Vintage Cable Box: “The Man Who Wasn’t There, 1983”

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“The funniest movie you NEVER saw!” (You can say that again.)

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The Man Who Wasn’t There, 1983 (Steve Guttenberg), Paramount Pictures

Government employee Steve Guttenberg is in a hurry. He’s late for his own wedding, and he has to supervise a consulate dinner. Thugs working for nefarious forces kill an invisible man within Gutternberg’s proximity. The dying man gives Guttenberg the formula. Implicated in the man’s death, he spends most of the movie on the run from yet another invisible man, presumably the heavy because he speaks in ominous whispers. Guttenberg hooks up with his bride’s maid of honor (lovely scream queen Lisa Langlois) and together they elude authorities and bad guys, and at some point he becomes invisible.

He is abducted by his own government because they don’t want the formula to get into the hands of the Mexicans because that way they can walk through our borders undetected. Amazing how topical this stupid movie could be! Guttenberg and Langlois shack up, and it’s interesting to watch badly-filmed and composited invisible sex. Watching Langlois make out with nothing is pretty entertaining, but I kid Guttenberg! While they make an amiable couple, their romantic potential is severely hindered by the incompetence of the people behind the camera.

Like Scott Baio in Zapped (soon to be covered for Vintage Cable Box – thanks, Mark!), Guttenberg uses his incredible powers to look up women’s skirts and take up residence in girl’s showers. This was a pure eighties trope: the ability to look at naked girls. It was like opening the Ark of the Covenant, without the face-melting. I’m proud to admit that I enjoyed Steve Guttenberg. We certainly see enough Guttenberg skin in the movie to last a lifetime. He would not rise to super-stardom until the following year’s Police Academy, but he proved to be an indelible resource in silly comedies.

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This movie is a mess to watch. Inexplicably shot in 3D, a fad at the time (Friday the 13th Part 3, Jaws 3D), it’s sad to think money was spent on this nonsense. Even for a sex comedy, it’s pretty tame by the standards of the time. The visual effects are atrocious, and you get a sense a lot of work was done because every time a visual effect occurs, the film goes scratchy and spotty. There are a lot of cheap gags as well, what with phones and towels on strings floating around. I wonder what a high definition Blu-Ray transfer would look like.

The composite print (the print without the three dimensional “effects”) is exactly the way I remembered the movie when I saw it on cable television. The focus is disturbingly soft (I swear somebody forgot to check the diopter), and the picture is murky. Bruce Malmuth’s direction relies on jittery panning and tilting of enormous “stereoscopic” cameras, but even with all the preparation, the movie still looks like crap. Jaws 3D would be shot with similar technology, but with slightly better results (and actually use 3D effects).

The Man Who Wasn’t There is an extremely difficult movie to find. It had a release on VHS and Betamax, but it was not released on DVD or Laserdisc. It’s obvious the movie was intended to be an updated (not to mention sexier) combination of The Wrong Man and The Invisible Man. It should’ve been called The Wrong Invisible Man – a much better title, in my opinion. Previously, Bruce Malmuth had directed the 1981 Sylvester Stallone action movie, Nighthawks. Steve Guttenberg would appear in Cocoon and Three Men & a Baby. Lisa Langlois appeared in Deadly Eyes and Happy Birthday To Me.

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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