Vintage Cable Box: “Max Dugan Returns, 1983”

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“Listen. I’m trying to keep so many people happy, all at the same time, and I’m not one of them. But don’t give up on me. I’m worth it, I promise.”

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Max Dugan Returns, 1983 (Marsha Mason), 20th Century Fox

Timid schoolteacher Nora McPhee (Marsha Mason) is having a rotten day. Her refrigerator breaks down. Her car is stolen, and with it her graded test papers. She meets-cute with the investigating officer Brian Costello, (Donald Sutherland) who takes a shine to her that isn’t strictly professional, and the feeling is mutual. He gives Nora a motorcycle, and in the middle of a riding lesson, they apprehend a liquor store robber.

Later that night, Nora’s estranged father, Max Dugan (Jason Robards) appears out of nowhere wanting to reconcile. He arrives wearing a black raincoat and hat, carrying two briefcases. He offers her a thick stack of bills for a drink. Max invokes anger in Nora over his abandonment of her family. He tells her he is going to die in about six months, and that some disreputable people would like to see him go a lot sooner.

Some discussion fills in the blanks. Max studied real estate in prison, bought several pieces of property, only to have it appropriated by (I assume) eminent domain as a result of a casino development. He gets a job as a blackjack dealer with the casino, and for seven years, ingeniously embezzles the money back, to the tune of some-odd $600,000. He wants to leave the money to Nora and her son, Michael (Matthew Broderick), or at the very least, buy back his relationship with his distrustful daughter, and also to spend time with his grandson.

The next day, Dugan buys fancy new appliances for Nora’s dilapidated kitchen, and shiny electronics and toys for Michael. He turns Nora’s modest Venice home into a palace. With Dugan and Nora trying to conceal his identity from Michael and Costello, they concoct an awkward story about winning prizes on a game show. Nora and Dugan argue constantly over Michael’s sense of values. Nora believes in working hard to get the things she wants, and she detests Dugan’s easy short-cuts through life, but they call a truce and try to work through their differences. Nora’s relationship with Costello complicates matters.

A dedicated officer and an extremely curious soul, Costello doesn’t buy Nora’s explanations about Dugan’s identity. He doesn’t understand Nora’s family suddenly coming into all these riches, and for a while, he represents a kind of benevolent antagonist, as does Dugan. It seems everybody in Nora’s life want to provide for her and her son, while she approaches hysterics juggling Max’s return to her life, her befuddled son, and the advances of Donald Sutherland.

Max Dugan Returns is a wonderful and damned charming movie. It speaks to a world filled with the fantasy of human expectation. Max Dugan is a Santa Claus character who enters the dismal lives of his loved ones, and pays back a debt that was never assumed. What Nora wants is validation and acknowledgement from her father. Dugan wants forgiveness. Ultimately, Nora protects him and he protects her. I remember absolutely loving this movie, and watching it now, it still holds up. I can’t tell you what this movie means to me, except to say that I never knew my own father. I always wondered if he would show up with a briefcase full of cash, and a ridiculous excuse for his life-long absence at the ready.

Herbert Ross directs a tight and economical Neil Simon screenplay. The back-and-forth between Mason and Robards is superb. Robards, especially, is a treasure. He has effortless chemistry with Mason, Broderick, and Sutherland, and he is a true joy to watch. Mason, for her part, works very well as a character type she made famous – that of the clever, wild-eyed, neurotic woman from The Goodbye Girl and Chapter Two. Max Dugan Returns is the very definition of a feel-good-movie. It doesn’t pull it’s punches, and it doesn’t feel forced. If life gets you down, try to dig up this movie!

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: “Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978”

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“When I was a kid, my father had one word of advice he gave me, I’ll never forget it.  You know what he said?  ‘Jerome, if ever you are in seriously desperate trouble, remember … that … God, in his infinite wisdom has ordained that I’ll be playing pinochle and you’ll handle the whole thing yourself’!”

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Somebody Killed Her Husband, 1978 (Jeff Bridges), Columbia Pictures

There’s a special place in the bottomless bin of lost cinema for a movie like Somebody Killed Her Husband, Reginald Rose’s Edgar®-nominated screenplay directed by Lamont Johnson and starring two bonafide stars of their time, a heavily-bearded Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. They meet-cute in the toy department at Macy’s, where Bridges works. He’s a frustrated writer concocting a bizarre children’s story about a caterpillar that saves the world. Like me, he tends to talk to himself, spouting ideas in public, and not caring whether people think he’s crazy. He falls in love (so to speak) at first sight with Farrah, chats her up and has lunch with her and her child in the park.

Bridges and Fawcett-Majors are trapped in relationships with boring, selfish nitwits so it’s only natural they start to enjoy each other’s company. They fall in love almost immediately, and I wish I could say this was strictly and exclusively a film’s narrative device in order to advance the plot, but I’ve had those feelings, and witnessed them in others. Here, it seems completely normal, and ignites some memories for me. Seriously, there’s nothing like falling in love. It’s almost like a glorious drug.

One night during their tryst, Farrah’s husband arrives home early with an unseen guest. As Bridges and Fawcett-Majors prepare to deliver the news of their love to her husband, they see that he has been stabbed to death in her kitchen. This is a well-executed scene, which effortlessly glides from romantic comedy to sheer terror. While Farrah wants to call the police, Bridges (being a typical New York City paranoid personality) believes they’ll be framed for his murder, so he resolves to solve the crime himself. They stuff the body in the refrigerator and get to work. With his fully-functioning writer’s mind, he tries to break down the events leading up to the murder, or any possible suspects.

Complicating matters are Farrah’s housekeeper (Mary McCarty) and her husband’s new secretary (John Glover), as well as nosy neighbors and acquaintances. While Farrah searches for her dead husband’s personal papers, Bridges must play babysitter to her son. He bounces ideas off the child as to who would possibly kill the man. Suspiciously, a plainclothes detective shows up to check the apartment because of a broken window. This has never happened in my experience living in the big city. Bridges discovers the apartment is being bugged, and this is where matters get tense. The people secretly recording Farrah are her bizarre neighbors (John Wood and Tammy Grimes).

Bridges connects the dots and figures the neighbors had the fake cop bug the apartment. While attempting a switcheroo and bugging the neighbors with their own recording equipment, he finds that they’ve been killed! They find jewelry and listings for insurance payments based on a scam to “steal” jewelry and divide the proceeds from the cash value while keeping the jewelry. Yes, it all sounds convoluted, but it is a movie, after all. It shouldn’t work at all, but it does for me, and Bridges and Fawcett-Majors make for an engaging, amiable pair. The movie has a refreshingly old-fashioned feel to it, as though it could’ve been made in the 50s or 60s.

Based on some of the reviews I read, critics were not particularly kind to Somebody Killed Her Husband, mostly because of Fawcett-Majors, as she recently departed the popular television series Charlie’s Angels to start a movie career. Others cited parallels to Charade, and in fact, the movie was re-titled Charade ’79 for release in Japan. As in the case of Get Crazy, the movie was pre-sold with an inflated budget by it’s investors expecting it to flop so they could earn a quick profit. I’ve always enjoyed this movie. There is a wonderful conversation between Bridges and the killer at the film’s climax which is well worth the experience. Bridges outlines the killer’s plan and the killer is impressed with Bridges’ acumen. That this movie remains in the bottomless bin of lost cinema is tragic, although I could’ve done without the Neil Sedaka song!

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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Blame It On Rio, 1984”

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“One time a company I worked for transferred me to an island in the Pacific. Fantastic place. I invited my girl to visit me. I sent her a postcard everyday with a single word on each card. I wrote “Found a virgin paradise. It’s yours. Matthew.” Naturally, they were delivered in the wrong order. The message she got was “Found a virgin. It’s paradise. Yours, Matthew.” Never heard from her again.”

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Blame It On Rio, 1984 (Michael Caine), 20th Century Fox

This is a tough one. It’s a film I enjoy, but only in private. This is a movie I find I cannot share with today’s younger audiences, either because they can’t grasp the concept of a truly R-rated sex comedy that skirts topics considered forbidden, or because of it’s simultaneously dated yet timeless feel. Let’s get the hotness of Michelle Johnson out of the way first. She’s supposed to be a teen-aged girl, but upon inspection, she appears mature. She looks like a woman, not a girl. Once you’ve taken that fact and put it in a box, it’s easy to enjoy Blame It On Rio, the definitive romantic jailbait comedy.

Michael Caine stares down the barrel of middle-age, trapped in a loveless marriage (to Valerie Harper, can you blame him?) and worries after his reckless daughter (Demi Moore, whom apparently inherited her scratchy-voice from Harper) when his friend (a constipated Joseph Bologna) suggests a family vacation to titular Rio de Janeiro. Nothing to worry about. Just a couple of dads and their hot daughters going stag for a couple of weeks. After witnessing Bologna’s daughter topless on the beach (with his equally-bare daughter, which is … just yuck), she seduces him, and despite all his efforts at restraint, he succumbs.

Caine spends most of the movie after this point trying to avoid the girl. She casts love spells on him. He tries to make himself less appealing (which is impossible because, come on, he’s Michael-freaking-Caine!) and he lectures her on their illicit behavior. She doesn’t care. She’s hopelessly in love with him. Bologna snoops through his daughter’s diary, discovers she’s in love with an older man, and enlists Caine to help him find the scumbag. Caine is a joy to watch in these scenes. A gifted comedian in the Peter Sellers and (our old friend) Dudley Moore mold, he can go from terrified to turned-on in five seconds.

Michelle Johnson is a difficult actress to assess. While extremely attractive, and obviously up to the game of seducing Caine, most of her dialogue is looped and thus, inconsistent with many of the scenes in which she is featured. Her voice is silky, but out-of-place.  She has great chemistry with Caine (not an arduous feat for an actor of his stature), but her line readings are dull and flat. Bologna suffers the same problem. His dialogue also appears to be looped. Valerie Harper disappears at the beginning of the movie, and then reappears shortly before the end to discover (with Bologna, ironically the character she’s having an affair with) Caine and Johnson’s tryst. Demi Moore’s character is almost a ghost in the movie, always exiting in every scene. The movie would’ve been a lot stronger if more of a relationship between Moore’s character and Caine were present.

It is toward the end of the movie that the narrative goes clunky and dramatic. When Bologna and Caine come to blows (a hilarious bit with pot-bellied Caine taking on a much leaner Bologna – pun!), a distraught Johnson overdoses on birth control pills and has her stomach pumped at the hospital. Director Stanley Donen (fresh from the horrendous Saturn 3) and writers Larry Gelbart and Charlie Peters must’ve thought injecting a little pathos into the story would legitimize what is essentially a smutty little sex comedy. It might’ve worked under different circumstances in the 1977 French film, on which this movie is based (or Jean-Francois Richet’s somewhat more explicit recent remake), but here, amid all the goofiness, this is quite jarring.

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It’s disturbing to me that a movie like this could not be made today in this country. As I mentioned, it was remade last year in France, but as a drama with humorous moments rather than a screwball comedy. It harkens back to the days of Kubrick’s melodramatic and comedic take on Nabokov’s Lolita, in which much of the sting of the story’s content was sterilized by the casting of a mature-looking Sue Lyons. Today, men are perceived as aggressors and rapists and women are seen as victims, regardless of their age. Audiences would see Michael Caine’s character as a modern-day Clare Quilty; a master manipulator of young women who seduces Michelle Johnson, regardless of how the story actually unfolds. Caine would be castigated, arrested, and labeled a sex-offender for the rest of his life. Advocacy groups would picket and protest this movie.

In the 1980s, most of the money in movies was being made from sex comedies and horror films. Conversely, there were very few family movies. Cable television and the video industry were going through a renaissance period, and budgets were comparatively low compared to the money being spent today. The risqué sexy comedy is all-but-extinct, and movies being made these days are sad, stale (not to mention expensive), disposable entertainments to be consumed and then discarded, and Blame It On Rio is emblematic of the charms of a smutty yet harmless bye-gone era.

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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Unfaithfully Yours, 1984”

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“My name is Claude Eastman. As you probably guessed, I’m a symphony conductor. You may have heard of me. I didn’t always possess this uniform. For twenty-odd years, I ate, drank, and dreamt music. I became a – oh what the hell, I’ll say it – great conductor and simultaneously, a lonely man. I wanted more … love, probably. Be careful what you wish, you just might get it. I met her on tour in Venice. She was acting in a film and we fell in love and married almost immediately. She made me young. She gave me life and it was great while it lasted, but tonight it will all cease to exist for me, because tonight … I’m going to … kill her.”

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Unfaithfully Yours, 1984 (Dudley Moore), 20th Century Fox

There’s a George Carlin joke (George Carlin: Again!, 1978) wherein he describes the “perfect murder”. “You pick one guy up by the ankles, and then you beat another person to death with him. That way, they’re both dead, and there’s no murder weapon!!!” A little more than halfway through Unfaithfully Yours, Dudley Moore believes he has concocted the perfect murder, and the whole thing plays out in his head as he maniacally conducts Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto”. This is the main take-away from Howard Zieff’s 1984 remake of Preston Sturges’ 1948 original.

It’s beautiful. He will establish an alibi by wearing a Halloween mask. He will use two micro-cassette tape machines to record and mix conversations that suggest his lead violinist (hunky Armand Assante) is murdering his cheating wife (gorgeous Nastassja Kinski) when in reality, the violinist will be up-ended by a combination of sedatives and champagne. He will wear the violinist’s mask and play back his wife’s screams while stabbing her to death as security cameras record the whole thing. With his wife dead, and his violinist sentenced to death by hanging, famed conductor Claude Eastman (Dudley Moore) can go about his life unfettered by the infidelity of others. Of course, it doesn’t turn out quite so perfect.

Right after the opening credits, Dudley tells us he’s going to kill his wife, and the bulk of the film is told in flashback. Claude’s suspicions are built completely around a gold jack o’ lantern pendant he purchases (at agent/friend Albert Brooks’ suggestion) for his very young wife. Brooks had purchased the same pendant for his own wife (The Osterman Weekend’s Cassie Yates). Brooks seems to only exist in the narrative to wind up and aggravate Moore with thoughts of infidelity, because he reasons Kinski is too young and beautiful to want to be married to an aging elf like Claude. Brooks hires a private detective who produces a security video-tape of someone entering and exiting Claude’s apartment in the middle of the night, but the person’s face is obscured, and the only thing we see are a pair of very nice argyle socks. Claude spends a great deal of time lifting the cuffs of people’s trousers to see what kind of socks they wear. He begins to suspect Assante.

As it happens, Assante is having an affair, but not with Kinski. He is using Claude’s apartment to meet with Cassie Yates. Dudley, however, is convinced of his own wife’s adultery because of the gold jack o’ lantern pendant he finds on the floor leading to his bedroom. Assante thinks Dudley is calling him out on his affair with Yates and asks him to keep it on the down-low, which further enrages Dudley. After a conversation with his fiery, vengeful Italian butler (Richard Libertini) in which he demonstrates what he would do to his wife if she cheated on him – involving the destruction of an effigy-eggplant, he resigns himself to murder. Interestingly, the script was written by Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson (the real-life couple who wrote Best Friends for Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn) and Robert Klane (who would go on to make the Weekend At Bernie’s movies).

As I said, it doesn’t go down quite the way Claude planned it. For one, he can’t find any micro-cassette recorders. He doesn’t have any masks. He accidentally drugs himself, intending to drug Assante. He can’t get to his wife in time to kill her, so he rewrites his scheme on the spot, trying to make it look like Assante is killing him instead, all of this while Moore is tipsy with sedatives. I think the whole point of this movie is to get Dudley Moore positively silly on sedatives while orchestrating an elaborate plan to murder his wife. This is Dudley’s wheel-house! The movie ends with a completely inebriated, apologetic Moore being carried home over Kinski’s shoulder. I suppose the movie’s ultimate moral is that we’re all powerless in the arms of love, or something to that effect. If I were Kinski, I’d be a little more than pissed at Dudley, but … that’s amore!

This is my final installment of Dudley Moore Month here at Vintage Cable Box, and I want to say I really enjoyed watching his movies and writing about them. I never realized how many Dudley Moore movies I’ve seen, and as a result of his exposure via cable television in those years, I saw the ill-fated Best Defense that year. I was under the impression he would be sharing the screen with Eddie Murphy, but I was disappointed (at the time) to find that it was kind-of a time travel story, a time-jumping narrative wherein Dudley played a tank designer. His latest creation is piloted by Murphy two years into the future.

He made Micki and Maude with Blake Edwards. This was a favorite of mine, but it didn’t premiere on cable television for a couple of years. He appeared in Santa Claus: The Movie perfectly cast as an elf, and later Like Father, Like Son with teen heart-throb (and now loopy born-again Christian) Kirk Cameron as his son (in a body-swapping comedy – a popular sub-genre in comedy at the time). After an inferior sequel to Arthur, he would be reunited with his Six Weeks director Tony Bill for Crazy People in 1990 and appear in a pair of unsuccessful television sitcoms. Health problems forced his retreat from the spotlight, and Dudley died March 27th in the year 2002 of complications from pneumonia as a result of a brain disorder known as progressive supranuclear palsy.

Let’s forget about that for a moment and remember, just remember that laugh, that Dudley Moore cackle. Remember that top hat and the Rolls Royce, and performing the magic trick with the tablecloth. Remember the screaming, hysterical tirades, and the wild hair, and the sarcasm. Remember his fantasy of Bo Derek running on the beach toward his waiting arms. Remember him holding a dying girl on a New York City subway train. Remember him being carried away like a petulant child by Nastassja Kinki. Remember the great Dudley Moore.

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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Romantic Comedy, 1983”

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“A few years ago, I owned a delicate china teapot.  One day, I dropped it and it split right down the middle.  Well, I glued it together, and it looked as if it had never been broken.  And several months later, for no apparent reason, it suddenly exploded into a thousand pieces.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that despite all appearances, it’s better to keep your teapot intact.”

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Romantic Comedy, 1983 (Dudley Moore), MGM/UA

Phoebe Craddock (Mary Steenburgen) excuses herself to use the restroom at a high-end restaurant packed with back-slappers during the premiere party of her first collaborative work with Jason Carmichael (Dudley Moore). She returns not a moment later, and the joint has cleared out – a ghost town. When she asks a waiter where everybody went, he simply answers, “the reviews came in.” This is the life of the writer; anticipation and happiness and enthusiasm all destroyed within minutes by bad reviews, dirty looks, and marginalization.

The result of a communications snafu, Steenburgen has arrived to work with stage-writing partner Dudley Moore two weeks early on his wedding day. Mistaking her for a masseuse, he strips down naked. When she comes clean, he is embarrassed, slips on a pair of shorts, and goes into a temper tantrum. What we have is a “romantic comedy”, not the title, but the concept – a Neil Simon pastiche written by Bernard Slade. Imagine Anthony Perkins and Mia Farrow in the lead roles they created in the original stage run. If you can, you’re one-up on me. It’s an interesting combination.

The story is told as a series of vignettes (or even acts). Phoebe and Jason meet-cute and begin to collaborate. Their first play is a flop. They bond. He starts a family with his beautiful, politically-ambitious but innately sweet wife (Janet Eilber). A montage showcases the duo’s resulting success with several stage plays. They bond. Phoebe starts seeing a journalist (Ron Leibman). Jason has an affair with a dizzy, ridiculous actress (Robyn Douglass). His wife divorces him. Phoebe abandons him, and marries Ron Leibman.  I think the point of the story (if there was one) is that creative partners are analogs for lovers, or that an intense inventive synthesis is the same as a romantic coupling.

Years later, Jason’s life is in ruins. Phoebe returns, after having written a semi-autobiographical book about her partnership with Jason. She wants to turn the book into a play, and she wants to collaborate with Jason. He flips out in a restaurant and suffers a heart attack. Phoebe nurse-maids him. Leibman finally leaves her when he realizes she loves Jason and working with Jason more than spending time with her own husband. I think he wants the woman who is with Jason, rather than the woman she is with him.

This is as close to unlikable as you’re likely to get from Dudley Moore. He’s crass, vulnerable, sarcastic, moody, and patronizing, but he is Dudley Moore. Again, he manages to make an impossible character work, because we, as viewers, still sympathize with him. Maybe it has something to do with his height. He’s not a powerful man. Perhaps strong in his wit, his manner, his intellect, but a flailing man-child in aesthetics. We believe Dudley Moore; whether he’s a songwriter, a drunk playboy, a writer, a psychiatrist, or a symphony conductor, we believe him. As an actor and entertainer, his decisions were brave and ultimately successful. In the final analysis, his performance is the only thing I enjoy in Romantic Comedy. He would go from the daffy Arthur to the gut-punch of Six Weeks within the space of a year. No other actor would dare to bank on his image as a dramatic actor.

Romantic Comedy is typical eighties cheese, and the Marvin Hamlisch music doesn’t do the narrative any favors. It seemed the formula, or the structure of movies made this way depended on montage to break up acts. We have a set-piece scene, a montage, another scene, another montage, and it goes on like this until toward the end after the climax and before the end credits. Other films from this time period do a better job of linking the elements, but Romantic Comedy is a bit clunky because, being based on a stage play, you have static blocking and heavy dialogue on a big set. Director Arthur Hiller (Author! Author!) tries to shake it up, sometimes putting the actors in nice New York locales, but the stage play narrative feels like a prison from which these very talented actors cannot escape.

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.

 

Vintage Cable Box: “Lovesick, 1983”

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“It was a little experiment, that’s all. I never meant it to become an industry.”

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Lovesick, 1983 (Dudley Moore), Warner Bros./The Ladd Company

Mr. Zuckerman is a strange case. A homeless man with several shopping bags of garbage, he speaks into a 2-way radio, and is convinced aliens are beaming messages into his head from the top of the World Trade Center. Dr. Saul Benjamin (Dudley Moore) knows exactly what to do to assauge Mr. Zuckerman (David Strathairn). He gives him a piece of aluminum foil and tells him to wear it over his head like a helmet. This will block out the alien control rays. Mr. Zuckerman is satisfied with this.

Mr. Zuckerman is just one of Dr. Benjamin’s eccentric (and let’s face it – crazy) patients. Benjamin is quite frankly bored of listening to his wealthy, neurotic patients. He fantasizes about discussing modern psychology with the ghost of Sigmund Freud (Sir Alec Guinness – in serious competition with Strathairn for stealing the whole movie away from Moore). A colleague, played by Wallace Shawn, informs Moore he is falling in love with a patient (Elizabeth McGovern). When Shawn dies, Moore takes on the patient, and soon realizes (with the help of Freud, of course) he is becoming infatuated with her.

Though Moore’s character is married (to a beautiful art gallery owner), the marriage is only referred to twice in the film. He begins to stalk McGovern until he is finally caught in her shower. Soaking wet, he tells her can’t see her anymore because he’s in love with her, which seems just fine to her. Normally, this would all be fairly creepy, but again Moore has that gift of appearing likable even when he’s doing ridiculous and psychotic things. In fact, the most unlikable character in the whole piece is Ron Silver’s arrogant actor (an unusual part for him), Ted, whom is appearing in McGovern’s latest stage play. He is everything I hate about certain actors.

Later, Moore is about to confess his affair to his wife, but discovers she is having an affair with one of her goofy, somewhat perverted artists. Marshall Brickman’s script really doesn’t need this sub-plot. Perhaps he felt the stakes weren’t high enough for Moore’s character (even though he is in danger of losing his accreditation) and that he should also sacrifice his marriage to win McGovern’s love, but in the end, it isn’t necessary. Despite Moore’s borderline sociopathic antics, this is a thoroughly charming fractured love story about a man of psychiatric medicine who learns to care for his patients without the need for stuffing his bank account.

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Late in the movie, Moore is called before a review board (comprised of Alan King and Selma Diamond) and headed by his mentor (John-freaking-Huston!). While miffed at his dalliance with a former patient, they seem more disturbed by the fact that he offers free psychiatric care to homeless people and that he refunds money to his patients because he feels he cannot care for them. They are concerned about the bottom-line and profit margins, and how they will be wealthy from the glut of schizophrenics flooding the city. At the end of this rather brilliant scene, Moore performs what he calls a “magic trick”. He swipes the linen from a handsomely-appointed dinner table without nary disturbing a glass or plate, which earns cheers from Huston, who claps his hands and chuckles enthusiastically.

As a fable about Manhattan neurotics, Lovesick is a charming song. New York City is lovingly photographed (as if it were in an old painting) and Phillippe Sarde’s score is magical. It’s unfortunate no widescreen version of this movie exists. Like Six Weeks, this is a very difficult movie to find. Not even my wily, resourceful friend, Andrew La Ganke, could locate this title, and it only exists as a very old full-frame title on DVD, so I pulled the trigger and bought it, and I’m glad I did.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: “Arthur, 1981”

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“Perhaps you’d like me to come in there and wash your dick for you.  You little shit.”

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Arthur, 1981 (Dudley Moore), Orion Pictures

The familiar strains of Christopher Cross mingle with the drunken cackle of Dudley Moore’s incorrigible Arthur Bach, straddling the backseat of a vintage Rolls; a drink in his hand and a top hat on his head. He scours New York City looking for hookers, or ladies he affectionately dubs, “strangers who will love him.” He picks up Annie DeSalvo and explains that he’s basically a wealthy layabout. I feel badly for his put-upon chauffeur. Figuring Moore’s actual age into the production, and comparing him to his character, this would put Arthur at roughly 45 years of age. All of his equally wealthy associates admonish him to “grow up”.

In the expository conversation between Moore and DeSalvo that follows, Arthur reveals that he is, for lack of a better word, betrothed to a woman he can’t stand named Susan (Jill Eickenberry). This is a very interesting scene – by itself, as DeSalvo tells him of the various unfortunate circumstances that led her to become a prostitute. I’m of a mind that whole movie could’ve been just these two characters gabbing drunkenly in a fine restaurant. Of course, if we left the movie at that, we’d never know the pleasure of meeting Hobson, Arthur’s sarcastic butler (played to acidic perfection by Sir John Gielgud).

Arthur’s parents inform him that he will be financially cut off if he does not marry Susan (as close to an “arranged” marriage between the wealthy as I can recall) so Arthur acquiesces. While shopping at Bergdorf Goodman, he spies Liza Minnelli’s character, Linda, a sassy little con-artist, stealing a tie. He vouches for her when she is busted by the security guard. He is immediately infatuated with her. Infatuation seems to be a common theme in Dudley Moore’s movies (notably in 10 and 1983’s Lovesick), perhaps because the characters he plays tend to be middle-aged men forever clinging to their waning youth. He is elfin with an impish gleam in his eye, and always with a mischievous smile; the prototypical man-child that gets so much play in comedies these days.

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When he is sober, his pressures and the encroachment of adult responsibility make him miserable. The drinking is a cover for his insecurities, and with Minnelli being the first “real woman” he encounters in his life, he worries after his surrogate father, Gielgud. Gielgud seems to be only person in Arthur’s world who genuinely loves him and wants to see him happy. Arthur is forced to end his relationship with Minnelli. When Hobson becomes ill, it destroys Arthur. He buys Hobson toys, serves him gourmet suppers in his hospital bed, and loses sleep caring for him.

I think the reason Arthur works better than it should is because of the casting of Dudley Moore. Even at his most mercenary or opportunistic, you simply can’t hate the guy. Where Minnelli’s character tends to grate (though nowhere near as annoying as a Streisand or a Midler), Moore balances their fledgling, improbable romance with remarkable chemistry creating a mutual attraction between him and his leading ladies and love interests.

Arthur was remade in 2011 with Russell Brand assuming the title role. Jennifer Garner plays Susan Johnson, and Greta Gerwig plays the Lisa Minnelli analog. The remake is filled with financial intrigue, glazes over the titular character’s alcoholism, and, oddly, lacks the romance of the original film, as well as the chemistry between Moore and Minnelli. It’s unfortunate that Hollywood believes it lacks the creativity to make original films, and instead devotes considerable time to remaking and rebooting proven properties.

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.