Vintage Cable Box: “They Call Me Bruce?, 1982”

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“Let me tell you, grandson. Money is not the most important thing in life. The most important thing is… broads. Broads!”

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They Call Me Bruce?, 1982 (Johnny Yune),  Goldpine Productions

This movie is a freaking mess!  If this was an example of “drug humor” (a la Jekyll & Hyde – Together Again), it failed in a very modest sense, because watching the film, one gets the sense the filmmakers were stoned off their asses while shooting it.  Johnny Yune, a marginally successful Los Angeles comedian is the subject of some serious Asian stereotyping.  You see, the standing gag is that our hero, Bruce (Yune, who does double duty as co-writer) resembles the famous Bruce Lee.  He doesn’t look remotely like Lee, nor is he even Chinese.  He reminds me of Jack Soo.  The stereotyping and culture-clash jokes don’t offend me in that they are slanderous or politically incorrect, but that the jokes are so tame and lifeless.

Now we come to the point in the review where I have to (somehow) explain the story, and that’s the problem. Even after watching the movie, I still had no idea what I had seen. At least, Jekyll & Hyde had some kind of a story. “Lil Pete” (Bill Capizzi) is the Don of a major west coast mafia family. He convinces his hotel’s cook, Bruce, to deliver what he calls “chinese flour” (otherwise known as cocaine) to buyers across the country. Bruce, being an idiot, accepts the job. Meanwhile the Feds are hot on his tail, and a rival gangster’s moll (Margaux Hemingway), herself a skilled assassin, tries to thwart him at every turn. Luckily his clumsiness and incompetence keep him safe.

In a movie replete with hackneyed, formulaic representations, Yune’s Bruce is the most interesting character, with unusual idiosyncrasies. He is not particularly smart, attractive, or threatening in any way. He does not speak with the typical broken English once made famous by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, nor does he wear big gapped teeth and thick-framed glasses. He walks through the movie like a confused pedestrian at the center of a car accident. I don’t even know that this movie could be safely called a “spoof”; more like a kind of Jerry Lewis analog wherein he bumbles along somehow controlling the narrative while being blissfully ignorant of the proceedings.

Watching the movie again, I was reminded of better attempts at this unusual sub-genre.  Kentucky Fried Movie’s episode, A Fistful Of Yen, performed as a serious action movie yet shot as a goofy, Airplane!-styled comedy featuring the very talented Evan Kim succeeds where They Call Me Bruce? fails.  Charlie Chan and the Curse Of The Dragon Queen, while not a parody of martial arts movies, has much better production values (though the Asian characters were played by white actors).  Steve Oedekerk’s Kung Pow: Enter The Fist explores the same territory as A Fistful Of Yen but substitutes deliberately shoddy dubbing and a quaint Technicolor-like photographic process.

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This is another one of those movies I remember enjoying immensely (like The Rosebud Beach Hotel and, of course, Jekyll & Hyde)  in constant rotation on cable television as youngster, but now that I look at it, the film is terrible.  Everything about it is a freaking mess.  Poor Margaux Hemingway is in this film for about five minutes.  She doesn’t seem to know what she is doing in this movie.  Margaux appeared in a movie that was a personal favorite of mine for a long time – Menahem Golan’s 1984 comedy, Over The Brooklyn Bridge with Elliott Gould.  Her once-promising career was cut tragically short when her badly decomposed body was discovered in her Santa Monica apartment on July 1, 1996.  She had died of a phenobarbital overdose.  Johnny Yune would co-write and co-direct a sequel (!) to this movie titled, They Still Call Me Bruce? in 1987.

Happy Fourth of July!

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, men 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 back-lot) 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.