Vintage Cable Box: The Woman in Red, 1984

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“Come and get it, Cowboy.”

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The Woman in Red, 1984 (Gene Wilder), Orion Pictures

I had not planned to cover The Woman in Red until next year, but Gene Wilder’s passing prompted me to look at the movie again. As far as I know, the movie did not premiere on HBO until 1986 when we had already moved back to Philadelphia. We missed our HBO so much we bought a satellite dish (at a cost of $30 a month), and installed it on our rooftop (at a time when Philly did not have cable television below the Broad Street line). What I most remember about the movie was the heavy promotion it received during it’s initial release. The publicity and the advertisements thoroughly peddled Kelly Le Brock and the memorable (if tedious) music of Stevie Wonder.

San Francisco advertising executive Gene Wilder is negotiating a hi-rise ledge and wondering what he had done to find himself in this position.  He recalls that one day four weeks ago, he was sitting in his car in a parking lot when he spotted a woman in a red dress walking down the street.  She passes over a grate, which blows hot air up her dress, revealing her matching red panties.  She turns back, stands over the grate and starts dancing.  From then on, Gene is smitten.  He is immediately infatuated with her, and tries to set up a date with her, but mistakenly reaches co-worker Gilda Radner instead.  He seems happy yet unsatisfied in his marriage to Judith Ivey, recalling Tommy Noonan’s roving eye and boredom in The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe.

His friends are of no help to his burgeoning infidelity and thoughts of desertion.  They ogle women constantly and screw around behind their busy wives’ backs.  Joseph Bologna (fresh from Blame It on Rio) is a cad, and Charles Grodin plays a character he knows best: well-meaning and mild-mannered, but with a touch of hysteria.  All is not well as Bologna is informed his wife is divorcing him, so the central fear of loneliness is a preoccupation in Wilder’s character.  Evidently, men are all big talk until the shit hits the fan.  Interestingly, because Wilder refuses to discuss his feelings of ennui with his wife, he comes across as a gibbering idiot on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Ivey, livid over Bologna’s impending divorce, and all the terrible stories that accompany it, informs Wilder she is a violently jealous woman.  Her revelation horrifies Wilder.  Meanwhile, Gilda awaits her “date” with the clueless Wilder, who never arrives because he had no idea he was making a date with her.  In an unusual montage, we see Gilda sitting alone in an empty restaurant, Bologna sleeping and drinking alone next to pictures of his children, and Wilder unable to sleep next to his wife in the bed they share.  The next day, a furious Gilda keys his car and breaks his antenna.  When he discovers his mystery woman had a love of horseback riding, he arranges a meet-cute with the girl at the stables.

The two hit it off, and once Le Brock shows even the mildest of interest in Wilder, his life turns around.  He is happy and confident.  He buys new clothes, and tries to give himself a new hairstyle, to which his friend hilariously compares him to Robert Redford.  As with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek in 10, Wilder manages to get Le Brock into bed, but before he can consummate his lust, her husband arrives home early, and he must escape, by climbing out on the aforementioned ledge.  Where Moore was turned off by Derek’s casual attitude regarding sex, Wilder’s screenplay and direction emphasize the loneliness of his character.  He photographs Le Brock as though she were a goddess just out of his reach.

With a charmingly dated appeal, this is a movie made for the PG-13 rating.  While PG-rated movies in the late 70s/early 80s treaded lightly when it came to certain kinds of violence and off-color language, the introduction of the PG-13 rating promised movies with adult humor and themes that could be watched and enjoyed by kids.  This was the promise, but it was not kept.  PG-13 movies were produced (starting in the early 90s) to guarantee as many asses in the seats as PG movies did twenty years before.  The Woman in Red is a rare example of a movie that would be rated R (restricted audiences) if released today.

Gene Wilder never set out to become a comedic actor.  It was only when collaborators such as Mel Brooks and Woody Allen discovered his gift for controlled mania, and an unerring capacity to stretch the imagined boundaries of sanity with every character he played, were we truly witness to the birth of that comedic legend.  His first film was 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.  Brooks cast him as the neurotic accountant Leopold Bloom in The Producers.  He would appear in Start the Revolution Without Me and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but it wasn’t until 1972’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) that he began to make a name for himself as the reluctant comedian.  He would make Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles for Mel Brooks, as well as a series of successful comedies with Richard Pryor.  In addition to The Woman in Red, he would write and direct The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, The World’s Greatest Lover, and Haunted Honeymoon.

I’m gonna miss him.

A very special thank you to Christopher Hasler for suggesting this title.

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: “It Came From Hollywood”, 1982

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“You see?  You see?  Your stupid minds!  Stupid!  Stupid!”

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“It Came From Hollywood”, 1982 (Dan Aykroyd), Paramount Pictures

In a throwaway sketch straight out of “Kentucky Fried Movie” or Second City, Gilda Radner hears a report of an escaped Gorilla. She is instructed to lock her doors, shut her windows, extinguish all fires and above all, remain calm. She manages to destroy her house in the process of keeping herself safe. Gilda introduces and provides commentary for movies about lunatic gorillas, man from the jungle, giant monkeys, and robot-gorillas.

Dan Aykroyd is a soldier from another planet on a survey mission, scouting a destroyed Earth (actually it appears to be the Paramount backlot) and providing insight into silly low-budget (and some big-budget) movies about alien invasions, ranging from “Teenagers From Outer Space” to the original “War of the Worlds”, as well as something Aykroyd identifies as “Attack of the Pipe-Welders”.

Cheech & Chong go to the movies. Chong purchases a garbage-can sized bucket of popcorn. They watch “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, “The Amazing Colossal Man”, and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”. They also get away with some off-color humor and dirty puns. John Candy presents an affectionate (if snarky) tribute to the movies of Ed Wood. Gilda shows up again to show us some very cheap musicals, most of which I had never known about, which is astonishing to me. One clip of note is the enormously racist 1934 musical, “Wonder Bar”, complete with black-face minstrels and dancing slices of watermelon.

John Candy presents previews of coming attractions, where we get a taste of “The Hypnotic Eye”, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures (Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies)”, “House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price, and “I Married A Monster From Outer Space”. We get a few exploitation movies as well, like “Black Belt Jones” (Right on!) and “Mars Needs Women”.

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Dan Aykroyd’s Troubled Teenagers profiles movies like “High School Hellcats”, hilarious morality plays about venereal disease and teenage pregnancy, and drug movies, “The Weird World of LSD” “Reefer Madness”, and “Marihuana” (I don’t know why it’s spelled like that either). Some of the material is repetitive, as in Cheech & Chong’s next segment, The Animal Kingdom Goes Berserk. Favorites of mine like “Son of Godzilla” and “The Beginning of the End” (with giant grasshoppers!) are featured. To complete the joke, Cheech & Chong smoke an enormous blunt.

“It Came From Hollywood” is in parts a tribute, a rebuke, an admonishment, and a document of bad movies, silly movies, terrible movies, as well as misguided filmmakers, atrocious performances, and crappy special effects. The headlining comedians offer zany commentary that serves as brilliant counterpoint to the often intentionally serious and unintentionally hilarious films featured in the movie. “It Came From Hollywood” was obviously an inspiration for Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which a human, stuck in space with his three loyal robots, is forced to “riff” on bad movies sent to him by a mad scientist and his henchman.

Though most of the humor is meant to pad out the running time, and is often, flat and cringe-worthy, I have a soft spot in my heart for “It Came From Hollywood”. I learned how to make movies (and more importantly, how not to make them) watching movies like this. There weren’t many compilation movies made in those times. The only other movie I can recall from that period was “Terror In The Aisles” featuring Universal Pictures horror movies like “Frankenstein” all the way up to “The Thing”.

Because of rights issues involving many of the films shown in “It Came From Hollywood” (over 100 titles!), the film was never released on DVD, so it is extremely hard to find, but it is (for now) available on YouTube. It was nice going back to this movie to be reminded of why I love movies. I don’t care how bad they are. I love movies. I miss Gilda and John.

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.