Vintage Cable Box: “Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978”

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“When I was a kid, my father had one word of advice he gave me, I’ll never forget it.  You know what he said?  ‘Jerome, if ever you are in seriously desperate trouble, remember … that … God, in his infinite wisdom has ordained that I’ll be playing pinochle and you’ll handle the whole thing yourself’!”

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Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

There’s a special place in the bottomless bin of lost cinema for a movie like Somebody Killed Her Husband, Reginald Rose’s Edgar®-nominated screenplay directed by Lamont Johnson and starring two bonafide stars of their time, a heavily-bearded Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. They meet-cute in the toy department at Macy’s, where Bridges works. He’s a frustrated writer concocting a bizarre children’s story about a caterpillar that saves the world. Like me, he tends to talk to himself, spouting ideas in public, and not caring whether people think he’s crazy. He falls in love (so to speak) at first sight with Farrah, chats her up and has lunch with her and her child in the park.

Bridges and Fawcett-Majors are trapped in relationships with boring, selfish nitwits so it’s only natural they start to enjoy each other’s company. They fall in love almost immediately, and I wish I could say this was strictly and exclusively a film’s narrative device in order to advance the plot, but I’ve had those feelings, and witnessed them in others. Here, it seems completely normal, and ignites some memories for me. Seriously, there’s nothing like falling in love. It’s almost like a glorious drug.

One night during their tryst, Farrah’s husband arrives home early with an unseen guest. As Bridges and Fawcett-Majors prepare to deliver the news of their love to her husband, they see that he has been stabbed to death in her kitchen. This is a well-executed scene, which effortlessly glides from romantic comedy to sheer terror. While Farrah wants to call the police, Bridges (being a typical New York City paranoid personality) believes they’ll be framed for his murder, so he resolves to solve the crime himself. They stuff the body in the refrigerator and get to work. With his fully-functioning writer’s mind, he tries to break down the events leading up to the murder, or any possible suspects.

Complicating matters are Farrah’s housekeeper (Mary McCarty) and her husband’s new secretary (John Glover), as well as nosy neighbors and acquaintances. While Farrah searches for her dead husband’s personal papers, Bridges must play babysitter to her son. He bounces ideas off the child as to who would possibly kill the man. Suspiciously, a plainclothes detective shows up to check the apartment because of a broken window. This has never happened in my experience living in the big city. Bridges discovers the apartment is being bugged, and this is where matters get tense. The people secretly recording Farrah are her bizarre neighbors (John Wood and Tammy Grimes).

Bridges connects the dots and figures the neighbors had the fake cop bug the apartment. While attempting a switcheroo and bugging the neighbors with their own recording equipment, he finds that they’ve been killed! They find jewelry and listings for insurance payments based on a scam to “steal” jewelry and divide the proceeds from the cash value while keeping the jewelry. Yes, it all sounds convoluted, but it is a movie, after all. It shouldn’t work at all, but it does for me, and Bridges and Fawcett-Majors make for an engaging, amiable pair. The movie has a refreshingly old-fashioned feel to it, as though it could’ve been made in the 50s or 60s.

Based on some of the reviews I read, critics were not particularly kind to Somebody Killed Her Husband, mostly because of Fawcett-Majors, as she recently departed the popular television series Charlie’s Angels to start a movie career. Others cited parallels to Charade, and in fact, the movie was re-titled Charade ’79 for release in Japan. As in the case of Get Crazy, the movie was pre-sold with an inflated budget by it’s investors expecting it to flop so they could earn a quick profit. I’ve always enjoyed this movie. There is a wonderful conversation between Bridges and the killer at the film’s climax which is well worth the experience. Bridges outlines the killer’s plan and the killer is impressed with Bridges’ acumen. That this movie remains in the bottomless bin of lost cinema is tragic, although I could’ve done without the Neil Sedaka song!

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: “Get Crazy, 1983”

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“If this is love, sex is gonna kill you!”

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Get Crazy, 1983 (Malcolm McDowell), Embassy Pictures

This is such a fun movie! Pandemonium reigns as harried stage manager Neil Allen (Daniel Stern) tries to put together the ultimate 1983 New Year’s party for Max Wolfe’s (Allen Garfield) famous Saturn Theater in Los Angeles. As he wrangles ridiculous rock acts and coordinates dangerous stage antics, he experiences hilarious sex fantasy sequences involving Willy Loman (pretty Gail Edwards), the former stage manager who has come to visit an ailing Max. Meanwhile, Ed Begley Jr.’s rival promoter, Colin Beverly wants to buy out Max’s lease so he can bulldoze it and put up a skyscraper.

Among the bands performing this night are Nada, a bizarre quasi pop-punk Go-Gos-type group with special guest, Piggy (Lee Ving from Fear!), The King of the Blues (Bill Henderson of the famous “Fred ‘The Dorf’ Dorffman tribute scene from Fletch), a hilarious Malcolm McDowell as Mick Jagger analog, Reggie Wanker, and the great Lou Reed as the Dylan-esque Auden, who hops in a cab destined for the show but tells the driver to take the scenic route so he can work on his new song.

The film plays with various music conceits; the stereotypical rock stars, the sex, the drugs, the groupies, and the money-grubbing developers. When Bill Graham (obviously the inspiration for Max Wolfe) closed the doors of the Fillmore claiming Woodstock opened the flood-gates to music of a lower quality, he pretty much killed the rock n’ roll vibe in the late sixties. Graham made enormous sums of money booking burgeoning rock acts like The Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. In point of fact, he made much more money than those bands saw, so it was about making money, not making music. Max Wolfe is more of an altruistic benefactor to young musicians and kids with no money. Director Allan Arkush had based the movie on his own experiences as an usher at Fillmore.

Get Crazy is loaded with sight gags in addition to Stern’s fantasies. A flooded restroom becomes the ultimate bong for a hookah party. A sentient marijuana cigarette runs through the mezzanine chased by a firefighter. A funeral for an old blues legend populated by a bunch of blind guys with canes takes a turn for the worse. A mysterious dark cloaked entity provides special effects-laden drug trips to unsuspecting parties. An epic drum solo that ends in a torrent of sweat and turkey legs. Reggie Wanker emerges from under a pile of naked groupie bodies that recalls McDowell’s turn as Caligula a couple of years before.

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The cast is incredible. Supplementing Stern, Edwards, Garfield, and McDowell and Reed, we have Stacey Nelkin as Stern’s baby sister, Robert Picardo as the Fire Marshal, Bobby Sherman and Fabian, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel, Clint Howard, and Dick Miller (a staple of Roger Corman, Joe Dante, and Allan Arkush movies). Despite the work of the entertaining stars, Arkush wanted Tom Hanks for the role of Neil, Jerry Orbach for Garfield’s part, and Mariska Hargitay playing Nelkin’s part (all of whom were virtual unknowns at the time). He was vetoed by Herb Solow, the veteran producer of the movie. I can’t say the movie would’ve been better with Arkush’s choices, because I really love this movie.

In a cute addendum to the credits, Lou Reed’s Auden has missed the show, but finally arrives to perform his song, “My Baby Sister” for an audience of one: Stacey Nelkin (unless you count the sentient marijuana cigarette and a dog wearing sunglasses), who has been waiting for him all night long. It’s wonderful and the perfect ending for a movie like this.

Get Crazy is an interesting case of a movie that was never meant to be seen, like the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four produced by Roger Corman’s company.  According to Allan Arkush, shares in the picture were sold to investors expecting the movie to fail, like the plot of Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  It was given virtually no promotion or publicity.  It sold to cable television and became an instant cult hit along with other musical movies at the time like Smithereens and The Apple.  Previously, Arkush directed Rock ‘n’ Roll High School starring P.J. Soles and The Ramones and the criminally underrated Heartbeeps with Andy Kaufman.

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.