“Rollover, 1981”

“You’re gonna need a partner.”

Rollover, 1981 (Jane Fonda), Orion

With 1981’s Rollover, I gather I’m watching a movie about people who are obsessed with money. It’s never been my bag, but I’m willing to go along for the ride. Clean-shaven Kris Kristofferson (fresh from shooting the Harvard prologue in Heaven’s Gate) is a banking bag-man, meaning he is retained by banking institutions to solve their problems. I always though he looked evil without the beard. With the value of the dollar plummeting, Hume Cronyn orchestrates buy-outs, and some pointed comments are made about the distribution of wealth. Jane Fonda’s husband is killed, and she becomes the de-facto head of his conglomerate, a “petrochemical” concern.

This is a classic Alan Pakula formula involving people in expensive suits with looks of concern on their faces. Kristofferson is a work-horse. He pours over the books of a large New York bank sniffing out anomalies. He could’ve been a detective. He discovers Fonda’s company is in enormous debt, but rather than allow herself to be bought out, she wants to invest. This role is no stretch for Ms. Fonda, reunited with her Klute director, Pakula. Here, she plays a former actress married into finance; something she would actually do in a few short years. Kristofferson gives her tips on how to solidify her status as CEO. They play a crazy game of flirtation.

Fonda is surrounded by corporate sharks looking to rip her company to pieces. Kristofferson has a special interest in her for obvious reasons (Jane’s a dish in this movie), but their mutual chemistry seems to be based in a lust for transactions. Of course this wouldn’t be a Pakula film without a decent helping of paranoia. All of the principal parties are being watched. Then the movie haphazardly thrusts us into a romance that removes us from the main story. Jane needs a half a million dollars, so Kristofferson arranges meetings with rich Arabs to get financing. It turns out, everybody’s in hock to the Arabs. The Arabs (wisely, in my opinion) make her put up her own stock as collateral. If her company fails, she loses everything. Fonda doesn’t like being dependent on other people’s money (you go, girl!) to keep her interests afloat.

We get back to the love story, and the relationship thrives as a partnership with benefits, until Jane begins to suspect Kristofferson is playing both sides. The only problem (for me) is that all this banking talk is very dry, and we find we need the love story to grease the story. It seems some interested third parties are screwing with her deal, and these parties might’ve been involved in her husband’s murder. The Arab money is not coming through, and the bank brokering the deal is in danger of defaulting, as are all banks in this movie. While emptying out her husband’s cigar box, she finds a micro-cassette which implicates her husband in a scheme to bail out the banks with money from overseas. This is a real Scooby Doo mystery!

A whole bunch of money is going into one specific account. Fonda has a “deep throat” encounter with a paranoid gentleman in a parking lot (another Pakula device, and not as sexy as it sounds). This source also tells her to follow the money, as in All the President’s Men. Apparently, Fonda’s husband was aware of low-interest “loans” designed to keep the banks solvent, not unlike the recent real estate crisis. The rich exist to keep themselves rich, but frankly, we didn’t need the movie to tell us that. Rollover is a big, boring letdown considering all of the talented people involved.

Sourced from the original 1982 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. The box sports a distinctive white plastic clamshell-design case, different from the standard black. The front cover design is a promotional photograph of Kristofferson and Fonda.  There is a tiny “behind the scenes” picture on the back of the box with Pakula directing Fonda and Kristofferson.  At the end of the tape, there are brief video trailers for Sharky’s Machine, Personal Best, and Body Heat. Rollover was released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. “A doomsday thriller of high-finance intrigue.” “Rollover is a realistic, provocative drama of the ultimate financial catastrophe – and the elite group of men and women whose wealth and influence control the economic empire that controls our destiny.” The aforementioned “catastrophe” occurs in the final moments of the movie, and the audience is not given sufficient warning, at least not enough for us to care.

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: “Romancing The Stone, 1984”

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“What’d you do?  Wake up this morning and say, ‘Today I’m gonna ruin a man’s life!’?”

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Romancing The Stone, 1984 (Michael Douglas), 20th Century Fox

Romancing The Stone begins as a story-within-a-story, the perils of Angelina and her love-interest, Jessie. She exacts revenge on the evil Grogan, while Jessie dispatches Grogan’s equally-evil brothers. Together they hop on a horse and make tracks for a new frontier. In reality, respected novelist Joan Wilder has just finished her manuscript and brings herself to tears. She celebrates with her cat, feeding him tuna. This is the exact moment we fall in love with Kathleen Turner.

It’s obvious she is lonely, lives vicariously through her work and Angelina, and seems to be waiting for her own Jesse. Most men are not Jesse. Her publisher (played by the great Holland Taylor from Bosom Buddies), her sister, and even her little old lady neighbor want her to settle down, but her standards are too high, or maybe she has standards in the first place.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Cartagena, South America, her sister, Elaine is abducted by two sleazebags Ralph and Ira (Danny DeVito, Zack Norman). Back in New York City, Joan’s apartment is tossed, because earlier in the day she received a package from Elaine’s husband, who had died recently under mysterious circumstances. The only clue is something called El Corazon. Elaine calls Joan, tells her to go to South America with the package or else she’ll be killed.

As a typically introverted New Yorker, Joan is immediately flustered in Colombia. She gets on the wrong bus which crashes into a jeep loaded with birds. From there, she hooks up with American fortune hunter, Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas). He agrees to take her back to civilization for $375 in American Express traveler’s checks. Jack has been smuggling exotic birds out of the country and selling them to fuel his dream of having his own boat so he can sail around the world, and his latest booty has flown south for the winter.

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What follows is textbook culture-clash comedy. Colton and Wilder don’t like each other at first, but they’re stuck with each other enduring the monsoon season, mudslides, corrupt cops, and Danny DeVito. It turns out Joan has a map in her possession, a map to El Corazon, which is a priceless, rare emerald. When Colton figures this out, he starts to get friendlier with Joan.

Inevitable comparisons with Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark aside, this is a highly enjoyable adventure-comedy, and the leads, Turner and Douglas, are very sexy. Their mutual chemistry recalls Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen. Devito is an interesting balancing act; while maintaining his criminal backstory, he manages to be likable, and he provides a nice counterpoint to Turner and Douglas. They would work together in two more films. The 1986 sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, and one of my favorites, The War of the Roses (directed by Devito).

Romancing The Stone is the movie that made Robert Zemeckis.  A one-time Spielberg protégé, Zemeckis directed a pair of comedies that didn’t make money.  He co-wrote Spielberg’s comedy flop, 1941.  Producer Michael Douglas pushed for Zemeckis to direct Romancing The Stone, which became a hit in the summer of 1984.  After that, he would go on to direct the enormously popular Back to the Future franchise, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and a slew of other highly successful films.

This concludes a somewhat impromptu tribute to writers here at Vintage Cable Box.  It’s unusual how many fictional movies were made about writers in the early eighties.  In four films, we’ve cycled the through emotions, desires, victories, and failures of these crazy characters.  We’ve seen them live their dreams and hide from their nightmares.  Next time, we take a look at John Carpenter’s 1976 classic exploitation movie, “Assault On Precinct 13”.

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.