with Jason Carmichael (Dudley Moore). She returns not a moment later, and the joint has cleared out – a ghost town. When she asks a waiter where everybody went, he simply answers, “the reviews came in.” This is the life of the writer; anticipation and happiness and enthusiasm all destroyed within minutes by bad reviews, dirty looks, and marginalization.

The result of a communications snafu, Steenburgen has arrived to work with stage-writing partner Dudley Moore two weeks early on his wedding day. Mistaking her for a masseuse, he strips down naked. When she comes clean, he is embarrassed, slips on a pair of shorts, and goes into a temper tantrum. What we have is a “romantic comedy”, not the title, but the concept – a Neil Simon pastiche written by Bernard Slade. Imagine Anthony Perkins and Mia Farrow in the lead roles they created in the original stage run. If you can, you’re one-up on me. It’s an interesting combination.

The story is told as a series of vignettes (or even acts). Phoebe and Jason meet-cute and begin to collaborate. Their first play is a flop. They bond. He starts a family with his beautiful, politically-ambitious but innately sweet wife (Janet Eilber). A montage showcases the duo’s resulting success with several stage plays. They bond. Phoebe starts seeing a journalist (Ron Leibman). Jason has an affair with a dizzy, ridiculous actress (Robyn Douglass). His wife divorces him. Phoebe abandons him, and marries Ron Leibman.  I think the point of the story (if there was one) is that creative partners are analogs for lovers, or that an intense inventive synthesis is the same as a romantic coupling.

Years later, Jason’s life is in ruins. Phoebe returns, after having written a semi-autobiographical book about her partnership with Jason. She wants to turn the book into a play, and she wants to collaborate with Jason. He flips out in a restaurant and suffers a heart attack. Phoebe nurse-maids him. Leibman finally leaves her when he realizes she loves Jason and working with Jason more than spending time with her own husband. I think he wants the woman who is with Jason, rather than the woman she is with him.

This is as close to unlikable as you’re likely to get from Dudley Moore. He’s crass, vulnerable, sarcastic, moody, and patronizing, but he is Dudley Moore. Again, he manages to make an impossible character work, because we, as viewers, still sympathize with him. Maybe it has something to do with his height. He’s not a powerful man. Perhaps strong in his wit, his manner, his intellect, but a flailing man-child in aesthetics. We believe Dudley Moore; whether he’s a songwriter, a drunk playboy, a writer, a psychiatrist, or a symphony conductor, we believe him. As an actor and entertainer, his decisions were brave and ultimately successful. In the final analysis, his performance is the only thing I enjoy in Romantic Comedy. He would go from the daffy Arthur to the gut-punch of Six Weeks within the space of a year. No other actor would dare to bank on his image as a dramatic actor.

Romantic Comedy is typical eighties cheese, and the Marvin Hamlisch music doesn’t do the narrative any favors. It seemed the formula, or the structure of movies made this way depended on montage to break up acts. We have a set-piece scene, a montage, another scene, another montage, and it goes on like this until toward the end after the climax and before the end credits. Other films from this time period do a better job of linking the elements, but Romantic Comedy is a bit clunky because, being based on a stage play, you have static blocking and heavy dialogue on a big set. Director Arthur Hiller (Author! Author!) tries to shake it up, sometimes putting the actors in nice New York locales, but the stage play narrative feels like a prison from which these very talented actors cannot escape.

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: “Lovesick, 1983”

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“It was a little experiment, that’s all. I never meant it to become an industry.”

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Lovesick, 1983 (Dudley Moore), Warner Bros./The Ladd Company

Mr. Zuckerman is a strange case. A homeless man with several shopping bags of garbage, he speaks into a 2-way radio, and is convinced aliens are beaming messages into his head from the top of the World Trade Center. Dr. Saul Benjamin (Dudley Moore) knows exactly what to do to assauge Mr. Zuckerman (David Strathairn). He gives him a piece of aluminum foil and tells him to wear it over his head like a helmet. This will block out the alien control rays. Mr. Zuckerman is satisfied with this.

Mr. Zuckerman is just one of Dr. Benjamin’s eccentric (and let’s face it – crazy) patients. Benjamin is quite frankly bored of listening to his wealthy, neurotic patients. He fantasizes about discussing modern psychology with the ghost of Sigmund Freud (Sir Alec Guinness – in serious competition with Strathairn for stealing the whole movie away from Moore). A colleague, played by Wallace Shawn, informs Moore he is falling in love with a patient (Elizabeth McGovern). When Shawn dies, Moore takes on the patient, and soon realizes (with the help of Freud, of course) he is becoming infatuated with her.

Though Moore’s character is married (to a beautiful art gallery owner), the marriage is only referred to twice in the film. He begins to stalk McGovern until he is finally caught in her shower. Soaking wet, he tells her can’t see her anymore because he’s in love with her, which seems just fine to her. Normally, this would all be fairly creepy, but again Moore has that gift of appearing likable even when he’s doing ridiculous and psychotic things. In fact, the most unlikable character in the whole piece is Ron Silver’s arrogant actor (an unusual part for him), Ted, whom is appearing in McGovern’s latest stage play. He is everything I hate about certain actors.

Later, Moore is about to confess his affair to his wife, but discovers she is having an affair with one of her goofy, somewhat perverted artists. Marshall Brickman’s script really doesn’t need this sub-plot. Perhaps he felt the stakes weren’t high enough for Moore’s character (even though he is in danger of losing his accreditation) and that he should also sacrifice his marriage to win McGovern’s love, but in the end, it isn’t necessary. Despite Moore’s borderline sociopathic antics, this is a thoroughly charming fractured love story about a man of psychiatric medicine who learns to care for his patients without the need for stuffing his bank account.

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Late in the movie, Moore is called before a review board (comprised of Alan King and Selma Diamond) and headed by his mentor (John-freaking-Huston!). While miffed at his dalliance with a former patient, they seem more disturbed by the fact that he offers free psychiatric care to homeless people and that he refunds money to his patients because he feels he cannot care for them. They are concerned about the bottom-line and profit margins, and how they will be wealthy from the glut of schizophrenics flooding the city. At the end of this rather brilliant scene, Moore performs what he calls a “magic trick”. He swipes the linen from a handsomely-appointed dinner table without nary disturbing a glass or plate, which earns cheers from Huston, who claps his hands and chuckles enthusiastically.

As a fable about Manhattan neurotics, Lovesick is a charming song. New York City is lovingly photographed (as if it were in an old painting) and Phillippe Sarde’s score is magical. It’s unfortunate no widescreen version of this movie exists. Like Six Weeks, this is a very difficult movie to find. Not even my wily, resourceful friend, Andrew La Ganke, could locate this title, and it only exists as a very old full-frame title on DVD, so I pulled the trigger and bought it, and I’m glad I did.

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: “10, 1979”

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“Whenever Mrs. Kissel breaks wind, we beat the dog.”

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10, 1979 (Dudley Moore), Orion Pictures

“I feel betrayed”, cries Dudley Moore’s character at his surprise birthday party. He may be frightened. He might be terrified at the prospect of being 42. While reconciling his lost youth with chipper, upbeat girlfriend Julie Andrews, he secretly covets the easy sexual power of his neighbors, whom leave the curtains open for him and his telescope to spy on their encounters. On his way from a brainstorming session with oversexed but adorable, velour-wearing homosexual collaborator Robert Webber, he locks eyes with lovely bride-to-be Bo Derek. Distracted, he slams his custom Rolls (with 8-track!) right into the front of a cop car, basically setting up a series of embarrassments, from banal to severe, for Moore’s fragile male ego.

Originally a writer (with partner Peter Cook, with whom he also appeared in The Wrong Box and Bedazzled) for Beyond The Fringe, Dudley Moore was a mainstay of 80’s screwball comedies, and 10 was his first collaboration with Blake Edwards. Moore and Edwards would later make the bigamist comedy, Micki & Maude. While specializing in portraying lovable drunks, Moore was also able to find sadness and desperation in his characters.

In talks with his analyst (a refreshing John Hancock), he reveals an inexplicable infatuation with Bo Derek. His insecurity is the result of frustration with middle age. Hancock indirectly encourages Moore’s pursuit of the girl. He cases the newlywed’s minister (Casey Adams) in an effort to gather information about her (while barely suppressing the urge to laugh his ass off at the minister’s inept songwriting skills). He arranges an appointment with Derek’s dentist father (Benson’s James Noble), who performs major oral surgery on him, hilariously causing Moore to go completely numb and unintelligible. He wanders into one of his neighbor’s naked orgy parties, to the ire of Andrews.

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Moore follows Derek and her new husband (Sam “Flash Gordon” Jones!) to Mexico. He fantasizes about making love to Derek on the beach. He hooks up with a very lovely and neurotic Dee Wallace, but can’t quite bring himself to consummate his relationship with her, and in her vulnerable state, she blames herself. One day while sailing, he spots Derek’s husband, asleep in the ocean, and rescues him from certain death. With Derek’s husband in the hospital, she seeks out Moore to thank him. While initially charming and chaste, she reveals a casual attitude regarding sex. When she finally seduces Moore, he is turned off by her advances and seeks to correct his own obsessive behavior, by repairing his relationship with Andrews.

10 is a clever, intelligent, sexy comedy that is also surprisingly sweet, honest, and affectionate. It speaks to the objectification of women (and men) while digging deeper, past the notions of libido and ageism, into the psychological motivations and emotional yearnings of men and women. An enormously influential sex comedy for the next decade, very few movies would be able to repeat the movie’s formula and box office success.

This week marks the official start of Dudley Moore Month here at Vintage Cable Box. I had not realized, until now, how many of his movies I had seen (and loved). A gifted linguist, comedian, and musician, Dudley Moore passed away in 2002, and the world became a little less interesting.

“Englishmen who go to California never recover.”
Wilfred Sheed

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.