Vintage Cable Box: “Romancing The Stone”

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“What’d you do?  Wake up this morning and say, ‘Today I’m gonna ruin a man’s life!’?”

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“Romancing The Stone”, 1984 (Michael Douglas), 20th Century Fox

“Romancing The Stone” begins as a story-within-a-story, the perils of Angelina and her love-interest, Jessie. She exacts revenge on the evil Grogan, while Jessie dispatches Grogan’s equally-evil brothers. Together they hop on a horse and make tracks for a new frontier. In reality, respected novelist Joan Wilder has just finished her manuscript and brings herself to tears. She celebrates with her cat, feeding him tuna. This is the exact moment we fall in love with Kathleen Turner.

It’s obvious she is lonely, lives vicariously through her work and Angelina, and seems to be waiting for her own Jesse. Most men are not Jesse. Her publisher (played by the great Holland Taylor from Bosom Buddies), her sister, and even her little old lady neighbor want her to settle down, but her standards are too high, or maybe she has standards in the first place.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Cartagena, South America, her sister, Elaine is abducted by two sleazebags Ralph and Ira (Danny DeVito, Zack Norman). Back in New York City, Joan’s apartment is tossed, because earlier in the day she received a package from Elaine’s husband, who had died recently under mysterious circumstances. The only clue is something called El Corazon. Elaine calls Joan, tells her to go to South America with the package or else she’ll be killed.

As a typically introverted New Yorker, Joan is immediately flustered in Colombia. She gets on the wrong bus which crashes into a jeep loaded with birds. From there, she hooks up with American fortune hunter, Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas). He agrees to take her back to civilization for $375 in American Express traveler’s checks. Jack has been smuggling exotic birds out of the country and selling them to fuel his dream of having his own boat so he can sail around the world, and his latest booty has flown south for the winter.

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What follows is textbook culture-clash comedy. Colton and Wilder don’t like each other at first, but they’re stuck with each other enduring the monsoon season, mudslides, corrupt cops, and Danny DeVito. It turns out Joan has a map in her possession, a map to El Corazon, which is a priceless, rare emerald. When Colton figures this out, he starts to get friendlier with Joan.

Inevitable comparisons with Indiana Jones and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” aside, this is a highly enjoyable adventure-comedy, and the leads, Turner and Douglas, are very sexy. Their mutual chemistry recalls Bogart and Hepburn in “The African Queen”. Devito is an interesting balancing act; while maintaining his criminal backstory, he manages to be likable, and he provides a nice counterpoint to Turner and Douglas. They would work together in two more films. The 1986 sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile”, and one of my favorites, “The War of the Roses” (directed by Devito).

“Romancing The Stone” is the movie that made Robert Zemeckis.  A one-time Spielberg protégé, Zemeckis directed a pair of comedies that didn’t make money.  He co-wrote Spielberg’s comedy flop, “1941”.  Producer Michael Douglas pushed for Zemeckis to direct “Romancing The Stone”, which became a hit in the summer of 1984.  After that, he would go on to direct the enormously popular “Back to the Future” franchise, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “Death Becomes Her”, “Forrest Gump” and a slew of other highly successful films.

This concludes a somewhat impromptu tribute to writers here at Vintage Cable Box.  It’s unusual how many fictional movies were made about writers in the early eighties.  In four films, we’ve cycled the through emotions, desires, victories, and failures of these crazy characters.  We’ve seen them live their dreams and hide from their nightmares.  Next time, we take a look at John Carpenter’s 1976 classic exploitation movie, “Assault On Precinct 13”.

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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