Vintage Cable Box: Rhinestone, 1984


“All right, we’ll go to your place and you can show me your organ. But I’m warning you, it’d best be having music coming out of it.”


Rhinestone, 1984 (Dolly Parton), 20th Century Fox

Sylvester Stallone is a smart guy.  Betraying his brutish looks, muscular physique, and propensity for violence, Stallone understands his incredible history, and his ability to re-invent his image.  He’s played rogue cops, underdog boxers, and disillusioned soldiers.  He’s gone down the road of pristine drama (Cop Land), and screwball comedy (Oscar), but pairing him head-to-head with Dolly Parton proved to be such a misfire from inception that it isn’t hard to see why he stayed away from this kind of culture-clash comedy for the better part of his career.  Given the opportunity to rewrite Phil Alden Robinson’s (Field of Dreams) screenplay, and then turning down Beverly Hills Cop to appear in this movie, Stallone shows he’s not afraid to take ill-advised chances in film.

Like every decent screwball comedy, this one begins with a bet.  Dolly’s Jake Farris is contracted to perform nightly at an admittedly popular tourist trap country bar smack dab in the middle of New York City run by Ron Leibman.  She makes a deal with Leibman to turn the first person he spots into a country music star.  If she succeeds, she can get out of the slave contract with Liebman (who can’t help but be sleazy about the whole thing).  They go out to the street and Liebman picks a dizzy cab driver named Nick for this Pygmalion-like transformation.  Of course, given the multi-cultural climate of New York City, Nick would be the very last person Dolly would agree to tutor in the ways of country music, but Leibman wants to make this as difficult as possible for her.

For a moment there, Nick thinks she’s coming on to him.  He takes her back to his home, where his Mama (playing it to the hilt, constantly circling the table to babble in a foreign language and deposit more food) makes spaghettis and gravy.  See, Dolly’s all skin and bone as we know.  So it’s unusual that in addition to a clash of cultures, we also have a clash of stereotypes.  Stallone is a good-natured meathead and Dolly’s a sassy redneck chick (and hot, to boot!).  Dolly decides to take Nick down to her ancestral home in Tennessee.  It’s funny that I was living in Tennessee at the time this movie premiered on cable television.  There didn’t seem to be much hootin’ and hollerin’ going on when I was living down there.  She teaches him to walk and to talk like a redneck (or “rhinestone”) cowboy-type; chewing tobacco, and developing a John Wayne swagger.

Dolly makes for a charmingly baroque figure in her dusters, cowboy hats, and leather boots, but Stallone, I think, tries too hard to be funny here when playing it straight would have benefited the humorous idea.  The rolling of his eyes and mugging for the camera, along with Travolta-hair style make him more menacing than endearing to me.  You can tell Dolly is really trying to teach him, not only about country music, but the unspoken language of dependency with which actors must relate.  In fact, Dolly is the saving grace of this movie.  Nevermind her looks – this broad is insanely talented; as an actor, as a singer, as an entertainer!  The only time the story doesn’t feel genuine is when the screenplay forces them to be closer.  The way I see it, the movie’s not a love story.  It’s a dare.  A dare to turn a cab driver into a star.  A dare to cast Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton in a movie together.

One of these things is not like the other.

It’s here that we get into what makes a bad movie (although I disagree with that notion).  Watching or reviewing and evaluating a movie is, was, and always has been a subjective experience.  For example, you might consider Rhinestone to be a seminal work of art, a masterpiece; it did it’s job, for you.  You come across an imposing cluster of terrible reviews.  You talk to people who say the movie is “terrible”, or worse.  Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 15% “tomatometer” rating.  In those days, before the advent of blanket advertising to guarantee good opening weekend numbers, box office was the only indication of a movie’s failure.  This doesn’t mean you’re wrong for loving the movie.  It only means fewer people agree with your opinion, and it doesn’t mean you have bad taste in film.  If, in your view, the movie does it’s job (the outlandish prospect of pairing Parton with Stallone, and the silly screwball narrative), then it succeeds.  Rhinestone succeeds.

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.


Monkees vs. Macheen: “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth”


“The Year of the Monkee (Horse)”

"Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth"

One of the wonderful things about this television show is watching it with my nine-year-old daughter. I discovered The Monkees when I was five on WKBD 50 Detroit. (“In Detroit, the kid’s choice is TV 50”) Last summer, I was feeling a bit down and was looking for something to cheer me up when I noticed IFC was running The Monkees. And what a great thing to be able to share with her, this show that I fell in love with as a child. She especially likes this episode, and I can see why it might appeal to children. It has animals and a little kid; silly comedy, fun sequences. The Monkees are the Nicest Guys in the World, helping out the boy the way they do.

“Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” was the first episode shot after the pilot but the 8th one to air on October 31, 1966. (Another shout-out to Melanie Mitchell, whose book, Monkee Magic, allowed me to see the shooting vs. airing order of the episodes.) The episode was written by Dave Evans and directed by show producer Robert Rafelson. Compared to the pilot, which moves very fast, this one takes it’s time to show the Monkees interacting together, and to make them likable; make them, in fact, into sweet, selfless good guys. There is more character development and less style and techniques. For instance there are no screen titles at all, nor do I notice much in the way of breaking the fourth wall. The main thing that is missing for me though is the usual dose of ironic and subversive humor that was present in most episodes. That type of humor is one of the elements that kept me enjoying the show well into adulthood.

The first part of the episode is a screwball comedy with lots of wacky misunderstandings. It starts with Davy alone on the beach (like “Royal Flush”). A little boy brings him a horse (a real horse – Editor) and asks him to watch it. The kid runs off and vanishes, leaving Davy stuck with the animal. By the look on Davy’s face, he knows he’s screwed.

I never would’ve thought Peter would be the one to do the cooking but he’s made cream of root beer soup for Mike and Micky. Micky gives his review of the meal by turning into a werewolf and howling all over the place. Peter says “here we go again” and it cracks me up that this is common behavior for Micky. Mike helpfully salts his hand and offers it to Micky for a snack. Henry Cordon is back as nasty landlord Babbitt, and he enters with his villainous organ theme music (dun, Dun, DUN). Micky’s howling convinces Babbitt they’re keeping a dog, which they’re not allowed to do or he’ll kick them out. Micky awkwardly explains he was just doing his werewolf impression.

Babbitt lays down the law.

Just as they get rid of him, Davy enters with the horse from the entrance by the windows, with a comical apologetic look on his face. Mike looks stunned as they roll into the opening theme. Davy explains how the kid abandoned him with the horse on the beach. Mike is worried about Babbitt and the conversation turns into a wacky verbal mix-up that Micky tries to sort out by howling again.

The noise brings back Babbitt. The boys try to hide the horse in the bedroom but he won’t budge. Mike tells Davy and Peter to hide in the bedroom and somehow convinces Babbitt that the actual horse is Peter and Davy in a horse costume. Both the werewolf bits and Davy bringing the horse were really nice scenes, with lots of character interaction.

None-too-bright landlord taken care of, Mike wants to get rid of the horse, but he still won’t move. Davy stands there looking at the other three like they’re the idiots. They think the horse is hungry and feed him some of the root beer soup, which sounds like a bad idea. Sure enough, the horse licks it and collapses.

See, somebody appreciates good soup.

Mike goes to see Dr. Mann, who has a huge mustache and magnifying glass. After more wacky verbal mix-ups, the vet agrees to come see the horse. Mike gets so flustered in this scene. One of the charming things about the Mike character/Mike Nesmith performance is the awkward, stammering bits he does. He’s natural, he’s affable, and it’s funny. Micky and Davy are pretty slick but Mike’s charm comes from seeming a little unsure sometimes, despite being the leader. This scene was good example of using that.

Mike and Dr. Mann

There are a lot of out-of-focus shots in the episode, including some here when Mike brings Dr. Mann back to the pad. There is also a grainy look that makes me think it was shot on a higher speed film stock to accommodate the later outdoor setting.

Anyway, Dr. Mann finds Peter and Davy in an actual horse costume so he starts examining them. Even by The Monkees standards this is all very silly.

Yegads! This is worse than I thought!

They hear a knock and assume it’s Babbitt. Now they have to hide the vet. But it’s their nice, elderly neighbor Miss Purdy with a cake to share with them. Miss Purdy faints when she sees the horse and then two more times when she sees Dr. Mann in the horse head and finds out he’s a veterinarian. “Why did she faint?” My daughter wants to know. “Well um, I guess people were more fragile in the 60s?” But my actual guess is that writers thought fainting was really hilarious back then. To prove my point, Mr. Babbitt strides in, preparing to catch them with all kinds of animals but he collapses when he hears Peter talking from inside the horse costume.

Then, the tone of the episode changes  to become more laid-back and outdoorsy, beginning with Davy riding the horse on the beach. He finds the boy who explains he can’t keep Jeremy (now we have a name for the horse) because his father thinks he costs too much. Jonathan (whose name they have not said yet) wants Davy to talk to his father. I guess he thinks his Dad is susceptible to English accents like the rest of us!

They drive out to the kid’s father’s farm in a jeep, no Monkee-mobile. I wonder if the jeep is borrowed and has a trailer for the horse. They don’t give us a clear shot of it, so who knows? The father says the horse is useless and too expensive to care for (Why did you buy it, Dad? – Editor). Davy offers to pay the original investment but they don’t have $100 of course. Mike offers to pay it off by offering their labor on the farm for a week. Farmer Fisher wisely takes one look at this bunch and wants to try them out for a day first (The whole thing smacks of a “Paper Moon”-style scam – Editor).

Fisher wakes up the Monkees at sunrise; they’ve been sleeping in the barn in their farming overalls. He gives them their list of chores that they are too sleepy to comprehend. Later, they are enthusiastically doing chores when Jenkins, a suave looking farmer in a leather jacket, comes and mocks the kid’s father for having “city slickers” working for him.

They don’t mention the character names here. It takes 2/3 of the plot to mention the kid’s name is Jonathan. And we never hear the adult farmer’s names. I got the names from the IMDB because I didn’t want to call them “Farmer” and “Other Farmer in a leather jacket.”

Peter gets ready to feed the hogs, but Micky has to demonstrate the hog call for him. It brings chickens (“now why don’t you try the chicken call?”). There’s a funny call-back gag where Micky’s attempt at a hog-call reaches Babbitt back at the house, who thinks they’ve got some other animal in there.

You know, it's just as well the hogs didn't come. Why's that? I forgot their food.

The Monkees aren’t very good at the farm chores. They’re supposed to milk the cow but start playing catch/football/kick the can with the milk bucket, inspiring my daughter to say “They’re just too much fun for this work.” The game leads to an accompanying romp to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Mike Nesmith), the Monkees song my daughter and I are most likely to be found singing out loud. There’s a romp/fantasy sequence where they picture themselves as bullfighters, complete with stock footage of real bullfighters, and costumes. Mike mirrors the stock bullfighter using the moves on the cow. He successfully gets milk, but Peter spills it all over Fisher. Fisher is now done with them.

The episode uses the usual guitar wipes, but here there’s this weird dripping transition to this next scene. Maybe representing the milk spilling?

Davy says a sad goodbye to Jonathan and apologizes for failing him. Jenkins pulls up and says the horse is useless anyway. Davy and Jenkins make a bet that Davy can beat his horse Charlemagne in a race*. If Davy wins, Jenkins will pay the $100 for the horse. If Jenkins wins, he gets to keep the Monkees guitar. The Monkees are far too nice, putting their guitar on the line like this to help this kid. I don’t get what’s in it for Jenkins either, unless he needs a guitar and bragging rights for Charlemagne?

(*Note from the Editor – farm horses are not the same as race horses. There is a world of difference between both horses, involving a regiment of training and exercises that farm horses would not be required to accomplish.)

Micky does his WC Fields impression while giving Davy advice on how to race and Davy and the horse have racing silks (… blouse and cap worn during a race …) from somewhere. Various methods are used to start the race: a bugle, a racing checkered flag, and a gun. The racing scenes are set to “All the Kings Horses” (Michael Nesmith). The racers race, the other Monkees jump around on the beach; the farmer and his kid cheer. Davy wins! Even the father is happy about it. Davy gives him the money (exactly $100, suspicious – Editor) (You’re viewing this with 21st Century cynicism – Editor’s wife) he won to keep the horse, and Fisher invites them back to visit, but not to help with the chores.

Tag sequence where another kid approaches Davy, this time with a camel.

Davy and the camel.

The others haul him out of there and we hear more “Papa Gene’s Blues,” with some of the performance video used in “Monkees In A Ghost Town”, where they’re wearing the gray suits. Mike looks like he’s having so much fun playing this song, and he does that wink to the camera that the character did from time-to-time.

Mike's wink.

So there we have it. The Monkees help the underdogs as they did in “Monkees vs. Machine,” “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” and other episodes later in the run. (I won’t count “Royal Flush”, though they did help her selflessly, because a princess about to be a queen is not an underdog.) I have to admit, if my daughter hadn’t enjoyed it so much, I would have had a hard time finding so many positive things to say. I always found this one a little dull and not as funny, and I didn’t understand why the Monkees were being so altruistic when the stakes weren’t that high this time. But I have a final word from my daughter, who wanted to know: “Why did you wait so long to show me The Monkees, Mom?” Better late than never.

Guest Cast

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Vintage Cable Box: “All Night Long, 1981”

New VCB Logo

“I’m not a fire you can put out!”


All Night Long, 1981 (Gene Hackman), Universal Pictures

Burned-out corporate bulldog Gene Hackman has a nervous breakdown and throws a chair out of his office window. Rather than being fired on-the-spot (like most people), he is demoted to a night manager’s position at his company’s all night drug store chain. He lives in a Stepford-like suburban bedroom community. At a funeral, he meets Barbra Streisand’s Cheryl, telegraphed as a bit of a free-spirit that people find odd. In my case, I would find her annoying and keep my distance, but I’m not in this movie. Hackman is intrigued. He discovers his idiot son (Dennis Quaid) is screwing Cheryl on the side. He takes exception at this and tells his son to stay away from her. Quaid is supposed to be 18, but he looks a lot older.

At his new job, Hackman comes across all manner of eccentric character – people who do their shopping in the middle of the night, strange men who shop-lift pantyhose, conspiracy nuts, and incompetent rent-a-cops. I’ve worked night shifts all my life. I’m kind of a night person. In fact, as I write up this review, it is three in the morning. Cheryl pops in, tells Hackman Quaid is upset at his being “grounded” from sex. He is immediately taken with her. She is a bit of a tease. They start spending time together, because her firefrighter husband spends most of his nights on duty. This sets up an interesting conflict between Hackman and Quaid. Hackman moves out of his house, and his wife is contemplating divorce.


Hackman nails the mid-life crisis neuroses, but Streisand’s flighty extrovert with aspirations of being a country/western singer, can grate. What is essentially a romantic comedy for insomniacs with interesting fleshed-out characters is overshadowed by the presence of Barbra Streisand. The film was originally cast with actress Lisa Eichhorn as Cheryl. The film was directed by Jean-Claude Tramont, the husband of Streisand’s agent at the time, Sue Mengers. A few weeks into filming, Eichhorn was fired and replaced with Streisand. I can only speculate Tramont wanted a bigger budget and Mengers convinced Streisand to take the role. Eichhorn complained about her dismissal and the producers invented a story about her having no chemistry with Hackman, which killed her film career.

All Night Long plays like a mid-sixties sex comedy. Streisand’s character reminds me of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch and she is always the focus of every scene she is in, even granted this is a movie about Gene Hackman and his character’s woes. The script has many amusing moments and good performances, but lacks the single-character focus you would expect from a small domestic comedy like this. Despite my complaints, I really did enjoy this movie the many times it played on cable television, mainly for Gene Hackman, one of our great treasures in cinema. Even with all the behind-the-scenes intrigue, he’s having so much fun in 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. 

Vintage Cable Box: “Easy Money, 1983”


An eleven-year-old in the year of Our Lord, 1984. Hankins Drive in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was our first cable box. At first glance, 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.


Easy Money, 1983 (Rodney Dangerfield), Orion

“Work banishes those three great evils. Boredom, vice and poverty.

The resurgence of the classic screwball comedy started with Arthur, continued with Easy Money and Trading Places, and ended with Brewster’s Millions. The ne’er-do-well gets a shot at untold riches, ludicrous amounts of money, power, and respect but only if he or she can turn their life around. Easy Money follows the Arthur paradigm except that Rodney Dangerfield’s character already has a pretty awesome life. He smokes weed, he gambles, he drinks, he eats unhealthy food, he tosses money at big-breasted strippers, he bowls, he has fun. Yet, he’s happily married. His daughter is getting married, and he runs a business taking baby pictures.

Typical of this narrative, his mother-in-law hates him. There is a definite ethnic vibe running through the familial hostility. Uptight Irish in-law hates stereotypical Italian. When she drops dead, her executor makes note of a clause in her will which stipulates Rodney (or his family) doesn’t get a dime unless he changes his “evil” ways. Something on the order of $10,000,000! Where did this lady get that much green? So the movie spends some time showing Rodney getting increasingly frustrated as he tries to live a life of restraint (i.e. no fun) or else he won’t get the cash.

Rodney Dangerfield’s particular brand of humor, from Caddyshack on, bordered between obnoxious and likable, a happy schlub who carried a wild party in his back pocket everywhere he went. Considering his Al Czervik character in Caddyshack is another nouveau-riche elemental force and an annoyance to the uptight members of the country club, “Easy Money” could very well be a prequel. 1986’s Back To School could also fit into a trilogy of this character’s story.

Post Raging Bull, pre-Goodfellas Joe Pesci plays Dangerfield’s best friend, Nicky. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Dangerfield’s daughter, who is about to marry the sexually-ambiguous Taylor Negron. The director, James Signorelli, a frequent Dangerfield collaborator, produced over 400 films for Saturday Night Live. This is classic Dangerfield; a fun, sexy movie filled with large-breasted women (is it me or were breasts much bigger in the 80s?). Billy Joel performed the catchy title theme.


Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.