Extreme Cinema! “Go Ahead, Make My Day!”

Clinton “Clint” Eastwood Jr. (born May 31, 1930) is an American actor, filmmaker, musician, and political figure. After earning success in the Western TV series Rawhide, he rose to international fame with his role as the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy of spaghetti Westerns during the 1960s, and as antihero cop Harry Callahan in the five Dirty Harry films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which is what we’re going to talk about tonight.

I was thinking about how fortunate we are, and how lazy we are because of Blu Ray, because of 1080p or more, we have ultra 4k or higher, I’m told. This is why we don’t go to the movies anymore. We don’t rush out to see a movie anymore, because we’ve turned our living rooms into little movie theaters where we don’t have to be disturbed; that’s incredible to me. Remember how we were talking about the Gladiator transfer? About how it probably looked superior to when the movie came out? This Dirty Harry transfer – it’s not that I don’t think it was superior, I wouldn’t know, but I told you it looked “faithful” to the original movie, I suspect. I like that they didn’t try to bring up the brightness. Cinema was dark back in the day, it was dark and detailed, and I was hoping they didn’t have like a millenial do the transfer, screaming, “It’s too dark! Bring it up!” They stayed faithful to the original release. Good transfer.

This is where we introduce “Dirty” Harry Callahan; December 23rd (a Christmas movie), 1971 – directed by Don Siegel. Harry and Rita Fink created the character with John Milius, Dean Riesner, Terrence Malick, Clint Eastwood, and Joe Heims, and all of those writers contributed to the script.

Magnum Force was released two years later, Christmas Day of 1973, the first sequel to Dirty Harry. This is the first Dirty Harry movie I saw. I saw it a few weeks before Sudden Impact, which was about to premiere on cable television. I remember thinking it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen up to that point. I really liked it. It was really well-made and I think superior to Dirty Harry, although I asked Bronwyn, and she said she preferred Dirty Harry of the first two movies. This is about a group of rookie motorcycle cops who serve as a vigilante death squad serving under Hal Holbrook.

The Enforcer, directed by James Fargo, written by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner, came out December 22, 1976 – another Christmas movie, that’s threee movies in a row released around Christmas – does the Dirty Harry franchise strike as something festive? “Kids! Another Dirty Harry movies, let’s put a .44 Magnum on the tree this year!” So here we have an SLA-Patty Hearst-type group of revolutionaries. I messed up when I was watching the movie with Bronwyn, because I got it into my head Patty Duke was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army – Patty and her twin, can you imagine that? A hot dog makes her lose control. So, you have this psycho in the group, just a crazy-ass killing machine guy in the group, and they kill Harry’s partner, played by John Mitchum, who was in the first two movies. He dies, so Harry gets a new partner, played by Tyne Daly.

1983’s Sudden Impact, released on December 9th, was directed and produced by Clint Eastwood; the only Dirty Harry entry officially directed by Eastwood, though it’s rumored he helped direct Magnum Force because he had creative differences with Ted Post, and he might’ve assisted Buddy Van Horn directing The Dead Pool, but Van Horn was Clint’s good friend and works on every film Clint makes. This is still my personal favorite of the five. Mostly because we’re looking at the movie, the plot unfolding from the eyes of our heroine, who is really the bad guy when you think about it, right?

The Dead Pool came out in 1988, July 13th. I think there must’ve been issues with the production because I remember seeing trailers for the movie when I still living in Philadelphia, we moved up to New York City in February of 1988; perhaps they were gearing up for a Christmas, 1987 release (all of these Dirty Harry movies are Christmas movies) and they had issues in post-production, or it could’ve been related to issues with Eastwood’s former lover, Sondra Locke. Maybe Ratboy bankrupted Malpaso, who knows? The running time is 91 minutes, so I think some re-editing was done as well.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:35:13

Here’s a good overview of the Blu-Ray box set.

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Vintage Cable Box: “The Star Chamber, 1983”

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“I’ve got five women shot through the head.  I got bodies piling up all around me.  I’m passing out the ammunition!”


The Star Chamber, 1983 (Michael Douglas), 20th Century Fox

Test case: a couple of undercover cops are chasing a suspicious character who dumps his gun in a garbage can. They’re about to search the can when one officer informs the other the search would be illegal without a warrant. They arrive at the conclusion that they have to wait for the approaching dump truck to put the contents of the can into the truck (then it becomes city property) before they can execute the search. These are the little-known technicalities of law enforcement.

There are legal searches and illegal searches. Peter Hyams’ thrilling The Star Chamber operates on the presumption of a failed criminal justice system where peace officers are handcuffed by defense attorneys (and their clients) who cop pleas, use reverse logic and appeals to get off. Even when the cops do everything by-the-book, including a trace on the gun, searching the defendant’s home and finding damning evidence that places him at the scenes of several murders (as well as a confession from the accused), they are told the search was still construed as illegal because the garbage was not in the body of the truck.

The system deeply frustrates disillusioned young Judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas).  He commiserates with his mentor and friend Caulfield, played by an enigmatic Hal Holbrook, who tells him, in no uncertain terms, he “does something about it”.  The body of a 10-year-old boy is found, mutilated, raped, and murdered.  Soon after, two suspects (Don Calfa and Murphy Brown’s Joe Regalbuto) are apprehended because of a bloody shoe found in their van.  Despite all evidence implicating the two in the crime, and the words of the boy’s grieving father, Hardin has no choice but to release them on a technicality.  The boy’s father tries to shoot the suspects in court.  He injures a police officer and is sent to jail, where he kills himself.

Holbrook informs Douglas he presides in his own court (along with a few other veteran and highly respected judges); in his own words, “a court of last resort”, wherein they review cases of justice denied, and criminals escaping sentencing and punishment in exemplar the test cases I described. Once guilt is determined, they carry out sentencing (essentially a contract hit-man they retain for vigilante-style executions). This is sort-of like a Supreme Court with handguns and silencers. The Star Chamber derives it’s title from “… an English court of law which sat at the royal Palace of Westminster.” Penalties were swift and judgment was absolute. Due to the recent suicide of a celebrated judge (and a member of their chamber), a chair needs to be filled. Douglas takes the job, and his first order of business is to punish the two scumbags who walked.

Now we get to the tricky part. A car thief named Flowers (hilarious DeWayne Jessie) is apprehended, and in order to cop a plea, he provides information to obsessive Inspector Yaphet Kotto about the van Calfa and Regalbuto used. Apparently it was lent out to a trio of criminals for nefarious purposes, including solicitation, kidnapping, and child pornography. This tidbit exonerates the two scumbags from that particular crime. Unfortunately, the order has already gone down for their sentencing, and Michael Douglas is the only man willing and able to stop it. He appeals to the vigilante judges, but they tell him, essentially it’s out of their hands. The anonymity of the judges and their hit-man works both ways, so that neither party can admit culpability. Douglas doesn’t accept this, so he goes out on his own to warn the two before the hit-man can get to them first.

So The Star Chamber plays like a treatise of criminal justice and legal loopholes, but this is pure exploitation with regard to our fears (as taxpayers and unarmed civilians) about how this fragile yet powerful system can be manipulated by anybody with a set of law books. I’ve always enjoyed Peter Hyams’ work, from it’s silliest (Stay Tuned) to it’s scariest (Outland). Though he retained the services of Richard Hannah to shoot The Star Chamber, Hyams, a member of the A.S.C., generally shot most of his movies in addition to directing. There is some great handheld camera-work in this movie, and well-choreographed chase scenes. The Star Chamber starts clean and polished and ends up grimy and sweaty. This is a revenge fantasy in the Dirty Harry mold, replete with reactionary/conservative ideology (a revelatory scene later in the film has the judges informing Michael Douglas that Calfa and Regalbuto are scum and should be executed anyway). Nobody’s giving peace and love a chance in this film, and I love it!

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.

“Creepshow, 1982”

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“Come on Harry, the maiden fair waits for her knight in shining corduroy.”

To mark the occasion of the one-year anniversary of my association with Mark Jeacoma and his wonderful VHS Rewind! podcast and blog, I am adding a previous review I wrote for the 1982 horror anthology, Creepshow, and adapting it for this Vintage Cable Box review.  This was a movie I absolutely fell in love with when I first saw it on cable television in 1984.


Creepshow, 1982 (Leslie Nielsen), Warner Bros.

It seems most movies these days are based around comic books and toys, but in 1982, the double-whammy collaboration of Stephen King and George A. Romero, produced the original comic-book adaptation, Creepshow, one of the great horror movies of the early 1980s. Inspired by Max Gaines and Educational Comics’ Tales From the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and later, Mad Magazine, Creepshow gives us five fun stories loaded with graphic violence and intended for adults only.

George A. Romero, best known for Night of the Living Dead, the grandfather of the modern zombie movie, had directed cult favorites, The Crazies, Martin, and Knightriders. King, reportedly a fan of Romero’s work, suggested they collaborate on The Stand and wrote Creepshow as a sample screenplay to see if the two could successfully work together. This was due to the disappointment he felt from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s The Shining.

Creepshow is an anthology of five stories about familial revenge, hapless hillbillies, a Tasmanian devil in a crate, the consequences of infidelity, and cockroaches (lots of freaking cockroaches!). What really propels the stories is a wicked sense of humor, dark comedy, and lots of gore. A great cast (Ted Danson and Ed Harris in early roles, Leslie Nielsen in one of his last dramatic roles, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, and E.G. Marshall) round out the carnage, and though the film only earned modest receipts at the box office, it did very well in pay TV and home video markets.

“Free to be you and me! It’s okay for boys to play with dolls!”

Romero’s lighting, use of shadow and bold primary color along with the continuity device of using comic book cells and the framing story of an abusive father and his sociopath son (played by Stephen King’s son, Joe) deconstruct the horror genre and places it in a post-modern context, much like Romero would do with Day of the Dead, the underrated Monkey Shines, and Tales From The Darkside (an anthology television series based, in part, on Creepshow).

Creepshow was followed by two lackluster sequels, Creepshow 2 in 1987 (based on stories, not a script by King), and the “unofficial” no-budget Creepshow 3 in 2007. Romero would later work with Stephen King for The Dark Half in 1993, but that film was shelved for two years due to Orion’s impending bankruptcy.

The entry was written prior to the beginning of my Vintage Cable Box articles to tie-in with the release of a VHS Rewind podcast with Mark Jeacoma and Chris Hasler that has still not seen the light of day.  I volunteered to edit the episode, and I am grateful to Mark for giving me the opportunity, but I think I cut too deep, removing a lot of the spontaneity that is a hallmark of that fine podcast.

Happy Halloween Everybody!

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.