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: “Strange Brew, 1983”

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“If I didn’t have puke breath, I’d kiss you.”

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Strange Brew (1983), (Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas), MGM/UA

We start on the big silver screen with a belching MGM lion, and that pretty much sets the tone for the motion picture debut of beer-drinking hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie (Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis); ostensibly a set-up for their movie-within-a-movie, Mutants of 2051 A.D., a hilarious no-budget sci-fi exercise that references Planet Of The Apes and The Omega Man. The crowd watching the movie grows restless and walks out demanding refunds. Moved by a distraught father’s story, Bob gives the man his Dad’s beer money.

Dad (voiced by Mel Blanc) demands beer. They try to scam their way into a free 24-pack of Elsinore with the old mouse-in-a-bottle trick, but they’re referred to the brewery. At the gated, electrified entrance, they rescue Pam Elsinore (the fetching Lynne Griffin) when the gates close on her car. Pam is there to receive compensation for the suspicious death of her father, John Elsinore, the former brewmaster. Bob and Doug fall backwards into jobs at the brewery, checking bottles for mice.

Brewmeister Smith (a fantastic Max Von Sydow) is making a mind-altering drug, which he will use to control the population of Elsinore beer drinkers with violent impulses.  After viewing “improvements” made by Smith (surveillance cameras, an empty cafeteria, and lack of employees), Pam gives him two weeks notice to pack up.  Brewmeister Smith orders Pam’s Uncle Claude (toadie Paul Dooley) to kill her, or at least incapacitate her.  Smith is using inmates from a nearby sanitarium to test his concoction, with orchestrated games of hockey, and it’s up to Bob and Doug to save the day.

Hosehead saves the day
It’s actually Hosehead who saves the day!

This is such a fun movie! After all these years, the material (originally a series of sketches for SCTV) holds up and is given the appropriate celluloid treatment. The characters break the fourth wall. There’s even a brief intermission. One of my favorite gags occurs right after the intermission. After Bob and Doug’s van plummets into the river and they are presumed dead, scuba divers are amazed to find them just fine underwater, drinking bottles of beer. When the diver flashes his badge, Doug reaches into his pocket and produces his driver’s license – all of this underwater!

Bob and Doug are framed for the attempted kidnapping of Pam. They are remanded to the sanitarium after being diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics by the Court. With the help of retired hockey star Jean LeRose and the electronic “ghost” of Pam’s deceased father (not to mention Bob and Doug’s superhero dog, Hosehead), they rescue Pam and foil Brewmeister Smith’s plan to sabotage the upcoming Oktoberfest.

As directed by Moranis and Thomas, the scenes effortlessly transition, and the narrative is fast-paced. This is serious filmmaking, for a completely ridiculous story. A great deal of the dialogue feels largely improvised. While a sequel was planned (and eventually abandoned) for release in 1999, Moranis and Thomas never directed again, and that is unfortunate because they are gifted comedians, actors, and storytellers. A year or so after the release of Strange Brew, they would famously appear in Pizza Hut commercials.

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: “National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982”

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“Most likely to die crossing the street.”

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National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982 (Gerritt Graham), ABC Motion Pictures

This is one of those very rare occasions where I remember enjoying a movie immensely when I was a kid, and then looking back at it as an adult and thinking it has either not aged well, or it was my eleven-year-old brain that supplied most of the guffaws. It could’ve been that I had seen Class Reunion right after seeing Vacation (now considered a comedy classic) and was not impressed.

I’ve never been to a class reunion. Never been invited. Because of the reckless and impulsive behavior of my mother, we often found ourselves packing and leaving so I never had the opportunity to finish in schools, nor was I privileged to have a stable mailing address. I’ve certainly seen enough movies and television shows about class reunions. My wife was invited to class reunions, but she didn’t have a much of a desire to attend, either. Something about those gatherings seems sad to me. It’s a reminder of age, having to grow up, having to not be what you were when you were young.

Some of those sentiments are touched upon in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, though very briefly because this is a silly comedy/spoof of horror movies. Several movies of this type were released in this time period, notably Saturday The 14th, Love At First Bite, and Student Bodies. Attendees gather for the 10-year class reunion at Lizzie Borden High. The cast is filled with familiar names and faces like Stephen Furst (Flounder from National Lampoon’s Animal House), Miriam Flynn (who would appear in National Lampoon’s Vacation the following year) and Michael Lerner (from Barton Fink).

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CLASS REUNION, Fred McCarren, Zane Buzby, 1982. (c) ABC/ Courtesy: Everett Colleciton.

The participants in the class reunion festivities are being knocked off, one by one, and suspicion points to a less than popular kid (played by Blackie Dammett) named Walter Baylor, who was humiliated by this circle of kids on one fateful night ten years before. Gary Nash (Fred McCarren), formerly the guy everybody forgot – even his best friend – takes charge and leads the investigation, with the help of a mysterious doctor (Lerner). Along the way he attempts to woo the girl he was in love with: Meredith (gorgeous Donna Dixon look-alike, Shelley Smith).

John Hughes started writing for the National Lampoon print magazine in 1979. His first television credit came in the form of Delta House, the failed Animal House spin-off. He wrote Class Reunion, which tanked at the box office, but he followed it with three brilliant comedy scripts: Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Nate and Hayes with David Odell (a personal favorite of mine), which earned him a three-picture directing deal with Universal.

Looking at the picture recently, I noted that despite the otherwise funny and talented cast, Class Reunion lacked true comic timing. There is no focus, no lead character to propel the story, nor someone we can identify with. The director, Michael Miller, shoots everything in wide shots to assemble his cast, and good comedy screams for close-up shots to break up the tedium. The jokes fall flat, which is odd for John Hughes. The warmth and humor of his later work is missing here, and this script would be his only dud in the early eighties. His creative output was astonishing. He worked fast, and his pictures were economical. His unofficial retirement began in 1994, and he passed away in 2009 at the age of 59.

Next time, we take a look back to the classic era of horror movies on Vintage Cable TV, starting with 1983’s Psycho II!

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.