Vintage Cable Box: “Young Doctors In Love, 1982”

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“A romance at this point would be ludicrous and counterproductive to our studies.”

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Young Doctors In Love, 1982 (Dabney Coleman), ABC Motion Pictures

Young Doctor Simon August (Michael McKean), defeated and sullen, shuffles down an alleyway hanging his head in shame because he can’t operate on the woman he loves (the result of a childhood birthday party at which he failed to successfully open a piñata). At this moment, the end credits start to roll. He admonishes whomever is running the credits to stop. The movie’s not finished yet, you see. We still have to get to the final act!

Young Doctors In Love was Garry Marshall’s first feature film as director.  The remarkable cast is a hodge-podge of reliable talents like Dabney Coleman (hilarious as the aggravated Chief Resident Dr. Prang) and Patrick Macnee surrounded by a host of up-and-coming actors (most of whom were on Marshall’s television payroll at the time).  Coleman is supervising 20 new interns, among them Sean Young, Rick Overton, Ted McGinley (the famous series-killer) and Taylor Negron.  Each of the characters have their own subplot, so the movie plays like a soap opera, or a spoof of such.

Young is suffering from an unusual debilitating illness that has her passing out every few minutes.  McKean suffers from childhood phobias.  Negron works several jobs at once to pay for his education, and has to resort to selling drugs to keep financially afloat.  Coleman, in the midst of a vicious divorce, loses all his money and his stocks while floating the idea of murdering his accountant.  In the middle of all of this, a mob boss suffers what appears to be a stroke, and his son, played by the incredible Hector Elizondo, must dress as a woman to visit him in the hospital, while a hit-man (Michael Richards) tries to kill him, and another young doctor falls in love with him.

McKean and Young make for an attractive couple, even when their story is so deliberately rigged to telegraph all the tragedy associated with hospital-oriented soap operas of the time.  If anything, Marshall and his writers (Michael Elias and Rich Eustis) are calling attention to the narrative pitfalls of daily television production, a format with which Marshall is most vociferously acquainted.

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Assembled cast and Garry (wearing a Phillies jacket!).

Early comparisons to Airplane! when the movie was released, are inaccurate.  This is not a literal and visual parody of soap operas, but more an intellectualized conceit of the writing conventions of that sub-genre.  While Marshall retains the goofiness of his situation comedy splendor (as evidenced by much of the cast), he recognizes the failings of the American soap opera.  In one particularly telling scene, Pamela Reed, lets her hair down and puts makeup on her face so that she resembles the nurses from General Hospital, and suddenly she has the attention of Taylor Negron.

After years of watching Laverne & Shirley, I was surprised to see Michael McKean without the Leonard Kosnowski demeanor.  I never realized he was a serious actor and comedian (whom would later appear in, and co-write This Is Spinal Tap for Rob Reiner).  I took him for granted as Lenny.  There are so many unusual cameo appearances in the movie (like Spinal Tap), as if Marshall grabbed every day-player and under-five he could find in Los Angeles, at the time.  Among the cameos, we have Hamilton Camp, George Furth, Ed Begley Jr., and Demi Moore (a dark-haired beauty McKean confuses with Young late in the movie) in addition to appearances by established soap opera stars of the time.

Garry directs!

Garry Marshall passed away last night at the age of 81.  He has a brief cameo at the beginning of this movie.  There is a collection of marijuana plants with a sign posted, reading: “For glaucoma patients only.”  Garry looks at the weed, clips some for himself, and walks away, no harm and no foul.  In addition to writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show and developing The Odd Couple for television, Marshall created Happy Days and Mork & Mindy.  He was, perhaps, the most influential figure in contemporary television comedy, and he will be missed.

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: “The Lonely Lady, 1983”

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“I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to fuck her way to the top.”

lonely lady

The Lonely Lady, 1983 (Pia Zadora), Universal Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way first.  Pia Zadora is fucking hot!  She’s such a soft, sensual creature – goddess and demon.  She makes me nuts just thinking about her.  A diminutive yet voluptuous combination of nymph and vixen struggling tooth and nail against the evil masculine forces which circle her in tribal formation and threaten to destroy her delicate creative genius.  You can damn me, but I understand her frustration.  Not that I’m some babe out there with talent that’s always being ignored in favor of my gorgeous breasts and well-toned ass, but I get that when you’re out there, trying to take a swim, you’re going to run across a lot of leeches in the pool.

The movie opens with Pia’s character, Jerilee, on her way to a big award ceremony in Hollywood. From there, we go into a flashback. In high school, she wins her first creative writing award. Later, after a party, a young Ray Liotta rapes her with a garden hose. This movie pulls no punches when it comes to naming man as woman’s ultimate aggressor. The rape is filmed in such a way that a female acquaintance is laughing at her, and taunting her while Liotta does the deed. I can’t imagine any woman ever behaving in such a way when another woman is being raped, but this story is the brain-child of Harold Robbins, famous for a particular form of exploitation disguised as the trashy “romance” novel.

After an untold period of time chronicling her recovery, Jerilee gets back on the horse and continues writing. She ultimately marries her boyfriend’s dad (against mother Bibi Besch’s wishes), because he is a successful screenwriter. They try to consummate, but the old man has a heart condition. Her marriage gets her critical meetings with the power-brokers of Hollywood, but everybody seems to be interested only in her body. Tensions between her and her husband escalate when she rewrites one his scripts. They divorce, and she proceeds to screw every actor and producer in Hollywood to get her screenplay sold. She dates a manipulative actor (Jared Martin), who knocks her up, forcing her to get an abortion because he won’t support the child.

Sleazy Introduction
A sleazy introduction.

I don’t believe I understand the message of this movie, other than that men will rape you, take advantage of you, manipulate you, abuse you emotionally, or try to destroy you should you dare to live your dreams.  The meaning is lost in the details because Jerilee, while obviously telegraphed as being “talented”, is also extremely naive, and more often than not, idiotic in her ambitions.  Moreover, Zadora, in her performance, doesn’t strike me as a writer.  More like a curious observer in a world of snakes masquerading as men.  The other women in the movie aren’t much help, either.  They are either strict, judgmental authoritarians (like her mother), or slutty gold-diggers.  So, The Lonely Lady deceptively labels itself a product of feminine empowerment, but instead it skewers the fairer sex by creating a culture of victimization in it’s central character; an interesting female archetype who must be punished for being beautiful and sexually attractive.

A naive young man myself when first watching the film, I assumed this what movies for adults were; products laced with sex and nudity, violence, and profanity, but done up in a dismal melodramatic watercolor painting with unusual outbursts of primary color.  Unfortunately, the music, and the editing, and the many montages of The Lonely Lady make it seem like nothing more than a made-for-television drama with tits.  Not that I mind.  The movie is never boring.  I have to give Pia props for her bravery in being made the fool of this peculiar morality fable; she is remarkably easy on the eyes, even as her dialogue hurts our ears.

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.